A few months ago, someone recommended Willis Moody and his book Igniting Purpose to me … and I looked, and I was impressed, and I got an electronic copy, and I read a few pages, and I stopped because the time wasn’t quite right. On Wednesday evening, when The Girl has a dance lesson and The Boy has a swim lesson, I often have time to read … and it “just happened” that I finished my first reading of the Thomas Merton chapter we’ll be discussing at the next Monday Book Group meeting. And there was Moody’s book, and I took a quick look – and it seems the time was right because I barely noticed the high-school swim team practicing or the swim-team parents chatting. I was either watching The Boy (who becomes a stronger swimmer every week) or reading Moody’s Wisdom about what he calls the conflict between ego and spirit – and about how that conflict affects students, teachers, parents, Powers That Be, and everyone else in a school.
I wonder when the time will be right for me to read more! It’s a powerful book, full of powerful and timeless ideas, and also full of the practical wisdom and application you can only get from walking the talk and living the learning. The kind of wisdom you gain on a journey of discovery.
And, of course, that’s what life is: a journey of discovery, whenever you choose to see it that way. That’s why I was so powerfully drawn to the Acton Academy school model when I learned about it from Jeff Sandefer at SXSW EDU last spring: because the whole school is very consciously built around helping its students on that life journey. In our small way, the Tres Columnae Project aims to help our community members on their journeys of discovery, too. As we explore the lives and experiences of our core and peripheral characters, and as we create new episodes of their life stories, refine them, and share them with each other, we get to try out life patterns and perspectives that are very different from our own. As we “see with Roman eyes” and “hear with Roman ears,” we gain some distance and perspective on our own struggles … and sometimes that’s exactly what you need at a particular point on your journey.
The Latin I classes will be reading the very last story in Lectiō XI today, the one where Ridiculus and Sabina cause so much unintentional havoc and where Flavius Caeso, ever unobservant, is put firmly in his place by his wife Ausonia. When we finish, we’ll be choosing roles for a filmed version of the Lectiō XI stories; we’ll be analyzing our characters today, developing a storyboard or script and such next week, and making the film itself after Thanksgiving Break. It seems like the relatively simple films we’ve made together already, but there’s a twist: this time, as we move up the proficiency scale toward Novice High and even Intermediate Low levels of reading proficiency, we’re ready to take a deeper dive into the characters. Whether you choose a small, medium, or large character (the categories refer not to the person’s importance in the story, but to the number of prior stories in which he or she appears), you’ll be re-reading stories in which your character appeared, finding specific thoughts, words, actions, feelings, cultural products, and cultural practices relevant to him or her, and thinking about how all those factors influence your character’s thoughts, words, actions, and feelings in this story sequence.
We tried something similar two years ago, and results were mixed … mostly because I hadn’t fully embraced the power of the journey of discovery we’d need to take together. I wasn’t quite at the Ms. X and Mr. Y point of “cute little activity,” but I still thought we could stay at a surface level with the analysis and the products. And they were fine – “perfectly” fine, Ms. X would say, because they met the requirements of the rubric, and the students enjoyed making the films, and we’ll probably even watch a few of them after we make our current set. But the potential ws so much greater than the results.
Did we make films of Lectiō XI last year? I don’t remember! As I recall, we did the character work, and we went a little bit deeper, but we were still just wading in the waters, like The Boy before he could swim well. We were – or at least I was – still holding on to the (metaphorical) side of the pool, the 20th-century paradigm where there’s Somebody (me! your teacher!) “in control” of the knowledge and the learning. There wasn’t enough time to make films, I probably thought – I could look, but somehow that doesn’t seem important right now – because there was a lot left to cover and we needed more practice with interpretive tasks before we could really do a great job with presentational ones.
And I wasn’t wrong about that, either. And we weren’t ready … because I wasn’t ready to let go of the side and venture out into the deep water of joyful learning community. That’s not a process you can rush! It’s taken years – a lifetime – for me to get to the point where I’m starting to be comfortable with letting go, trusting the process, and seeing where our interests take us. B, B, U, and the others are starting to get comfortable with the process, too; just when I think they’re completely unfocused, they’ll surprise me by doing some really high-quality work, or D will finish an assignment and show it to me, or C will write a Latin story that really comes together. Journeys of discovery are important, but you can’t rush them, and you can’t time them the way you time things on an assembly line or in a factory-classroom. Somehow, when you build joyful learning communities, favorable conditions are created and the journeys happen when the time is right.
I wonder what new discoveries await us today!