Monday, July 30, 2012

`Oh, Heart, Here Is Your Healing'

A student (of any age) could do worse than stake out a plot of grass-covered earth and observe it daily, taking detailed notes across the seasons and consulting a well-stocked library and the internet for the finer points of biology and biochemistry. One could learn something about photosynthesis, the nitrogen cycle, fungi, the essential role of earthworms, the social lives of ants and bees, the predations of alien species and the role of squirrels in the propagation of oaks and other trees. More importantly, one could learn patience, attentiveness and the value of the ordinary. One could sharpen one’s eye for detail and pattern. With time and sufficient dedication, one could acquire a first-rate education for the cost of notepaper, pencil and an internet connection.

Education occupies my attention again because my middle son will enter seventh grade next month. The public schools in Houston call their accelerated learning program Vanguard, and the first assignment, to be completed by the first day of school, is to read two books: Rules by Cynthia Lord and Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper. Mind you, these are assigned to kids who have already been judged "gifted." Both volumes might fairly be described as “issue books.” Lord’s novel is about a twelve-year-old girl whose younger brother is autistic. The Draper book involves a boy who kills his best friend in a drunken-driving accident. Its final sentence: “The air was fragrant with hope and possibility.” In other words, neither book was assigned because of its literary worth, which is nearly non-existent. If the bright kids are expected to read stuff like this, what are the dumb kids assigned? If you think I’m exaggerating the educational worth of studying a small plot of earth, consider an early poem by Janet Lewis, “Meadow Turf” (Poems Old and New 1918-1978):
“Goldenrod, strawberry leaf, small
bristling aster, all,
Loosestrife, knife-bladed grasses,
lacing their roots, lacing
The life of the meadow into a deep embrace
Far underground, and all their shoots,
wet at the base
With shining dew, dry-crested with sun,
Springing out of a mould years old;
Leaves, living and dead, whose stealing
Odors on the cold bright air shed healing --
Oh, heart, here is your healing, here among
The fragrant living and dead.” 

The wildflower we know as Johnny jump up, Viola tricolor, is also called heart’s ease.


Anonymous said...

When I entered seventh grade a lifetime ago in 1959, there were no summer readings assigned, no students formally identified as gifted readers. I was not a serious reader, but would regularly buy the Classic Illustrated Comics versions of great novels, along the other comic books and a pack of baseball cards that included a 2 1/2 by 3 1/2 slab of bubble gum.


Helen Pinkerton said...

This entry recalled to a friend, who is an art historian, Durer's watercolor "The Great Piece of Turf" (1503). The plants that Durer painted are cock's-foot, creeping bent, smooth meadow-grass, daisy, dandelion, germander speedwell, greater plantain, hound's tongue and yarrow. These are not those of Janet Lewis's "Meadow Turf," which is a record of the growths that might be found in a Northern Michigan meadow. However, in both pieces of turf the plants might be found "lacing their roots, lacing / The life of the meadow into a deep embrace."