My passion is encouragement and teaching others how to tell their stories. Such power is tapped when someone reads a piece of literature and learns something about themselves, or develops their philosophies of life further from reading, analyzing, and understanding the story. Students won't necessarily do that on their own, especially lower level students who are struggling with the basic comprehension of what they are reading, so I find that class discussion and journal writings are one viable way to inspire that kind of authentic learning.
Recently, as we were beginning to read "Flowers for Algernon" in my regular level 8th grade English class, I had the students respond to the journal prompt, "Which is more important - relationships with people or accomplishments?" After this initial journal prompt, we spent several days reading aloud and discussing the journal entries of Charlie Gordon, the main character in the story. Charlie, who was mentally disabled, is chosen for an experimental surgery to increase his IQ. Charlie expressed, through his own journal entries, the strong desire to be like others and to be liked by others. Despite his disability, Charlie decided that the best route to meaningful relationship was to become smarter.
As my students read and discussed Charlie's journey, they experienced first-hand the sad discovery that Charlie himself made. While Charlie's intelligence increased, his relationships changed and eventually decreased. Charlie was happier before he underwent the surgery and, though he accomplished academic achievements that surpassed even the scientists who had transformed him, he lost all ability to relate to others. In the the end, he found himself completely alone.
In the midst of the class discussion one day, one of my student's eyes widened and she gasped! "Oh, that's why you had us write about that prompt the other day!" She had made a connection on her own between the writing assignment and the story, and it took her completely by surprise! The prompt had primed my student for opening her mind to a new discovery about what she believed. My fervent desire is that she will now view literature in a different light when she is reading on her own. Hopefully, her educational journey has forever shifted from doing what she is told, waiting for someone to fill her with a bit of knowledge, and skimming through texts to simply fill in the blanks, to a genuine desire to learn. Oh, what a joy it will be if a switch has flipped deep within her that has turned on a passion and created an itch for more discovery.
And isn't this true of each one of us? We go through life, skimming the surface of all that it has to offer. We wade through the shallow waters along the shore of a deep and coursing river of culture and faith and relationship. We feel like we are experiencing life because our ankles are wet and we occasionally feel the ripples of the water lapping at our shins, but we are reluctant to jump in and submerge our souls in the teeming, tumultuous waters of the adventure of life. Every once in while, someone asks us a question, someone pushes us to participate in a discussion that forces us to come to a conclusion. Someone invites us to wade out beyond the comfort levels of our own meager measure of the real meaning of life. While we are there, struggling to maintain our footing, suddenly the current sweeps us off our figurative feet and we are whisked into deeper level of understanding! That "aha" moment carries us to a new place, a new understanding, a new adventure, and our life will never again be the same!
This is life! How wonderful to be the one who is whisked away! But it is infinitely more amazing to be the one who invites an observer into the adventure. To watch another who was idling, apathetic and unaware, come alive, awakening to the true journey, only urges the encourager to encourage all the more. This is teaching!