Astronaut

“What’s my dream?” I said, nervously in front of the class. “Well… I want to be an Astronaut.”

The whole class erupted in laughter.

“Only BOYS can be Astronauts!”  I heard someone say.

“Yeah, and even if girls could do it, you’re not smart enough!”

“Settle down class,” the teacher said “Tell us more about your dream job.”

“When you’re an Astronaut, you get sent into space to try to find and explore other planets. My dad said he’s gonna help me build a rocket ship in our back yard!”

A second wave of laughter arose from the class. That was in 3rd grade. You’d think that by now, I’d be used to people telling me my dreams can’t come true, but someone crushing your self-esteem never gets old. Even if I had moved on, I’ll never forget when it started.

“Stop daydreaming!” my mother snapped. “I’m trying to teach you something.”

She continued to write down the numbers on the ultra thin, yellowish I’ve-been-used-for-10-generations lined paper. I had a fractions test tomorrow.

“What did you say?” I asked, zoned out.

My mother sighed. I couldn’t help it! Math bored me. Math is boring. However, I do admit, I do daydream a lot. To some people, maybe even most, dreams don’t mean much. They’re just figments of our imagination, irrational thoughts that we wish would come true, but never do. To me, however, dreams are everything. Everything. They keep me moving towards my goals. They make sure that I sleep at night. They keep me sane.

The next day, as you would expect, I totally botched it. I failed more than I thought humanly possible. I died in there!

“How was your math test?” my mother asked.

“Umm, I didn’t do very well…”

“How are you supposed to become an Astronaut when you don’t even know how to do fractions? You have to pay more attention in class! With the grades you’re pulling in math, you might as well give up on becoming one.”

I mean, my mom had a point. I hated math, so why was it my dream to go into a math-related field? Well I love space, but with my limited drive with math, my mom was right. Even if my dream was irrational, that doesn’t mean I didn’t still try to achieve it. Sometimes, even now, I’m convinced that if I keep trying, I will be the odd 1%, the one that gets struck by lightning on a walk down to the 7-11; but you know, in a good way.

In my case though, becoming an Astronaut was really what I cared about at the moment, I didn’t listen to my mom about getting better in math. I thought I would get lucky. When I got older though, the math got harder with age. As it did, I realized that I couldn’t depend on luck to pull me through. In order to achieve my dreams, I had to study. I had to study, hard.

I pushed through each test, and even did more math than the teacher assigned. I worked really hard to improve myself, but still felt like I would fail, just like I did before. I still felt like I would fail my parents, fail my friends, but most importantly, fail myself.

Eventually, it came; and I’m not talking about some standardized test that you get once in awhile, I’m talking about finals. Not just any finals, either. Grade 12 provincials, specifically. The grade I got on that test would determine the university I went to; assuming I would get into one at all.

I can still remember it like it was yesterday.

I had arrived at my school at 9:00 AM, sharp. My mom had lended me her lucky mechanical pencil, the one she wrote her provincial exams with. It still worked, but most of the designs had rubbed off of it, it had obviously been used a lot.

My hands were shaking in a cold sweat. The room smelled like it had just been painted. I resisted it, I really did. This was not the time to let my self-doubt consume me, no. This was important; the moment of truth. I shakily calculated formulas on scrap paper, ultra thin, yellowish, I’ve-been-used-for-10-generations, just I used to use in school. I coloured in each bubble on the scantron, double checked, triple checked, then handed it in.

I received my results in the mail, I had aced it.

“Your father and I are both so proud!” my mother said to me.

The following year, I attended ISU (international space university) and became a rocket scientist, continued to revolutionize rocket technology, loving my job every step of the way. Dreams are meant to be worked at, not just thought about. That just goes to prove that you can really achieve your dreams if you strive towards them.

Shoot for the stars, land on the moon.

Social Media/Studies

UntitledIn addition to more critical efforts to conduct inquiries into history as it intersects with our present landscape, the TALONS class has come to embrace dramatic efforts to enact and recreate history in their social(s) learning. Whether engaging in a mock trial of King Charles II, or making impassioned speeches as characters in the French Revolution, such theatrical turns have traditionally made for memorable classroom moments.

A few years ago, a group of TALONS grade tens approached me to see if they could ‘pitch’ a unit plan for our upcoming French Revolution study: in blog posts and classroom activities, members of the class would each adopt a character from the revolutionary period, and strive to realize and represent diverse perspectives on events in 18th century France.

In the years since, the unit has evolved to include Twitter, as well as a series of improvised discussions, debates and addresses – all in character.

Thus the class is able to imagine and take in the passionate decrees of a young Maximilien Robespierre:

In the future I believe that it is not enough for the monarchy to only lose a portion of its power. France should be a country run for its people by the people, a democracy! At this moment I do not have enough political power to share my views in such ways, but in time I shall express my desires. One day I assure you, I will find a way to improve the lives of the poor and to strike down those corrupt from power.

And see the story through to his betrayal of Georges Danton, who addresses his friend:

I curse you.

We once had, if not brotherhood, at least mutual understanding. We were creating a France that our children would be proud of. I know not when your idealism became madness but I must have failed to see the signs, because I was not prepared for all the murders, and all the terror that you instilled into this country.

Robespierre, you will follow me into dissolution. I will drag you down screaming, and we will fall together.

In addition to these perspectives developing on individual blogs in monologues and comment threads, classroom time is spent charting the development of significant revolutionary events against characters’ reactions which are presented in improvised debates or speeches. And the dialogue continues on Twitter, as each character adopts an avatar to not only promote and archive their blogged artifacts, engage in dialogue with their allies and nemeses, and exercise their own democratic rights in carrying out the final assessments in the unit:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.38.18 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.39.55 PMSensing that there might be a popular uprising against a tyrant teacher bent on sticking steadfast to an arbitrary deadline, I asked to see a show of support for the idea:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.43.23 PMThe idea was taken up quickly.

By philosophers:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.42.33 PMThe King of France:

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Feminist leaders:

Screen Shot 2015-03-23 at 9.45.54 PMAnd even the farmers:

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At the culmination of the unit, each of the TALONS delivered a final address that looked back on their contributions to the revolution, and how they might have done things differently with the benefit of hindsight. And while each member of the class was only tasked with creating one unique angle on the historical events being studied, the effect rendered by the series of addresses on the unit’s final day presented a nuanced and multidimensional look into the various subjectivities that (might have) helped shape the revolutionary period.

From each of their perspectives, what the French Revolution might be about would likely sprawl in a dozen different directions: a part of a historical march toward justice; political reform; a spark in the narrative of female activism; the story of scarce resources driving extreme behaviour. And to ‘teach’ toward these myriad truths is at once a curricular requirement and Quixotic pursuit, revealing the tensions of education for citizenship in a pluralist democracy, asking How do we create unity and cultivate diverse perspectives?

In interpreting history, as well as our present moment, students ought be engaged in rehearsing this act, and with the dramatic role play the answer offered to the pedagogic problem lies at the heart of narrative.

Of sensing an individual’s arc at the centre of a multitude of shared and individual lives.

Of constructing ‘we’ out of many ‘I’s.

Whether face to face or in the online sphere, this is the task of schooling in the multicultural society.