Sunday, October 16, 2011

Naked in Mud

In preparing to say goodbye to my colleague of 36 years at the school, Lynne Woodford, I came across a photo from the 70’s of a camping trip we took with the kids. Lynne and her husband, me and my wife and several other teachers were standing ankle-deep in a pond naked covered with mud. Nearby were several kids nonchalantly going about their business, as if being next to their mud-streaked naked teachers was the most natural thing in the world. And why not?

On Friday, we had such a joyful singing time with the kids. Our spirited Spanish department was up front with the music department playing congas, guiros, cowbells while we sang a Colombian song about a dancing skeleton. Each verse, the skeleton moves another part of the body—la cabeza, la espalda, la cintura, las rodillas, etc. Any stern-faced assessor would have to admit that curricular goals were being met, as 100 kids from 1st through 5th grade were learning and reinforcing their Spanish vocabulary. But whereas most school learning is simply content to know the name of the body part, our view of education says “So what? That’s just step one. The question is what can that body part do? And more importantly, what are you going to do with that body part?” And so we invited the kids grade by grade to stand up and strut their stuff with a chosen body part.

“How is the new chief?” asked a visitor to a West African village. “I don’t know,” replied the citizen. “I haven’t seen him dance yet.” I love this story, because dance is one of many ways to get to know the character of a person and one more profound than knowing their favorite pizza topping. Watching these kids dance, I learned a lot! Of course, then the teachers had to dance too and I was so proud that a first-grader smiled at me and gave me a thumbs-up after my little foot-dance. At the end, we all stood up and danced together and then teachers chose a particularly expressive dancer from each grade to lead the group out to recess.

After the kids left, the teachers spontaneously gathered, with smiles wrapped twice around our faces from the sheer joy of those twenty minutes and our delight in naming some of the kids we noticed. Now it was one of those rare San Francisco heat-wave days and I suddenly realized that all the administrators on campus were away on some board retreat. With an impish grin, I said, "Hey, you guys! All the grown-ups are gone! Let's all run around in our underwear through the sprinklers!" (Note how I’ve moved with the times—from naked in mud to the more modest underwear caper.) We laughed heartily and though we didn’t do it, it was delicious to just imagine it.

And again, why not? What’s the big deal? Picture how the atmosphere would change after administrators, teachers and kids ran around the yard in their underwater squirting each other with water on a hot sunny day. I imagine next time we sat around a table meeting about difficult issues, there would be a lighter, more together, more happy tone.

Mud-bath, anyone?

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