Natalie wrote a paper on the theory of relativity as it related to roller coasters in her 6th grade class. After the papers had been turned in, her teacher announced that Natalie’s paper was the best in the entire class. The teacher made the announcement when Natalie was absent. When one of Natalie’s friends told her later about the teacher’s statement, Natalie was bothered for a few reasons. First, the teacher never told Natalie in person that she had done a good job. In other words, had Natalie’s friend not told her about the announcement, Natalie would never have known that the teacher thought the paper was well-researched and written. Second, Natalie thought it was awkward and unfair to the other children to make such a statement.
From my perspective, the teacher had missed out on an opportunity to learn something. Had the teacher spoken with Natalie about her paper, she might have learned that it had been quite a challenging paper for Natalie to write, as she had felt absolutely little interest in the subject. When I confessed to Natalie a similar disinterest in rollercoasters, Natalie was somewhat comforted. Nevertheless, she still had to write the paper. This is when I told her about the 18 papers I had been assigned to write in the final quarter of my senior year at UCLA.
“I was keenly interested in half the topics, mildly interested in another few, and didn’t feel a single brain cell perk about the remainder. I had to come up with some techniques to help me proceed with what I needed to do.”
Natalie was listening.
“Sometimes finding a different way of looking at the subject helped,” I added. “In this case, knowing of your interest in nature and art, it makes me curious if there is a roller coaster out in the world that you would consider beautiful? Do you think it’s possible?”
Natalie was intrigued, for now the assignment had not only piqued her imagination, but had turned into a treasure hunt. We had no idea if any such thing existed, but Natalie managed to find it: a roller coaster that had been designed out of wood and built in a forest. Once she had found the rollercoaster she found interesting, she was able to write the paper. In other words, the subject needed to be made relevant to her before she could find the passion to explore it. However no such conversation occurred between the teacher and Natalie. Instead, the world in that classroom had been divided into the good paper and the lesser papers.
This was one of the many moments that motivated us to consider the possibility of homeschooling during the middle school years. I wanted to give Natalie the time and chance to experience writing as a way to explore ideas vs. a judged exercise.
You can find out which roller coaster captured Natalie’s imagination by reading her paper — under her post titled “The Most Beautiful Roller Coaster.”