Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Christmas Carol

I know, it's from 2009...but it's evergreen.

Tonight as I came into the gym where everyone collects before going to individual classes, I saw the Boss (DRE) speaking to one of the little kids' teachers about having her group do some handmade Christmas cards for soldiers. Since every millisecond in our class is to be spent on my fastidiously-prepared lesson plan, there's no time for such trifles....although it's fine for the kiddies. But as I approached, the Boss looked my way. I put my "no" face on instantly, but to no avail. My kids should make some cards, too. All right, I guess. Five minutes should be enough time, I can put stuff on the board while they play.

Once in the classroom, I opened our storage bin of class supplies, and there's nothing to color with, only pencils and pens. I said, uh-oh, no colors, guess we won't do cards; we'll have regular class! O routine! O lesson plan! But my able assistant Madame Bouncer unearthed a fine box of color markers from the bowels of a closet, and I was beaten. Paper and markers were passed out along with some instruction. My kids are between 11 and 15 or so; the older ones, especially the boys, weren't diving into this little project with the energy of the 11-year-old girls. I wanted them to get it done.

I said, "Look, don't be tentative or shy about drawing something. I'm an architect, I get paid good money to draw and color pictures all day long. You can do it, but you have to start drawing now. I used to teach college students in architecture school. If I had 10 students in my studio and they started a new project, say a dentist's office, after an hour only 2 people would have drawn anything at all. I'd ask the other 8, what are you waiting for? Draw! They'd say, "I don't have a good idea yet." I'd say, "Then draw a bad idea." So I want you to do the same thing. Draw. Draw Santy, or a Christmas tree, or baby Jesus, but draw. If it's bad throw it away, there's plenty of paper. A bad drawing gets you closer to a good one. And think of the soldiers in the freezing cold in Afghanistan on Christmas Eve, how happy they'll be to get a Christmas picture from you. It'd make their Christmas. When I was your age I did the same thing for soldiers in Vietnam, we heard back from some of them. I've even made cards for my wife. Remember, love creates; love doesn't go shopping. Make something good."

So even the self-conscious boys got busy, and soon you could hear a pin drop. The only sound was the clicking of the color marker caps on and off. Click click click click click....A few bad ideas were wadded up as preludes to better ones. After 10 minutes, there was no letup in focus or energy. Mme. Bouncer quietly walked around, indicated I should have a look. I did. Good God in Heaven, they were doing the beautiful, serious work that only children can do. Unique, substantial, careful, thoughtful, imaginative. What soldier wouldn't be thrilled to receive one of these? Then 20 minutes: click click click click, still intense. I accepted that the time was being better spent on making cards than covering class material. By 30 minutes, the first cards were being turned in, and full bladders fled to the bathrooms. By 35 minutes, we started on a shortened lesson plan. It was fine. When class was over I told them they'd done good work, and that if they were my children (which I think they are most of the time) I'd give them all a hug and a kiss.

Thank goodness for my DRE, my bouncer, and my dear students. Thank goodness I stayed out of the way.

I love A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Every Christmas I reflect on Ezekiel 36:25: A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. How well it applies to Scrooge's change of heart. How much I'd like it to apply to me. And I ponder this last line by Dickens: " was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!"
The best class is when the teacher learns from the student; I've already received my Christmas present for this year. So I wish an early 'Merry Christmas' to all our soldiers.

And to all a Good Night.

(at top is a scan of one of my students' cards)