Dreams Live and Die


Another Student, Similar Vision or Lack Thereof. Matt Belin in Iowa. Photographer, Chris Coudron

&copy copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert

He was young, relatively speaking, and old, so old, he had already given up on his future. Nevertheless, the flame flickered brightly as he shared what he wished it would be with me.  He stood close.  He was turning in his project.  He was not the first to complete his work. Actually, he was among the last. The students had been working on this assignment for days. It was due in ten minutes.  Work not turned in on time, would be considered late.  Grades could drop.  Yet, that was not his deepest concern.  In that moment, he worried about my future.

This gentle man was housed within a class that had been a thorn in their teacher’s side.  I was sitting in for the regular classroom Instructor on that day, the last day to complete the project.  During this final workday, students had  an opportunity to dream.  If the work was done, they could watch a video, an adventure film, and immerse them selves in a world of fantasy.  If the task was not yet finished, work, work, work would be the agenda.  However, the Teacher had said to me, that once most were done, the video could be played.  The others would be required to continue their endeavor while the hum  was heard in the background.

In this group, none of the options was appreciated.  They wanted to walk, to talk, and to play; however, this was not in my plan.  Commotion is not my vision for a classroom.  Nor was chaos what I needed.

I wanted quiet order.  I stated this aloud before class began.  For me, active, productive, and creative minds are as I crave.  I give pupils the time and space to flow, to self-actualize, as Social Scientists’ might say.  they can gel in the inner sanctums of their minds.  I shared with the students, though they personally may not wish to excel, there are those that do.  I want to ensure that they can.  In harmony, the class grumbled.

This crowd voiced no desire to shine.  Should one exist, it was well hidden.

Since these students were not ones I had a lasting relationship with, I felt that I had very little time to influence what was in their minds.  I could only guide behaviors and introduce possibilities.

It was the last period of the day.  As the movie played, I quietly did my own work.  I brought my power-book from home.  I watched the pupils, not the pulp-fiction, as I typed away.  I did interact, though there was little to interact with.  Some students were, finally, working.  Others were indeed viewing.  The room, at last was void of noise, with the exception of the sounds coming from the screen.  Time passed and then it occurred.

The period was coming to a close.  Learners turned their projects in slowly yet surely.

He approached.  He handed me his papers and I offered my thanks.  He stayed close for a while and then said, “I like your computer.”  His words did not seem as envy, as much as understanding.  I told him of how I had wanted this laptop for more than a decade.  I could not spend the money, or would not.  Then circumstances demanded the purchase.  A long distance move had necessitated and my arrival in town after a tumultuous storm had postponed the possibility of my move into a home I purchased months earlier.   I took up occupancy in a hotel and would reside there for two and one-half months.  My life was in boxes, in storage.  Me, without a computer to meet my daily needs was unthinkable, not do-able.

He said that he could relate. We chatted. I shared my dream and why the workstation seemed a must to me.  I told him of my passion for writing and my dream to do this exclusively.  I shared my fears.  He smiled.  Apparently, he had the same.  He told me of how his words could and did bring readers to tears.  He had scored among the best in the writing portion of the Florida’s Comprehensive Assessment Test [FCAT.]  I asked; what was he planning to pursue in college to make his dream come true.

He responded quickly, with little thought. He had already thoroughly assessed this decision.  He said, “I am not college material.”  He continued, “Possibly, I will to attend the community college and learn a trade.”  Then shyly he added, “I may work for the school newspaper.  I would like to do some sports writing  . . . and maybe more.”

Not college material?  I expressed my doubt of that.  There was a quizzical look; it disappeared.  He became animated though still certain that furthering his education was not in the plans.  His eyes lit the room.  His skin sparkled.  His voice reverberated.  He began to tell me how much he loved to read.  He was working on a paper for one of his classes.  He researched much.  He was writing on the career of J.K. Rowlings’.  He recounted her life story, in depth and detail.  He spoke of the hard times she faced, her divorce, her children, and that she had been on welfare, all the time working on her books.  He was joyous for her success.  He read each of her books.

