Recently I was reading a book on Waldorf education and I encountered a quote from my 4th grade teacher, Steven Levy. I didn't know he had written a book, so I requested it from the Lexington library. It came in on Friday and I sped through the thing in no time. The book describes how Levy built his classroom curriculum around a different theme every year. One year it was bread making, another year the children made their own desks. You know, the kind of thematic curriculum planning that comes natural to home-schoolers but shocks and amazes in the public school.
Chapter seven describes a class taking wool through carding and dying to spinning and weaving. Hey, I said to myself, that's my fourth grade class right?? We did the carding and the dying and the spinning he describes. We had community members come in one day and teach us all how to knit. I remember that day vividly, probably the most important day of my first decade of life. Somebody's mom, I will never forget how you demonstrated to me how to put the needle through the stitch, remove my right hand from the needle to wrap the yarn around, replace my right hand on the needle and remove the stitch. WHY OH WHY DIDN'T YOU TEACH ME TO KNIT CONTINENTAL??? OH What might have been!!! We all would have at least twice as many sweaters as we do now!
Of course, I know why you didn't teach a fourth grader how to knit continental. I've tried to teach it to others and it's very difficult to learn. Not intuitive. Fingers get tangled. Throwing the yarn is easy and anyone can learn it, to the detriment of their entire future knitting career. But I digress.
I realized Levy definitely WAS talking about my fourth grade class when he mentioned Tuuka, a student from Finland who knit a spectacularly long scarf. I cannot imagine anyone else's fourth grade class also contained a Finnish Tuuka. Oh the thrill of recognizing my own experience in print! That's my forth grade class you're talking about! I WAS THERE!
Then I saw this:
"Day after day Leanne brought in bags of white hair from home. It turned out to be from her dog. She was able to spin the dog hair into yarn on the drop spindles, and weave a beautiful blanket for her dog out of the dog's own hair!"
Ahem. First of all, it wasn't a blanket, it was a beautiful wall hanging and it's still hanging in my parent's living room. Chakra McKinley Bernstein may you rest in doggy peace. Second of all. Leanne? LEANNE? Why not Louise or Lesley or Lee like everyone calls me when they forget my name? Did drawing the name Tuuka out of the archives sap all your memory power so you had nothing left to waste on Leah? THE DOG HAIR WEAVER???
Dan says don't take it personally, he probably changed all the non-Finish names.
And anyway, in all fairness, I cannot remember half the things described in chapter seven. The field trip to the sheep farm? The woman coming into the class repeatedly to teach dying techniques? I remember losing my voice one morning and regaining it in the afternoon and feeling like an idiot. I remember falling off my chair and hitting the back of my head and how everybody stared at me to see if I had died. I remember getting poked in the eye with a yard stick and the student teacher taking me to the nurse said, "Don't baby it." I had no idea what that meant, but it sounded extraordinarily harsh to someone who had just gotten her eye poked with a yard stick.
In other words, with this and other pedagogical works I have read recently, I must take everything with a grain of salt. My best laid plans will always look well-integrated and dreamily educational but my children will more likely remember the day I ran a fever and started shattering pottery.
As a parent, forth grade seems impossibly far away. I am looking forward to the day when I can do real making and information gathering with my children. Researching how the pilgrims processed wool and the types of sewing patterns they used and then making clothes the way they did? That would be totally my thing. Instead my thing right now is reading board books for hours and hours, none with more than five words on a page. Zion just started getting interested in books a few weeks ago, but his attention span is more age appropriate than Harvey's was at 16 months. Good thing Harvey's attention span is magnetic to books, and he can happily sit through thirty minutes of "Colors" followed by "Numbers" followed by "ABC." Anyway, it's fun to think about the future even as I attempt to cultivate patience in the present.
As long as my kids don't start calling me Leanne.