34 Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable.
Flash forward a couple of decades. I was trying to teach American History in an urban school district alternative school. Good news was if I had five students in a class that was considered big. Bad news was some of the students’ worlds were very small, sometimes not even extending to the city limits. As a result, their schema or background knowledge was also very limited. Memorial Day and Fourth of July are just summer sale days, right? For students who might not be sure if there would be supper that night, or if mom would even come home or if their clothes would be where they left them the night before, American History had very little or no relevance. They lived in the here and now because for them, there may not be a later. Nobody cares about them, so why should they care about some old dead guys?
So there we were on a cold, blustery day, Derrick, Janita and me pretending we are teaching and learning American History. Janita is putting in her time and working hard so she can graduate. Even on the days when she comes to school with the heavy, sweet but sickly smell from someone have a little smoke in the car on the way to school, she still stays focused. She’s pretty, bright, and because she has a plan and a support system she has a chance to ‘get out’, of the hood that is. Derrick on the other hand is as silly as a case of Silly String. He’s a good looking kid, who loves to have fun, is an amazing dancer, but as they say ‘not the brightest light on the porch’. (I’m not sure which came first for Derrick, driver’s license or fatherhood.) Janita is junior status while Derrick is barely freshman status. On the days when it’s just the three of us, because the ‘upperclassmen’ boys have prior engagements, like court or a counseling session, Derrick does all he can to impress Janita. I can almost imitate her look at him that said, “If you were a fly on the wall, I’d smack you. I just might do it anyway.”
Anyway, back to American History. Maybe we were talking about the harshness of winter at Valley Forge. As so often was the case, our class discussion went a bit awry. Janita tells Derrick and I that her grandma taught her how to make snow ice cream. We chat about ingredients as I tell her I’ve never had it, and that where I grew up we didn’t have snow. Then I tell them Tom’s safety tip to Mary that appalled Daddy. Janita gets it immediately and starts laughing. Not wanting to be left out of the conversation, Derrick pipes in, “Wuz yo Daddy’s name Bambi?” Janita and I both started laughing at Derrick, his usual goal, before we noticed that he was dead serious.
There were so many alarms going off in my head that I thought it must be a fire drill. How could Derrick not know who Bambi was? How sad that Derrick has missed out on the innocence, and yes, privilege of knowing some of childhood’s favorite characters. No wonder he could care less about what I’m trying to teach him; I probably sound like I’m speaking a different language, at least part of the time. And I am. I’m speaking white, middle class, suburban, college graduate English. No wonder he glazes over sometimes, and it’s not just from lack of sleep the night before because the gunshots kept him awake.
Janita and I try in vain to explain to Derrick who Bambi is. Unfortunately, we didn’t have iPhones in our pockets, computers in our classroom, or Wi-Fi in the building to actually show him pictures, or even a video clip. Derrick did not have the dendrites, or brain hooks, to hang that new knowledge on. His narrow perspective only allowed him to ask a question about something/someone he could connect to: Daddy.
That day, whether he realized it or not, Derrick did the teaching and I did the learning. Moving from secondary alternative school to elementary, I took that powerful lesson Derrick taught me and tried to find some connections for students with as many lessons as possible. Hopefully, I’ve transferred that skill to other areas in my life.
Just so you don’t think I am even close to having it altogether, I have to share a tidbit that has given me pause for thought and a few chuckles. One day in my 3rd grade classroom, Samiyah came up to me in quite a snit. “Mrs. Walters! Do you know what Ty just called me?” (In less generous moments, I called Samiyah a bully. On our better days, I appreciated her for what she is, extremely intelligent, driven, charismatic and outspoken. I fell in love with Ty the second day he was in my class, dirty, ornery, with lots of learning gaps, all wrapped up in charm.) Not waiting for my response, Samiyah informed me that her classmate had called her the “b” word. I had learned long before to not be surprised at the raucous vocabulary of students, but also knowing it’s usually wise to clarify. After clarifying, I spoke to Ty who readily admitted to using the term. “But Mrs. Walters, you call her that all the time!” What? “You are always calling Samiyah ‘prissy britches’.”
Have you ever had the experience of receiving a blank stare from someone during a conversation and realizing later they may not have had a clue what you were talking about? How does your perspective, or viewpoint, affect how you communicate with others? Do we accidentally speak in parables to those around us?
There are things I can’t force. I must adjust. There are times when the greatest change needed is a change of my viewpoint.
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Hello my Friend! I am enjoying your blog – it has been too long