As a teacher of elementary grades I was always trying to get the children to expand their thinking capabilities. I would ask impertinent questions such as, “How do you know that is a horse?”
The kids didn’t like it. “Anybody can see it is a horse; can’t you?”
After some struggle and mental wrestling, some of them came to see that there is a process by which we come to decide that a particular object in space is a horse. It has something to do with definitions and classifications and differentiations; that sort of thing.
The big problem was that I was ever inclined to see children as more competent than they were. I was pushing them beyond their built-in zone of overwhelm. If someone were to have presented me with a math problem much beyond multiplication, I would go blank too. A point would be reached after which my effort would no longer produce fruit. I would just not have the resources to comprehend the situation.
My fellow teachers were pretty much comfortable with figuring out where the children’s’ capabilities lay and teaching what the kids could handle. They were as successful as one gets in the bureaucratic world of big-city teaching. Not me. I kept wanting for the children to be more than they were capable of being. I guess I was something of an educational stage mother.
I suspect some of you out there think I was being noble and progressive. Probably it was more like wishful thinking. Maybe I did stimulate a couple of kids in the process, but the real lesson is: “You can’t make a purple cow out of a sow’s purse. ”
Jack Wilson is a writer and artist from Los Angeles and Phoenix.