Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Prodigal and the Beast

The Prodigal

D. came back to school again, and this time as she came up the ramp she searched my eyes. I ran to greet her, gave her a big squeeze and asked her if she was safe. She hugged back, saying yes, and her face registered surprise at the tears she saw brimming in mine. "I'm not trying to be nosy, but I was so worried about you. If you need to talk or need help, I'm here for you and you can reach me on school email..." Her smile was genuine. I heard she got counseling on site; I hope it's not a one-shot deal.

The Beast

I introduced him by saying, "You are gonna be down on him at first, but hang on--I think you'll appreciate him by and by", and they learned that Horace Mann was the one to hold responsible for mandatory public schooling. "I HATE him!" yelled E., never one to keep any thought that popped into his head from shooting straight out of his mouth. "This is the man that subjects me to the cruelty of the quadratic equation?" queried A., eyes wide with mock fury.

So I pass out some of Mann's own writing, telling them that obviously Horace was persuasive, because he was able to convince people that funding public education was worthwhile; he even convinced childless curmudgeons and biddies that their investment would pay off. After they wrestle with the text a bit, I start fielding answers to the question, "What did Horace argue would happen if we had a better educated public?" As the list grows, I see their faces soften. As they compare their lives with those of children who work in factories, the kids seem to settle into their chairs. And when we discuss how education directly corresponds to better income, health, and lower crime rates, it isn't really surprising when E. shouts with reluctant but genuine admiration, "Horace was a BEAST!" (and that is E.'s highest praise!)

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