This Week I Am Teaching Two Classes Online
By coincidence, not design, I find that this week I am participating in a discussion of a book of mine with a 9th grade class online, while conducting a writing class for bright kids all around the country aged roughly 10-15 through another site. It is a fascinating experience — a bit taxing, I must admit, for my writing life — the buzz of responding to posts quickly takes over and it is very hard to go from that tennis match of thought and response to the more private, reflective, creative act of writing. But there are two significant trends that I see — and which match my sense in visiting a live fourth grade classroom yesterday: on the one hand, when you go out into the real world, you meet kids where they are — devout kids upset to have any questions come up about their faith; kids with not the slightest sense of history (for example, no clue why our calendar is at 2010, what event we count back to); and kids who have college level knowledge of literature. On the other — and this is what I miss in so many of our discussions of books and kids — a real hunger to know more.
So often when we speak about books, reading, kids we speak about the troubles, the problems — kids are visual, they are digital, they have short attention spans, etc., etc. Just yesterday on the CCBC listserv one person who deals with 5th graders felt they would find Claudette Colvin too daunting because it is longer than 64 pages. But my experience with these kids is a hunger to know more — a bright gratitude to learn, to have me bring them new knowledge, new insight, new information, new leads into the world. Sure a lot of the kids I am working with are bright — but why do we always focus on the challenges and travails of kids who either are not as quick or have so many social deficits that their natural curosity is stunted? Of course those kids need our special attention. But we also need to remember our job, our duty, as elders which is to educate and inspire the kids who are jumping at the chance to stretch their minds, to find out stuff they didn’t know, to think in new ways.
Every time I get to relate to kids I am impressed with their excitement at learning new things. Why should we writers have any self doubt — we are bringing kids the mental food they crave — whether that is in seeing how to write an engaging sentence, or in explaining how radiocarbon dating allows us to date ancient bones. Kids need us — so long as we are willing to share what we know in a way designed to connect with them. But I am taking too long — I feel my online kids waiting for my latest responses, better get to work.