Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Can I Get a Witness?

What a day! While the inspectors (see yesterday’s posting) commanded the teachers’ attention, focusing on achieving the perfect curriculum wrapped up in a standardized ribbon, they all missed the real deal that was going on outside their door. Like the 4-year olds I was singing with: “Okay, let’s see who is a good rhymer. Sing out your answer!”

“Oh my, I want a piece of _______.”

“Cheese!!!!” shouted the three girls in the front row, with photographer smiles to match.

“Very nice. But remember it has to rhyme. Let’s try again.”

“Oh my, I want a piece of _______.”

“Cheese!!!!” they all now shouted in unison.

I could see I needed to change my strategy. “Hmm. Okay, let’s try this.”

“Oh, please. I want a piece of ________.”

You guess it. “Pie!” they shouted out.

Kids. You gotta love ‘em.

And the inspectors missed it.

On to the Funga Alafia welcoming song and the invitation to dance one at a time in the middle with all copying. The feisty kid who was restless and unfocused during the other songs now jumped in the middle and tore up the dance floor.

And the inspectors missed it.

Then the 7th grade and the Cookie Jar game. New to most of them, but they learned quickly and we had the three-circle semi-finals, followed by the 6-person final, with promise of an ice cream sundae if any of them beat me. “But we don’t have sundaes in London!” one American student informed me. “Well, I’ll make you one then.” Out they went one by one until just Shannon and I remained. The 25 middle-schoolers gathered around in pin-drop silence. What drama! Of course, I won within two rounds, but still Shannon was proud to be the 7th Grade Cookie Jar Student Champion of the Day.

And the inspectors missed it.

There were the 4th grade recorder students who mastered a Philippine melody in 25 minutes, the 2nd grade kids joyfully dramatizing Old Man Mosie and then finding it on the xylophones, the 6th grade kids improvising on a Renaissance harmonic pattern with tubas, trombones, trumpets, French horns, saxophones, flutes, clarinets, violins, guitars and xylophones. Then another group showing their knowledge of geography, fruits, musical instruments, movie stars and more in the Concentration Game (they knew much more about stores then classical or jazz musicians) and ending by singing a Calypso song about all the nations that love bananas.

And you got it—the inspectors missed it.

I’m like the kid on the playground shouting to the grown-ups “Watch me!” and they’re checking their stupid text messages. Or more accurately, the teacher in the musical playground shouting to the people walking by to come in and watch the children. You would think that I would just accept by now that the world is mostly obsessed with the wrong things and constantly missing the miracles at their fingertips.

But I don’t. I find myself unsatisfied to be the only witness to the joy and humor and insight that come out of the mouths of babes and frustrated that more people are not peeking in the door. And yet more frustrated when they do peek in and don’t get it.

If they did open themselves up to truly seeing what’s going on and what’s possible, it would mean changing their life. Once you commit yourself to a life pitched at the miraculous, you’re vulnerable to all the grief and loss and disappointment that lives in the same room as the joy and exultation. Better to lower the bar and just get through, don’t ask so much of the world, don’t set yourself up for failure by trying to change it. Something I seem to be congenitally incapable of.

Meanwhile, it’s okay to go off on my feisty rants, but also time to hold my own feet to the fire and consider all the miracles I’m missing each day. Like the muted red sun setting through the fall-leaved trees on the school’s expansive grounds. 

I hope the inspectors noticed it too.

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