Center City third grade. First class of the week. Team Basil and I are playing in the dirt. Discussing soil. Isaiah says that he doesn’t like the smell of dirt. He likes the smell of fried chicken. We disagree on this topic. Eventually we resolve our differences, agreeing that the smell of chicken in the forest would be pleasurable.
It is our third week of programming, and we are discussing what plants need to survive. The answers we seek are the fundamentals – air, water, light, food, soil. Before disclosing this precious information, we appeal to the class for ideas. To them, the question is posed, “what do plants eat.?” Immediately, as if we had asked on what planet we are sitting, the entire class, in unison, with enthusiasm equal to that if we had asked for volunteers to demonstrate how to eat an entire chocolate cake in 15 seconds, shouts: “TREES!!”
At Imagine Hope, our Wednesday school, we had to cram in two lessons this week on account of the Snowlycowtheresalotofsnow days. The students are dissecting soaked bean seeds. They are looking for the sprouted root and leaves inside of the cotyledons. There is the usual snickering because the beans are stinky and slimy. After a moment, though, a lovely occurrence occurs.
“Hey! Look! I found it! Me too! I found them!”
The gleeful outbursts begin to waft up from the general classroom area. Like, like snowflakes or raindrops, falling steadily, scattering around the room. That doesn’t quite work… like a sprinkling of water droplets, landing gently on a smooth surface of water, “yes!’s” ring out, the resultant rippling enthusiasm encouraging their classmates to send their own droplets, their own ripples back out into the class. A contained cacophony of bean-themed exclamations – this is the sound of children getting excited about learning.
After Kacie announced to our first class at Imagine Hope that we would be planting seeds on that glorious day, Jahmes (jah-mez) volunteers the tidbit that okra is his favorite vegetable. Jane (a made up name, because I can’t remember her real name) sneers from across the room. Jahmes clicks his tongue, throws his head back and responds: “aww you crazy, you don’t know what okra is? It’s a pointy vegetable with little black dots….um, seeds, inside (seeds were part of our lesson last week. Big points for Jahmes for working this into his put-down), and its real slippery and gooey and it can be fried or you can eat it regular.
At this, I smiled. Way to go Jahmes. Way to stand up for okra. Way to stand up for yourself. Most of all, way to stand up for foods with unconventional textures.
Franklin and I are holding hands. Well, I am holding Franklin’s hands, which wriggle wildly in mine, trying to free themselves. Franklin’s teeth shine behind his broad smile. There is a small speck of dirt on his right cheek. He’s talking about gettin’ bad guys or mud popsicles or how you plant seeds in space. I’m talking about putting basil seeds in little plastic cups with dirt. At least I’m trying.
Osagie (oh-sah-jee), sits between us saying ‘can I hold your hand? Can you hold my hand? Will you hold my hand? So I hold Osagie’s hand and he squeals, pulling them away, smile bursting onto his face, soil flecks flying into the air like an ocean mist.
Franklin’s the bad boy kind. Generally indifferent, always talkative. Very capable, very smart. Franklin liked playing in the dirt. Franklin couldn’t stop demonstrating the life cycle of plants in the dirt with his fingers. To get Franklin to pay attention, I threatened to hold Franklin’s hand. To get Franklin to calm down, I held Franklin’s hand. He shrieked and made a scene, like cool kids do, because he liked it. But not as much as he liked planting seeds.