Hello Wildwood Middle School! It has been a long time since my last post for Centered in the Middle, as I’ve been deep in the good work of finishing up the school year, and bringing to a close some of the year-long projects that we’ve been working on. One of those projects, a revision of our middle school schedule, inspired today’s post.
Last month I had the pleasure of giving a poetry reading at the Poetic Research Bureau in Chinatown with a friend of mine, the Oakland-based poet Taylor Brady. During his set, Taylor read from a poem called “It Took Me Two Weeks to Have This Thought About the Weather” and these lines really caught my ear:
I’m at the combination coffee /
noodle / grocery place, zoning out,
accepting a drastically reduced
horizon of beauty and surprise.
I love the play of “zoning out” against the un-zoned space of the coffee/noodle/grocery store, but what really left me thinking is the second half of that sentence—“accepting a drastically reduced / horizon of beauty and surprise.” As a description of life in the age of Buzzfeed listicles, it is brilliantly matter-of-fact. At the same time of course, coming in the form of a richly textured lyric poem, its own beauty and surprise contradict the resignation of the statement.
In any case, it left me thinking—about how we set, reset, and understand those horizons in our lives, as parents, artists, educators, and as people in the world.
I am often asked about where the work of poetry and the work of education intersect—about how I got from doing a Ph.D. in poetry to running a middle school. The answers are numerous, and depend on the day and the audience—but at the core of it, I tend to believe that the two pursuits are essentially the same. Both poetry and education for me are about the future: about imagining a different world, and working to make it a reality, to bring it into focus. And middle school in particular is the time when children cross the threshold toward their own imagined futures as adolescents and adults.
I had a wonderful professor in graduate school, Marc Blanchard, who used to roll up the sleeves of his blazers and insist that in studying language we were studying the nature and the matter of the world itself. It was from him that I learned that the word poem comes from the ancient Greek word poiein, which meant to create—literally to bring something new into the world. Educate, meanwhile, comes from Latin—educere, “to lead out.” The acts of imagining the future and moving toward that future—contained in those two words, those two activities in the world—are for me one and the same. Or, as the great educators Myles Horton and Paolo Freire titled their collaborative book, We Make the Road by Walking.
All of that is by way of a long introduction to the work of revising the middle school schedule that we have undertaken this year. This is a road we’ve been making and walking together as a middle school since last summer, and I’m thrilled with where we are and where we’re headed. We’ve brought something new into the world, in service of a brighter future.
Stay tuned for more information about the new schedule via email and enjoy a summer filled with imaginings.