Two years ago, after reading the conclusion of Walden, I asked my students to write “Drummer Journals.” These journals encompassed students documenting their adventures while “marching to the beat of their own drum”, as Thoreau encouraged mankind to do.
Some of my students chose the obvious (I’m going to march to the beat of my own drum by not doing the Drummer journal) and others chose off-the-wall activities just to see what I would say (I pooped in my cat’s litter box). I’m pretty sure some of these were made up.
But there were that handful of beautiful blessings who took the assignment to heart and followed theirs. One such group of students chose to conduct a Native American pow wow in the hallway of the school one morning. They brought bongos and ukuleles and even a didgeridoo so that they could make a big bunch of noise. They wore Aztec prints and feathered headdresses just because they felt like it. I could tell that they really were into it because they came and invited me to join them for the next one. I couldn’t claim to live passionately, yet ignore such an invitation, so I brought my ukulele that I have yet learned to play and sauntered down to the lobby where they made a heap of noise shouting and pounding and leaping around. My heart almost burst. Sarah* trudged around the circle they had made sitting crisscrossed on the floor with giant broad steps, blowing into her didgeridoo so hard that her face went blue. Amelia* shouted, “Hello brother!” to passersby, greeting them with the pounding of her drum.
There are those who might have witnessed this delightful morning pow-wow and thought, What nonsense…a waste of tax dollars! But I have to respectfully ask these people to shut the hell up. So much of education is about discipline and regimen and conformity. I know that these skills are necessary to some degree, but as Ken Robinson says, “education should be waking students up, not putting them to sleep.” I carry that thought with me each day. I’m willing to bet that Sarah and Amelia are less likely to forget Thoreau now than had we just discussed the chapter and I tested them on it. Learning is active. And passion is learning. Education, like passion, means waking up. My pow-wow tribe woke up themselves, the kids in the lobby, and me that day.
Now I need to take my own advice (well, Thoreau’s) and march to the beat of my own drum. As teachers, it’s easy to speak and harder to act. During this past summer I found other nonsense to waste time on–mostly worrying about things that I can’t control. Marching to the beat of my own drum means doing what I want and not what I worry that I should want. I’m going to be silly with my daughter. I’m going to talk about real things with my husband, not just whose turn it is to change the baby’s diaper. I’m going to write and read and walk and eat good, fresh food. I’m going to try not to worry, but just be. And if none of that works, I’ll try to imagine the sounds of the didgeridoo when I start to feel the anxiety build up. Maybe I’ll break into a pow-wow. Thoreau would be proud.
Photo courtesy of Google Images.