I’m teaching students to write this year. I’m back in the classroom where I belong, have always belonged, and I’m showing the world to students who have been trapped inside a five paragraph essay. For some of them, it’s like they just discovered there are more crayons in the box. All of a sudden these students are learning that they have a voice and we’re working on fitting their voices onto paper.
I love watching this change in them, the reprogramming that goes on in their minds. I remind them that we are born to question the world around us and how we aren’t born with a thesis. We explore our worlds with the desire to find answers to questions and look for more questions. How the “why” stage is a beautiful stage.
Our textbook uses the phrase “wallow in complexity”. It’s my favorite phrase by far. I love the image of getting filthy dirty with a topic or question. Wrestling in the mud with a concept until you have more clarity in something. We don’t do that anymore. We don’t spend time wallowing in complexity as a society. We crave simplicity and quick answers. We want things that are fast and at our fingertips. We have a 24-hour news cycle that gives us answers immediately. We have drive-thrus that have two lanes so we can’t get fast food even faster. (What joy!) We can stay up obscenely late for midnight premiers of movies so we don’t have to wait until a normal time to watch the latest film. People don’t have conversations anymore; they post statuses and like each other’s sentiments. We don’t discuss things in depth, we shout talking points that have no real meaning.
There is no time to mourn, no time to celebrate, no time to think, no time for joy, sadness, this or that. Nothing gets solved because nobody wallows.
In writing, we wallow. We mull things over. We turn thoughts over in our minds. We shoot the breeze and spin yarn. We collect moss. And so it goes.
My students grappled with this at first. How could this be? So confined to the five paragraph essay, with the thesis at the top — problem solved! — they didn’t know what to do. How do we teach wallowing?
Slowly, they’re beginning to catch the vision. It’s not about getting the right answer all the time. It’s about spending time with possible solutions. Entertaining the thoughts. Shooting for the sky, the moon, the ever afters and then getting it all down on paper.
And I love it. Maybe, just maybe, we have a chance after all.