Friday, October 22, 2010

Coffee shop

I'm tucked neatly into a brown and beige, velvety corner of a coffee shop on the Wake Forest campus. I love college campuses. They are so very, very different from high schools.

Jazz is piped in, competing for airspace with a clutch of conversations, espresso machine rumblings and swirling, shouts from the barrista. But the noise is not distracting in a coffee house. It's enriching. It's rich and thick.

In a high school, the noise is overwhelming and distressing for a delicate little flower like myself. I stand in the hallways and listen to the teenagers fly by shouting and muttering. Even when they're wrapped in an embrace, they shout. Is this the effect of immersion in surround sound? Teenagers in hallways en masse are so loud that they become unintelligble, and I experience the same sensation that I had upon arriving in Paris. I strain to hear a word that I recognize, but it's like straining to understand a new language.

Here, too, there is leisure and learning combined, which is not the case in a high school. One girl, seated on a plush semicircular sofa to my right is reading a novel by Elizabeth Bowen. She says that it's for a class and that it's slow, but she sits for a while, and she doesn't seem pained by the act, as many of my students would.

The girl to my left on a matching sofa, is studying Japanese, something that I also did in college. Do you know why? Not for a grade. Not for the credit. (I don't think I got any because my grade was terrible.) Just because I thought it would be something interesting to learn. Because learning is inherently interesting to me. For me. It seems like that's not the case for many of my students. Instead, learning is drudgery.

Now the girl studying Japanese has put away her studies and pulled out a paperback copy of James Joyce's Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man. It is also for a class, British Lit, which is not her major. The Japanese is for her major - Business Enterprise Marketing. This diligence though. This lovely, industrious, steady study of things in general - languages and literature, statistics and social patterns. This is what happens in a coffee shop on a college campus, and it's so invigorating to just sit here and observe the students. (I want to say "the young people," but I don't think I'm quite old enough. I'll pretend I'm not quite old enough.)

Sitting among the students, I feel a little better about the state of America. It's easy sometimes to be distressed and fretful as a high school teacher. It's easy to forget that there are young people who have chosen to continue learning, who see value in the process. Some of these kids might have even been lethargic and apathetic in high school. That makes me feel better.

Last week, I was mentally bemoaning American youth for not being as aware and bold as those French kids raising riots in Paris and Lyon. I wondered if American kids even paid enough attention to the news today to notice when they're about to get screwed over by the government, or if they would have the energy to protest. Or the time.

I feel hopeful now that if they can make time for Joyce and macchiatos, they might also make time to raise and raze empires like earlier generations did.

1 comment:

  1. I hated reading in high school. English and History were my worst subjects...not because I did not understand, but because I did not care to understand. I rejected the notion of learning something that someone else was forcing me to learn. I was interested in other things. I liked to figure things out. I liked math and science and logic. I read many books in high school that were not a part of the curriculum. I read these books because the subject matter was of interest to me. I wanted to know more. The subject matter of the books that my English teacher was forcing me to read was not of interest to me and so I would 'read' all the while daydreaming and my mind would wander and before I knew it, I had 'read' an entire chapter and could not recall a word of it. I think teachers should keep this in mind. Let the student pick from a group of choices. Kind of like one of those facebook quizzes... "Which novel suits my interests the best?" If I had the choice of reading about sensory integration disorders, or what the similarities are between the major religions, or a biography of Edgar Cayce, or a fiction story about a loner like me who always felt a bit awkward in social situations...I would have picked one of those, and I would have remembered what I read because I wanted to know. Everyone learns differently. I, too, consider myself thirsty for knowledge. I want to know this and that and when I have an interest, I plunge in head first. But if it does not interest me, I just can't get into it. I think independent studies and personal choices are important for students who were like me. My newest interest is Autism spectrum disorders. I am now fairly certain that I am an adult with undiagnosed Asperger's, maybe that's what my problem was. I feel like the knowledge that I crave comes from within me and cannot be satisfied by what other's think I should know.


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A Mirror, A Summer, A Street by Autumn Crisp is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.