Education Opinion

Three Balls in the Air

By Emmet Rosenfeld — October 22, 2006 3 min read
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Last week there was a lot going on (or was it just another week?). Homecoming fever swirled in the halls, we had our first writing groups in the graduate class that I teach at night, and there was an afternoon of work on the canoe at Mount Vernon. Below are some high points.


A schedule of events so complex that the student government writes a helpful 2-page guide (single-spaced) for freshman, including the themes. Freshman: Under the bed. Sophomore: Under the big top. Junior: Underwear, capes and masks. Seniors: Undercover. Faculty: Under age.

A new tradition born from a fire code-fiasco. Last year, the venerable “spirit halls” were shut down by the fire marshall so kids adapted with mobile parades called “The Experience.”

Only at TJ File: timed competitive banner-making.

Best faculty costume: The new principal, 34, known for riding a scooter through the halls, comes to school on Thursday dressed like a big baby. Diaper and all.

Only at TJ File 2: during a bleacher-rattling pep rally, a girl stands behind me intently reading her notes for chemistry.

Writing Groups

The magic happened. Again. I had nervously shuffled note cards back and forth among piles the week before, hoping to create chemistry between colleagues I’m just starting to get to know, or at least balance groups with members from a variety of grade levels and schools. I plan to rotate from group to group each week. Here’s what my colleagues shared in the group I joined this time.

Gail voiced frustrations with special ed teacher bureaucracy and politics:
“[It seems at times] a bottomless well-- dark, dank, and never ending, with prickly protrusions poking from the walls as I fall...”.

Carlette wrote from the point of view of a fictional student who thinks having her paper read in English class is like running down the school hall naked:
She could just hear people saying, “Man, look at that bird chest!”
“I think she needs implants,” yells another.
“Do you think she eats?” bellows someone else.
That’s what Farla envisioned. Except when sharing her writing, she would hear people say “diction” instead of “bird chest,” “assistance” instead of “implants,” and “eats” would be “ever pays attention in English class?”...

Lucy told about getting stuck in traffic, with her husband and four-year old daughter, behind teenagers who made out at every red light:
Stopped once more behind the turtle doves at a light where timing is crucial, my husband turned all the lights on from the Hummer, and illuminated the interior of the suck-face car, highlighting to the world the glory of hormonal teens. I started snickering... while he quietly gripped the steering wheel and stared straight ahead...

Gordon’s dry British wit shone through in a narrative about an evening’s adventure that began with a candid admission, and grabbed me with a poignant detail a few side-splitting pages later:
I had been drinking. That much is true...
In the garage I press up against the five year old’s tricycle.

The Canoe

We used stone tools! A beautifully hand-crafted adze, specifically, with a green stone (rhyolite) blade attached with rawhide to an osage haft and handle (actually a single piece of wood with a branch coming off it). It was lighter than the iron ship-builder’s adze we also used, and perfectly balanced.

The afternoon’s work began with the task of raising the log off the ground to prevent rot, which we did with a combination of levers. Turning a 2x4 on edge, ASF director Joe Youcha taught the kids an impromptu lesson about the tensile strength of wood and the advantages of going with (or against) the grain.

After lifting the multi-ton tree trunk onto blocks, we rotated it about 45 degrees to expose a new side for debarking and give us a better angle to smooth the lopped off surface that had been at the top for future marking (hence the adzes).

Also, a docent board created by our kids in class the week before was popular with tourists and so informative that the farm supervisor requested that we leave it on site for in costume interpreters to study so they can better field questions about the canoe in progress.

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