He continued discussing her trials, tribulations, and tales.  The rejection she received, her perseverance, and his thrill that she thrived.  He was living her life as he told her story.  This sweet man was absorbed in his loves, his reading, and his writing.  Yet, he had no hopes, or at least he was told by some older and wiser adults not to.

I was sad and happy.  I attempted to encourage him.  The irony is, earlier, he was cheering me on, telling me to believe in my dream and myself.  He wanted me to pursue my passion; perhaps he wanted this for each of us.  He and I were together, fearful, while willing and wanting to take on the world.  However, we both had been wounded by the words of others.  What people had said to us then and now advanced our uncertainties, quelled, or delayed our desires.  Those doubting statements were once or twice said to us; now, they were the ones we told ourselves.

“Hold fast to your dreams, for without them life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.”~ James Langston Hughes

References for shared realities . . .

16 thoughts on “Dreams Live and Die”

  1. Dear Betsy, what a nice and sweet story!


    And please tell the pupil(?) to dream on. We live when we have an agenda for our passion.

    It is important to learn a trade and to support oneself. Great men are with him: Dostoyevsky was an Engineer-turned-writer, Kafka was a lawyer-turned-writer. Both are among the greatest.

    It is utterly important to have a passion, a hobby. Not to be crushed by the need of money.

  2. Dear a . . .

    I apologize for the delay in responding. I was visiting with family. My father and I were speaking of you, all in goodness and grace.

    I will explore the site you mentioned.

    I must say I will share the message with the young man. You realize your words were necessary for me as much as for him.

    In my sleeping stupor, I will write pleasant dreams.

    It is only the giving that makes us what [who] we are. – Ian Anderson. Jethro Tull . . . Betsy

  3. Dear a . . .

    As am I, proud that these people stood for themselves, their beliefs, and all that I wish was America. Perhaps, one day we will be the land of the free and home of the brave, not in part; instead, fully.

    I did not forget your query. I had trouble with the site, though I think I finally was able to locate it. I will read and review soon. I love our discussions. I am intrigued by what this page might offer.

    It is only the giving that makes us what [who] we are. – Ian Anderson. Jethro Tull . . . Betsy

  4. Dear Betsy,

    here is what the blog site is talking about:

    “Documentary on radical free school – inspiring

    This YouTube video is the trailer for a documentary called “Voices from the New American Schoolhouse,” which chronicles the radical education practiced at the Fairhaven School in Upper Marlboro, MD. Fairhaven appears to be a classical free-school, in which kids self-govern, design their own curriculum, and tutor their peers. I went to publicly funded schools like this from grade four to graduation, and they were the most important factor in the way I conduct my own adult life. Attending schools like this teaches many kids to run their own lives, blazing their own trail, inventing their own careers, and trying anything. Useful skills in a world where any job that can be described is likely to be outsourced.

    The documentary is narrated principally by the school’s bright, well-spoken students, who are eloquent and passionate advocates for open education. Link (Thanks, Danny!)

    Update: Mike adds, You can buy the full length version of ‘Voices from the New American Schoolhouse’ at the Fairhaven website.”

  5. Dear a . . .

    I apologize for not responding more quickly. I have been continually interpreted as I view the video “Voices from the New American Schoolhouse.” I am again listening to the clip as I write.

    I recall when I was younger a similar school, Milwaukee Independence School opened. My Dad was on the Board of Directors. I did not attend the school and I do not recall whether the school succeeded. I know not whether the idea still prospers. I do not know why I believe the program did not survive.

    I just called my Dad and he said there were problems with staffing, management, and such. He too is uncertain whether or not they still exist.

    I think the concept is great; however, I believe, there needs to be a structure that allows for freedom. Does that make sense? Sadly, too often when humans are given too much space with too little organization, it can be detrimental to their development.

    I think this is why a relationship between a student and educators must be established. I believe it is also necessary to create a connection to between the curriculum and the student’s individual’s genuine interests.

