It was probably the most meaningful time I’ve spent with my students.
Over the past six months we have been steadily working through a textbook on Politics. Study guides and class discussions and tests. And some very long, tedious chapters. Every week we’ve had some serious discipline issues in the classroom – all of them involving me. I was never the class clown when I sat in their places. Always quiet, at the back (if possible), striving to be unobserved – and uncalled upon. As a volunteer teacher, I’m getting to make up for lost time.
The time with these young people is life-giving to me. Life-giving.
This past Thursday, leaving the textbook behind, I announced a field trip. We marched over to the bookstore – my hermitage hobbit-hole – and they piled into what I call the “nook.” And sitting in the rocking chair, pipe in hand, I read to them. It was a great title – Andy Andrews’ new book How to Kill 11 Million People. Andrews deals with the sobering reality of the Holocaust that was Nazi Germany and what lay at the root of its power: the lie. It’s a sobering call wake-up call to listen and dig and probe for the truth rather than just listening to what people with rolled up sleeves and assured tones tell us.
It was harder to read than I thought.
I wanted to break down and weep as Andrews quoted the lies told to Jewish families to keep them in place, and finally to place them in those cattle cars. I should have wept. His detailing of which color badges were placed on which people. His telling of German churchgoers singing more loudly as the trains passed so they couldn’t hear the screams of condemned. I should have wept. I have learned to lose my dignity in laughter. Perhaps one day I will in weeping.
The fifteen 11th and 12th graders listened. I occasionally stopped to make a comment or ask a question, but I pretty much just read straight through in the “you-could-hear-a-pin-drop” quietness of the nook.
The discussion that followed the reading was thoughtful. Meaningful. Life-giving.
Oh the joy of simply reading with them without fear of short attention spans or the complication of academic testing for content following. The joy of simply reading.
What greater gift can any educator pass to students than the joy of reading and thought and the passionate exchange of ideas, the trafficking of truth? I understand that the meaning behind “educate” in the Latin is to “draw out.” Somehow we tend to think it means to “cram in.”
What is crammed in soon fades.
But moments like this, just sitting with them, reading with them, asking them what they thought about it, hearing them respond, not as students but as young adults – I can’t speak for them. Perhaps they just politely endured it, humoring an eccentric teacher who at least got them out of the classroom for a few moments (again).
But I was fed and filled. It’s one of those moments that will definitely sustain me in this season of “just laying here.”
I hope to visit that place again.