Archive for Thursday, January 8, 2009

Learning aside from homework

January 8, 2009

He bends over the paper. We read the instructions: If you take the g from goat and replace it with a c, what do you get? We devise the answer and go on to the next question. We are leaning over the counter at Magnum Opus, an unlikely but perfectly suitable environment to be doing such work.

We are surrounded by fine gifts, antiques, works by the local artist and jewelry made by the owner herself. It makes perfect sense to be doing homework; it is a creative undertaking that requires one to call upon their inner resources and create something that wasn’t there when the work was first begun. It is the creative process in its practical use.

I study this young artist as he works. He is small but perfectly built for a second-grader. He works hard on his project, fiddling from time to time with the cowlick that sticks up in his brown hair. We look around for a pencil. He is struggling with a ballpoint pen.

I am a writer and don’t have a pencil, and neither does the owner of Magnum Opus. We muster on with the pen.

Mr. Architect from across the street waddles in with a package. We hit him up for a pencil. Architects, like writers, carry pencils — those fine pointed, mechanical pencils used for making drawings. He has no pencil.

We dispatch him back across the street for a pencil and he returns with two. Before he returns, the young student asks what an architect is, anyway. We tell him to ask the architect, which he does.

“We design buildings,” the architect tells him, “so engineers can build them.”

By now the young student has left the glass counter, where he was doing homework, and is sitting on the floor reading a book about bears. He reads and listens to the architect and the shop owner discussing a project.

Later the young student leaves his reading and jumps around between two display counters. He is displaying his proclivity for dancing when his mother arrives and wants to know why his is not in the back room doing homework. I intervene and explain the homework is done. The mother suspects the shop owner and I are in cahoots to get the young student out of doing his work, remarking that she knows the two of us and thinks we are up to something.

We are. We are up to providing this young man a good learning environment. Think about it for a moment. You are a second-grader, you do your homework in an environment steeped in culture, a man walks in and tells you about architects and engineers, you eavesdrop on business discussions, sitting on the floor reading a book about bears. I’d call that a school without walls — a good learning environment.

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