    I will look further into the resources you provided. Thank you so much A for sharing, thinking, and being you.

    It is only the giving that makes us what [who] we are. – Ian Anderson. Jethro Tull . . . Betsy

  6. Very interesting to know. Mavericks normally have low survival rate. But once experimented enough, real change can be set in the society. So, even though the school failed (financially? managerialy? or academically?), it might be important to learn why it failed?

    How about Home Schooling? Apart from the religious ideology in it, from teaching perspective, is it a better form of teaching in theory? And is it a better form of teaching in practice?

  7. Dear a . . .

    I love the idea of independent schools, those that encourage a student to be who they are, promote creativity, and productivity. I agree that one may have failed is no reason to think that others will as well. How many small businesses fail though they are far better than their competitors. Consider ma and pop stores in contrast to Wal-Mart. More often than not, the best ideas perish because people prefer what they know or are familiar with, even if it is awful!

    The idea of home schooling is a fine one, forsaking the religious dominance. This type of instruction can provide an excellent education. For me, the fact that schools are so large is troublesome. This, I think, voluminous facilities are evidence of for how we prefer the convenience of corralling our children. We do a great job of lining pupils up in rows and halls. If only we attended to their minds and hearts as well.

    A cousin of mine had the good fortune of being born to parents with plenty. They cared and could afford to provide a private tutor for their son. This guide was not an instructor in the conventional sense. He did not supplement the school curriculum; he was the program. My cousin and this man worked together one on one; they traveled together. Living life, seeing, doing, and experiencing events were the classroom. My cousin developed a genuine love of learning. Now, in his late eighties, he is still a young man, gobbling up information. It is sad that this quality education can be afforded to so few.

    It seems to me, too often, time and money are paramount when we think of educating our progeny.

    What are your thoughts a? What are your experiences? I believe, even in our younger years, we knew what was working and not in our schools.

    It is only the giving that makes us what [who] we are. – Ian Anderson. Jethro Tull . . . Betsy

  8. Dear Betsy, I grew up in China. My high school class consisted of 50 pupils, it was very crowded. In a way I liked it: there is communication and stimulations from every one. I am not big on exclusive one-one education. I think effective and creative education can be achieve with great number of pupils — often in the classroom, I appreciate other students asking questions I did not think of.

    I think the teacher’s knowledge of the subject, confidence, being fair and observant and the teaching style all make big difference. It is hard to get by a great teacher, :).

  9. Dear a . . .

    I was out of town and I am now playing catch-up. I am so very sleepy; nevertheless, I wanted to respond.

    I agree; it is great to have classmates. Their energy and inquiries can be a great motivator . . . or detractor.

    However, as an educator, I believe it is impossible to truly teach as well to a large class of students. There are so many individuals with such a varied array of learning styles. What works well for one may not be what is best for others.

    As a student, I know I never had the luxury many classmates had in college. I could not read the text, take the test, and receive “A’s.” Even if I could, I would not want to. I want to hear the lecture, ask questions, and truly connect to the curriculum. Rarely, have I felt rewarded when I accept an “A” without having done a through examination of all the materials.

    I recognize that is just my preference. Many are content to sit in class unnoticed. They do not want genuine attention from the teacher. Numerous students do not feel compelled to learn more than the minimum required for an excellent grade. For me, that is sad.

    Actually, I struggle with the idea of grades, particularly when they are based on tests, papers, and not a progressive portfolio of work and interviews. That may be just me, wanting what I prefer as a student.

    I love learning; I always have. However, the pretense of it baffles me. I think memorizing is not learning. Recalling rote, while impressive, does not correlate to having a creative, imaginative, and productive mind. I would want educators to instill a love of learning.

    I ask, in a class of fifty how much time was your teacher able to spend with you as a person. Did he or she authentically know whether you were learning or was s/he more aware of how well you did on tests or mimicked a lecture in your papers? Possibly, your professor was more capable than most. That could very well be. I believe I know nothing with certainty. Therefore, I inquire. I only have my observations, experience, and interpretations to guide me, unless other share.

