Ownership is a word I’ve used many times in this space, usually referring to learners owning their learning or people owning the consequences of actions and choices. And that kind of ownership is important, especially when you’re moving out of a factory-model paradigm where ownership is often unclear. “Who owns the school?” I asked in an early blog post, and “Who owns That Textbook or Those Worksheets?” From one perspective, All of Us Taxpayers do, since our pooled resources made it possible for the building to be built, the textbook purchased, the worksheet copies made. But when All of Us own something, it feels like nobody really owns it. And even when ownership is clearer, it’s hard to own the bad stuff along with the good stuff.
I was tired over the weekend, and frustrated because I just couldn’t finish two or three lingering tasks. I took a nap, hoping to feel better – and when I woke up, a phrase was stuck in my mind. It’s shifted over the past few days, but it was something like this: “You can’t claim what’s yours until you embrace your legacy.”
It’s an odd phrase, one I’m still grappling with as I write. It has to do with owning it all, the bad along with the good, the painful and the pleasant. The dark nights of the soul as well as the mountaintop experiences; the proverbial horse thieves as well as saints that you’ll find in most family trees. I’d been feeling stuck, I think, because I’d never fully owned a set of family traits, seen and acknowledged their influence on me, given them a name and allowed them into my story.
I’m not sure I’m completely finished with owning it all when it comes to those traits, but I took important steps last weekend. And I’m sure the good things that happened on Monday were related and connected.
The Latin I classes have been working with plurals, so it was time to start learning numbers – and for the Latin Family, that includes the game the Romans called micare. It was a hard day for a lot of students – and not just because they wished Columbus Day was a holiday in the Local School District! But somehow, with just a few extra steps, a few more chances to practice each piece of the game, the game was a rousing success. We were comfortable and happy – but then we made the transition to the funny but appalling Tres Columnae Project story where young Cnaeus Caelius, who’s refused to get out of bed on the first day of school, is compelled to get up by Fortunata the cow. It’s a comic story, but below the surface are issues of family dysfunction and abuse that the large class picked up on right away – and they were really uncomfortable. We talked about possibilities and implications, about ways that wealthy Romans were similar to and different from us – and then, all of a sudden, I realized that Cnaeus might have dreamed the whole thing.
What if he did? Would that make a difference? What if, while still unpleasant to our taste, familia Caelia were less dysfunctional and abusive than they seem? Today, as the Latin I groups work on their second Minor Assessment of the reporting period, students that choose the individual option will be working with a draft story where, in fact, the whole incident with Fortunata is revealed as a dream. “What do you think of that?” I asked the upper-level group, and they were intrigued and curious. There are several other dream-stories, after all, in the Tres Columnae Project materials – including one that the upper-level classes will be reading soon where young Lucius Valerius’ whole future is shaped by a dream.
Dreams – both the literal kind where you’re asleep and the metaphorical kind where you envision a future goal or desired state – are important. If you think about it, you can probably remember dreams you had years, even decades, ago … sometimes with perfect clarity. I remember one fear-filled dream I used to have every year, shortly before school started in the fall when I was in high school – and another, also fearful but faintly ridiculous, that afflicted me for the first ten or so years that I taught. Why did they return? Because I had trouble owning the messages they were sending me, I think … and so my subconscious mind kept re-sending the message, hoping for a breakthrough.
I stopped having the dream about being reassigned to Another School – to a classroom with no textbooks, no schedules for students, no walls facing the hallway – at some point after I started working on Tres Columnae. Apparently that dream was prompting me to be more open, to let go of the safe and comfortable. I’ve had a lot of dreams like that over the years!
When you’re building a joyful learning community, shared stories – and shared interpretations – are important, but it’s also important to be able to re-evaluate, to change perspectives, to try something new and see how it works. Did Cnaeus dream the cow incident? Should it be left ambiguous? Or is it important that, at this critical point in his life, Cnaeus was mistreated and labeled by parents who – as we’ll soon discover – are mired in grief and conflicting expectations every time they look at their strong-willed child? We’ll talk about these issues, and we’ll see if we can reach a resolution – but sometimes the talking is the most important part.
I wonder what fascinating conversations and insights await us all today!