375. Discussions

As a teacher, I came to school almost every day with a discussion topic in mind. The topics were similar to the topics of many of these articles, and as with these articles, it took me very little time to decide what to discuss.
Not many topics were lead balloons; children had something to say about almost everything I could think of. Every moment of life is intrinsically interesting; even boredom itself is full of potential. Life, handled wrong, can teach us to be bored, but children haven’t had much time to learn that, and even if they do get bored, it doesn’t take long for them to get interested again. In school, when the topic is planned without the children’s input, or at home, where children’s priorities also sometimes take a back seat, boredom can still happen. But it’s not the natural order of things.
And so we talked. And we wrote. Back and forth. Each morning, on the way to school, I decided what we’d talk about. Sometimes it would be inspired by something that had happened the day before. Sometimes it would be based on something I remembered, something I saw on the way to school, or something I was thinking. When children got to school, I gave them their conversation journals, in which I’d written the night before. Some children wrote very little in their journals. “I can’t think of anything to write” was permissible.
If I read that kind of entry, that night I’d write, “Is that because everybody was so nice to you yesterday, so there’s nothing to complain about?” or “Should we write about why caterpillars spend so much time eating?” Sometimes that worked, sometimes not. But the same children who couldn’t think of what to write seldom had trouble thinking of what to say in our discussions. Once in a while, I’d comment, “I wish you’d write about that.” But I tried not to push too hard; it would cramp their discussion style.
As I’ve come to realize that Amherst is full of students and other people who have things to say, I’ve taken on another new role. Every time I get on the bus, I start a discussion. I sit in the back, where there is room for my scooter, and I face everyone who’s sitting behind me. Today I introduced myself and the subject of beginnings. I asked whether there was anyone who didn’t understand or speak English, and whether there was anyone who would rather not have a discussion. There weren’t any of either. Then I talked a little about beginnings – just a few words – and asked people to comment, first introducing themselves. Buses, at least where I’ve lived, are usually quiet places. As one of my conversants later remarked, so are elevators. I’m not in crowded elevators very often, though, and there are usually enough people on the bus for a good talk.
My point is that there’s a lot to say, and a lot to write about. A lot of opportunities for great discussions are missed because people are shy about starting conversations, or otherwise inhibited. But we can change. By the way, how do you think the inventor of alphabet soup got the idea?

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