Teaching, Imagination, Discipline

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I'm a mother, a teacher, a playwright, a former academic. I've spent most of my life in and around schools and universities all over the world. Nowadays, among other things, I teach in a high poverty elementary school in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


How do you feel about lines? Most adults, I think, HATE them, unless we're already in one, and someone cuts into it. Then we want the orderly justice a line promises, be it on the freeway or at Costco. Our inner wild thing wants to become a ruthless enforcer of line order.

Wild kid beings, I've noticed, are just like us in this regard. They don't like being in line, but, omigod!, if anyone 'cuts' them, I'm instantly buzzed by a swarm of tattle-tales: Ms. B, Ms. B, Ms. B!! Kyle V. cut me! Esteban cut me! Kelly CUT ME!

The first time I heard this, I looked for the knife.
I'm sure there's a whole theory of discipline based on children walking like ducklings in perfectly ordered, evenly spaced, single or double files. Neat lines, neat minds. Or something like that. Certainly there's a lot of children's literature that walks that path.

I love the Madeline books, and I read them to my students, but I can't say I subscribe to the two straight lines theory of life. I was a 4th grader at a school run by Carmelite nuns who believed in uniformed field drills only Leni Riefenstahl would have enjoyed.

And, as you can see, I'm also not very good at it. My kids' lines always waver and wobble, especially after the first weeks of school.

Except in one area.

When it comes to getting kids to line up their numbers in math problems or line up their spelling words in neat columns, I'm a perfect little Nazi. Neatness when there's meaning involved is very important to me. What do you think?

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