Monday, May 19, 2008

Who would ever think pain can feel this good?

by Ed Latham

I am not a masochist, but I am a boy scout leader which some may mistake as the same thing, at times. This weekend, I had the pleasure of attending a district scout camporee with 7 fine individuals from our small town of Frenchville Maine. Our crew ranges from 6th graders through high school juniors with most of our scouts falling on the younger range of the scale. Our scouts are not gifted athletes and half of them are not academically outstanding. In short you may say our troop is a typical sample of students you may have in class in any rural area.

One event at this camporee was the tug of war. With the lack of physically dominant kids, I figured this would be one of the events that our kids dreaded. In fact, it was one of their favorite. The leaders in charge of the camporee threw the tug of war event in more as a time filler as opposed to any serious intent of competition. When boys were finished other events, they would come over to the rope and just start pulling each other around the field creating grass stains that any laundromat owner has nightmares about. The boys had an official pull that they did very well at and then continued trying different permutations to test themselves. At one point only two of our boys were taking on an entire troop of younger, smaller boys. The testosterone was in the air and I have to admit I caught a good whiff of it as I watch the boys preening and strutting their stuff.

I got up off the grass and started sauntering over to the rope as I pulled up my sleeves getting ready for a major lesson. The two scouts that had been dominating were whooping and hollering nervously as a "real challenge" was coming in their mind. I weigh in close to 250 pounds and these two boys totaled 350-400 total. Still everyone was all charged up and eager to see this old man take on the young studs. When we started, everyone was dead quiet and you could actually hear a few joints in my legs "adjusting". We pulled and held each other. They had mass but I had leverage, experience and a confident attitude. The boys learned quickly that if they tugged together, simply weight ratios demanded that my body would be lifted off the ground. I would gain an inch, they would lift me 4-5 inches before I could land and pull back another inch or so. I saw the end coming and started laughing as I bounced on my butt as they dragged me across the line. I knew the pull was unfair. I knew the competition was in no way balanced and I knew I had little chance of winning. The boys did not know that last part of course. Still I congratulated the boys on a fine pull and everyone had a blast with no excuses. I think I pulled a groin muscle or something as I started experiencing a good amount of pain about an hour or so later. Ah, old age catching up with a young mind.

Fast forward a few hours. At the evening bonfire, the leaders had determined there was enough interest in the tug of war earlier to have a pull offs between the two top teams. Our troop was one of the finalist. Our 7 were up against 8 other boys that were marginally bigger than ours. Our team was able to pull on a downhill grade which I figured was to account for the more mass on the other side. The pull was very tight and only after a couple min of pulling did our boys succeed. Then they switched sides! More mass going down hill, I was a wreck. The boys quietly took their new post and gave it their best. They were dragged with ease. They got up proudly as it was pronounced a third pull would decide it. Evidently there was no call to change sides. The boys did not complain once, but dug in to do their best. They held a few seconds then proceeded to get dragged easily away.

All the way back in the crowd they never once hung their head, and never offered an excuse. They were proud of what they did in spite of everything being stacked against them. When they got home and parents asked about the weekend, the tug of war topped every boys list of cool things.

I started walking through the halls of a school today and those part of my body that chose to not keep up with my mental youth were reminding me of my group of scouts and how their learning experience this weekend was so much different from what they may be experiencing in class today. I look to almost any school vision and I see words like perseverance, courage, creativity and so many other positive habits of mind. Until this weekend, I had never seen what the attainment of those traits actually looked like in a group of students. I have seen glimpses in individuals in school, but never the entire group sharing the experience and the learning. In the scouting program, many of the skills and habits of mind are programmed into their activities and merit badges. Watching these boys tackle very clear challenges, failing, and still relishing the experience helps to show me how much is missing out of a student's typical day at school. I have four adolescent boys and between the four of them I might hear of one thing each week that one of the boys might have experienced at school and he thought everyone should know about in a positive way. School just seems to be happening to them with little involvement or personal action.

I limped back to my room at school with my problem solving brain in high gear. Thoughts of Competency Based Education models, Mastery Teaching, and the Scouting Model bounce around my head as I start looking over the revised Maine State Learning Results. Why can't our curriculum look more like these models? The inner puppy in me was barking like crazy that it was time to play with possibilities and revisit hopes and dreams for education. Although, I am sure the muscles will be reminding me of my foolishness for days to come, the aches will help remind me of what real learning can look like. My legs, back and other parts of my body may be quite uncomfortable, but the feeling in my head and heart is oh so good!


Jim Burke said...

I love this story, Ed. Lots of wisdom within. Thanks. :)

Any other stories out there?


Nicole said...

Yeah Frenchville! My dad, Bim, was from there.

Getting back to basics is great. There is a reason these games are still played and enjoyed years later.

Ed Latham said...

I just wonder why games are not used more in education. All the push for for test scores may be the first excuse one may hear, but I wonder if it goes deeper than that. How many adults do you all know that play a game (board game, card game, or physical game like tag or something)once a month? How about once a week? Used to be, we all played games daily. Somewhere around age 12-14 adults all claimed it was time to stop playing games and get to work. What a tradegy that so many people bought into statements like that and have not experienced the joys of just sitting and playing a game for half an hour a day. If you lack someone to play with, I am sure any kids nearby would be elated to find an adult that actually still values play!