Book Nerd Guest Post
What was the greatest thing you learned at school?
The best thing I learned at school was that I didn't need school to keep learning. I grew up in an impoverished neighborhood, but I was lucky enough to attend an experimental elementary school. It was open-concept, four teachers in one giant room, with kids drifting from quarter to quarter for different lessons.
Then we'd all come together in the middle of the room for special lessons. Or for reading time. Every teacher I had at this school loved reading. In fourth grade, Miss West read THE LAST OF THE REALLY GREAT WHANGDOODLES and THE WESTING GAME to us. Miss Thompson helped us staple construction paper covers on books we'd written. We had lots of library time. We were rewarded for reading on our own.
We were also rewarded with attention and praise for learning. We had daily journals where we wrote about something new we'd discovered, and the teachers always wrote back with interesting facts that related. One sixth grade teacher chose a different favorite every day. One of the ways to become Mr. Pfeiffer's Favorite? Whip out some amazing science on him.
When they sent us home for the summer, they made sure we knew that anything we learned over vacation would be worth attention and discussion in the fall when we returned. We were all poor kids, but we had a great school library. And we were lucky enough to have enthusiastic teachers who made learning not just fun, but desirable.
They taught us—they taught me—that the most important thing was to read. To pay attention. To be curious. In retrospect, I wonder now if they realized that many of the kids in my neighborhood (me included) would never be able to afford to go to college. If they understood that it was up to us to stay bright and sharp on our own.
Because they did an extraordinary job of teaching us that we didn't need them to keep learning. They made educating ourselves so sweet, that I still enjoy seeking out new non-fiction, on subjects absolutely brand new to me. They taught us that learning was the most important thing. That books were the gateway to go anywhere. And that there was always something more to discover.
I'm sad to say that my elementary school closed down almost twenty years ago. I don't know where Miss West and Miss Thompson and Mr. Pfeiffer are now. I just hope they realize the legacy they created in that strange little school in the middle of one of the worst neighborhoods on the east side of Indianapolis.
When I read to my fourth grade daughter, I think about them. When I write my novels, I think about them. When I seek out new stories and histories and sciences, I think of them. They taught me that school is only the beginning; learning is a gift that lasts a lifetime.
“springsweet” to advise other settlers where to dig their wells, Zora feels the burden of holding the key to something so essential to survival in this unforgiving land.
Even more, she finds herself longing for love the way the prairie thirsts for water.
Maybe, in the wildness of the territories, Zora can finally move beyond simply surviving and start living.
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