Friday, January 13, 2017

Of Starfishes, Frogs, Memories, and Story. A Thought.

I walked by this little wooden box I have hanging on my wall that has several memories of the J. Graham Brown School in Louisville, Kentucky, especially of those in the "Pond Life" - an imaginary location several students and I went to in our quest to understand our world a little more. Kids nicknamed me early as "Frog" and soon introduced their "pond" names. One student I didn't teach, Casey, became "Starfish." Her sisters, Rachel ("Phoenix") and Gaelyn ("Goldfish") were in my classes and although I didn't have Casey, she was a Brownie and very much a part of the aura and karma the school brought.

I love the little starfish I have as a memory of her and I stopped to look at it last night after a long day in the office. It reminded me of the "Starfish story" that I've seen replicated in numerous spaces (and that was originally penned by Loren Eiseley (1907-1977) in his work The Star Thrower. A student, Andrew Gott, was the first to share the tale with me and, as friends with Casey, I've always cherished the story in relation to the starfish in my collection.

A variation of the story goes like this:
There once was an old man who went to the ocean to write. He meandered the beach each morning before work to start his day with a clear mind and in recognition of the ocean he loved. Early one morning, he walked along the shoreline after a storm and found the sand littered with starfish stretching in both directions. Everywhere he worked, there were the five-armed sea creatures. 
The old man noticed a small boy approaching when he was thinking about all the star fish that found themselves ashore.  As the boy came closer, he stopped often and made motions out to the sea.  Occasionally, the old man noticed, the young man picked up items and tossed them as far as he could back into the water.  As the boy came into shouting distance, the old man greeted, “Good morning!  What is it that you're throwing into the sea?” 
"Oh," the boy stated while focused on the mission.  “I'm throwing starfish into the ocean. The storms last night brought many of the starfish to the shore and I don't think they will make it back to their home on their own. I'm afraid they will dry out and die in the sand. They need water.”  
The old man, sometimes grumpy when youth throw things into the shoreline he loved so much responded, “There are hundreds of thousands of starfish on this beach. You can't get to them all and it is an impossible task.” 
The boy continued bending down, however, picking up starfish and throwing them as far as he could into the ocean. He then turned, smiled, and said, “I just made a difference to that one!”
I believe this story may be at the heart of the style of teaching I've enjoyed most in my career. I'm amazed by the doubt, discouragement, and frustration expressed by colleagues and fellow teachers I meet who often wonder why I take the time I do, as I do, to listen to youth and advocate for their brilliance. They construct a negative view of what young people are able to do; I always wonder why they chose to be teachers in the first place. Everything I have ever really needed to know about learning, teaching, and being a human being, I've had validated by the young people I work with.

This morning, I am thinking of many of them, including Casey - the Starfish - and the short time we were sharing a little space in Louisville, Kentucky, together. This is not a superstitious Friday the 13th post, but one that believes in the magic of the universe. We need to believe in such things again given the turn we've all experience in the last few months.

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