    Please a, teach me. Share what for you differs. I do learn much from you. Often, you have helped me to expand my awareness.

    It is only the giving that makes us what [who] we are. – Ian Anderson. Jethro Tull . . . Betsy

  10. Dear Betsy, it has been a long day for me today… but your questions have made me think a lot about the topic. I will find a better time to sit down and write. For now, best wishes.

  11. Dear a . . .

    I look forward to reading your reflections. I understand a busy day and being wiped out, sigh. I know that feeling too well. Such is life in the twenty-first century. I wonder how healthy this state is for all of us.

    Sleep well, rest, relax, and enjoy the energy that is you.

    May you live long, learn much, and feel fulfilled . . . Betsy

  12. Betsy, finally I am with energy to write in depth about big class size.

    When I grew up, the education system is very different. Once you are in a school, you are stuck with the same groups of students, the same classroom, every day. Your chance of change is only when you change school, like from elementary (6 years) to middle school (3years) to high school (3 years).

    In the same timeline, you are also stuck with the same group of teachers. In high schoo, I had 7 teachers, each specializes in one subject. So the teachers themselves, typically teaches three class. If one class is 50 students, then he/she will have to teach 150 students, but for 3 years. So at the end of the three years, the teachers basically know every students quite well. In addition, in each class, there is a class representative (a student normally strong in the class subject) who helps the teacher, cordinates the materials.

    So teaching/learning is a group activity, communication is multi-fold. I myself as a student avoided too much contact with the teachers and some teachers even complained that I did not ask enough questions, :). I prefer my learning experience influenced by the teach on a non-personal level. If I love history, it is because the teacher was capable of making it interesting to me in the classroom, not because of the personal attention the teacher gave to me.

    A good teacher cares for her students’ learning but does not have to get personal. And because of the way students/teachers know each other for three years, there is not a sense that the teachers are out of reach. I never heard of such complains.

    But I did feel that I suffer from the lack of more advanced level of training — because I typically learned things faster than other students. I trained myself by reading college level textbooks and do the excersize on my own. I wonder if there are advanced elve of training, if our education system has more flexibility that allow students to digress from the norm, would there not be more talented scienttists…

    For grading system: as long as it is a fair one and is designed to measure how the students learned, I am OK. The Russians have grading system that is based on orale exames, which is by far the most challenging grading system and hence they manage to produce the best students I have seen.

    I don’t think formal, institutionalized education includes all education there is to offer to individuals. There is more in life to learn. So it is also important to make sure that kids understand that. Grades, to me, gives one some objective and honest picture of one’s academic performance (but I am against multiple choices, the standardized exam, which I think does not measure performance well).

  13. Dear a . . .

    I have no argument; all that you say is valid. For me, what is most true is that we all learn differently, more or less well in one system or another.

    I agree; a teacher can make all the difference. A close friend and I were just speaking of this. Her daughter is doing as I did; if I liked the teacher’s style, I excelled, if not, oh well.

    I do not think the teacher student relationship needs to be personal, though the information, if it is to be learned for a lifetime and not just for a test or project, must be personally relevant.

    I could go on and on about, what I believe is, the inaccurate assessment a multiple-choice exam offers.

    I think at times, as students, or people, we become comfortable with what we know, even if an alternative might benefit us more. We fear our success, as much as our failure. We dread attention, as much as we crave it. You said of yourself, you needed and wanted more; yet, you were happy to be virtually invisible.

    I also do think as you do, lots of learning occurs outside formal educational institutions. I learned much more at home than in school.

    For the young man I wrote of in this treatise, I suspect our short conversation may have been more instructive for each of us than time studying might have been.

    I think education can be too rigid, standards too shortsighted. However, when we corral children into classes, sadly, control becomes a priority.

    Smiles, I love oral testing. Those that are visual often prefer multiple-choice examinations . . . or, so it seems.

    It is only the giving that makes us what [who] we are. – Ian Anderson. Jethro Tull . . . Betsy

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