In my Economics class, my students are seniors. I try to expose them to ideas, events and realities which are new to them. I make them watch and hear about things that are unknown: beautiful things, tragic things, and important things…in which they are complicit, as am I. Daily, I watch their protective bubbles of suburbia, Christian fundamentalism and Alabamian false pride fail.
This round of seniors are tough. Honestly, our staff fears them a bit. They stare us all down, measuring us for misrepresentation and malevolence. For most of them, being “good” is not even on the long lists of their goals. Some of their lives have been hard in secret and not so secret ways. And honestly, I am unsure if they see me as friend or foe. It’s a tough gig with them every day, these more street smart than grade minded folks. Even the really intellectually talented ones act like they don’t care and let the more domesticated among them win the atta girls and atta boys.
But, I am trying something with all of them which worked with one of them years ago now. I wrote her back on an assignment and have continued that practice for two years. She and I are tight now…we now write together in some venues. So, in effort to try to duplicate a measure of such with each of them, I am writing all of them back on quizzes and class writings. I am trying to connect, to send the powerful and plain message writing back sends to me as a receiver.
Yesterday, as I was rejoicing about the expansion of Deeper Story, especially the inclusion of a beloved writing friend, I tried to explain to my husband why Deeper Story was so important to the Church and its maturing in this season. As I scrolled down the list of writers, I told Rob all about each of them…not so much their writing works, but their persons, who they were to me through their writing. I have hundreds of books on my shelves which I have read. I know little about most of the writers. I know Madeleine; I know Brennan; I know Brian. ( They have each in their way written me back when I responded to their offerings of story. ) I read everything those three have written, to know them better, their minds and hearts, better. The rest of those books I have read are just ideas gathered under what could be a random name.
I told Rob, I would be buying all of my Deeper Story friends books as they came to publication. I had come to know the writers through our exchange of comments…and as much I wanted to hear more of what they had to say. Those folks whose beautiful writing I read everyday, write me back when I offer a particular, “thank you or you reminded me of…” to them. I encounter them as people as well as authors.
My encountering this classs as people as well as students seems to be a key to our hearing each other and our wanting to hear more. So, Friday’s quiz, which I could grade in 5 minutes for the lot of them…Well, today I am going to read their responses…consider them, not just in regard to rubric, but in regard to relationship, and write them back accordingly. They will get a grade and an exchange.
It takes a bit longer. ( It always cost me some tears.) But, the real and holy work of our time together, relationship, is done in that sweet swapping of words.
Two weeks in, they no longer stare perplexed that I would drop them a note on their quiz about what wisdom or compassion they offered or how I noticed this or that about them in class. Now, when I get ready to put a quiz prompt on the board, they don’t ask over and over how long the answer has to be, they ask, “You are going to write back, aren’t you?”
PS. And you know, they are paying more and more attention to what I share in lecture, video or activity with them.