One thing I have learned from my service at Higher Achievement this semester is that children cannot sit still. You would think the hours most kids spend lounging in front of the television or playing hours of video games would condition them to successfully sit in a chair for less than an hour, but that is not the case. With the constant fidgeting, poking, pestering and chattering along with bathroom breaks, unnecessary medical field trips, and choruses of “are we done yet?” it’s a challenge to come away and believe they actually absorbed any information about Spanish verbs. My two scholars, Chaz and Courtney, will grasp at any distraction they can to stay off topic. One minute I’ve got them strapped down reading aloud, and the next Chaz has made a break for it with the bathroom pass and Courtney is chasing someone who stole her marker. It’s even worse in the large community meeting groups, where the hallways literally vibrate with the seemingly boundless energy of the 5th and 6th grade scholars bouncing off the walls. Even after the “bring it together” countdown, the slightest noise or movement will set them off again. I was reminded of my weekly battle against the attention span of my scholars by Bryson’s chapter on Highway Diversions.
For Chaz and Courtney, trying to learn Spanish is as bad as an unbearably long road trip with your family. Unlike in a classroom, distractions are necessary on a long road trip, which is where Roadside America comes in. I personally have never seen any such billboards on my childhood car trips, but I can definitely relate to the tedium of long car rides, and am definitely guilty of pestering my parents with questions of “are we there yet?” Bryson describes the value of something, even a plank of wood or dead cow, to get your mind off what is actually happening. “When I was a boy,” he explains, “the highways of America were scattered with diversions. They weren’t always very good diversions, but that didn’t matter at all. What mattered was that they were there” (135). Sometimes it is necessary to let our minds escape, wander around and dwell on anything other than the present. Whether it is a boring car ride, uninteresting Spanish lesson, or something more serious, giving your mind a break is a temporary relief from reality.
While reading The Principles of Uncertainty, I felt as if I were taking a break from real life and delving into a cartoon world of photographs and pictures as opposed to pages and pages of text. However in a contrary manner Maira Kalman actually shows us reality instead of taking our minds off of it through this method of presentation. With scattered ideas that interconnect and jump from one to another, Kalman presents serious questions of life and death behind what appears to be childlike simplicity. A quotation toward the end of the book that stood out to me was “The children imagine so many things it is hard to know what is real.” Besides for the constant inability to focus, a child’s mind is a truly wonderful thing, where imagination does blur the lines of what is real, at least from the child’s perspective. Kalman’s random illustrations portray real life things, such as fear, doubt, death, and sometimes hope, but through a childlike presentation that was almost a distraction in itself. By letting your mind wander, sometimes you actually find the truth.