Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

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Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Friday, February 10, 2012

For EN 101 -- Ms Stewart's draft (not perfect!)

Research Journey of “Margie”: A perilous night hike
If she had to choose an image for her research life, it would have to be a night hike. On a night hike, the world seems a little frightening, but the joys of discovery also have a deepened dimension. In addition, on a night hike, basic tools like a flashlight are necessary, one had better follow instructions about the topography (or risk ending up in a ditch or worse) and one must be prepared for a little struggle.

The little girl we’ll call “Margie” had a lot of natural curiosity, and she found that intuition paired with perseverance made her a fairly “dogged” researcher, even at a young age.

The night can be intimidating, and so can a project from a no-nonsense teacher who makes one feel that fourth grade can make or break your entire research career. Margie was actually on the shoebox team – in charge of making sure that other students were keeping neat notes in their shoeboxes, which were kept at school so they could not be scrambled up or lost and so the teacher could check if all were following instructions. Margie and her teammates would type out things like “please get a new box” if students started wrecking their boxes. It was a very important role, to help students take the task of research seriously.

And though she liked to read, she had never done a research paper. Fourth grade was young to start, but that was the drill at Coventry Elementary School in Cleveland Heights, Ohio in 1965. But to Maria at age nine, the life of Lois Lenski was initially a frustrating and almost un-do-able research project – like scrambling in the dark. Like other students in Mrs. Dachmann’s class, she was asked to write to the publisher for information about the author as an essential step in the research process. Unlike the other children, however, Maria’s information did not arrive promptly. She had to wait and wait and wait. Being on the shoebox team gave her no special privileges. The part of the research she liked was reading some of Lenski’s books. However, that was nt enough.

To the outsider Maria might have looked like a nerdy kid that didn’t wear glasses and with wavy hair mainly loose but plastered down around her face with a clip. To her protective mom, of course, she was cherished – but her mom didn’t coddle her when it came to school. Though her mom’s voice was very soft and you could barely understand her when she spoke due to a heavy accent, like most immigrant parents, she knew that school would be essential for her children’s survival. Walking back and forth to school every day, Margie wore plaid dresses or plain jumpers in the 1960s style – not many clothes because her parents really struggled economically -- and her shiny penny loafers, which she polished herself. She was expected to do work. She didn’t really like the headaches she got at school due to her very strict teachers, but there was simply no choice. Show up, listen, do your work, worry, then do some more work. Her teachers are like senior scoutmasters, no nonsense.

It might be relevant to add that Mrs. Dachmann was among the world’s most stern and imposing fourth grade teachers, not “warm and fuzzy” in the least. She had a deep, almost booming, voice. Her hair reached almost to the ceiling (in a child’s imagination), and she wore it tightly pulled back in a grey bun that would rival Marge Simpson’s in height. She would patrol the classroom, demanding to see her students’ fingertips (yes, fingertips). Maria, like other kids, sometimes bit her nails out of nervousness. She would then cut or filed them very short so she wouldn’t feel the wrath of Mrs. Dachmann’s judgements.

Eventually, the dusty packet of biographical information about Lois Lenski did arrive. The long delay was because the publisher chose to send the materials fourth class whereas Maria’s friends got their materials much more quickly. Maria lived through the project, earning an “A” on it. She called it: “Lois Lenski: Friend of Children,” and she actually still had the project until fairly recently when someone at her mom’s house must have pitched it. She had saved it as a sign of research frustration and perseverance. And although she was much too little to understand the terms: “emotional regulation” (patience, willpower, not griping), she certainly had to put them into practice.

Although her parents struggled economically, they did buy for the family a full set of World Book Encyclopedias. Think: field guide to take on a night hike. Long before “Wikipedia” there was the paper encyclopedia, the work of seasoned writers, rigorous editors, talented designers and painstaking printers. Therefore, Margie had access to a lot of information, and when she wanted to research for fun, she could turn to her favorite topic, dogs. She never tired of learning about dogs, saving her money to buy a few tiny ceramic dogs and playing with her dog. In fact, to this day, she has a passion for pets -- sparked by her early and favorable experiences. True research passion is not about viewing something as a dreaded assignment; she knew this before the terrors of Mrs. Dachman. Like other children, she discovered the things she sincerely wanted to learn about stayed in her mind like magic. By studying the pictures of dogs in the encyclopedia, she developed the ability to guess what many mixed-breed canines who crossed her path were. Often she was right, but even when she was wrong she made a point of learning about that breed at the first opportunity.

Adding to the love of dogs was the fact that they seemed drawn to her. She had a golden-retriever-cocker-spaniel mutt at home, but a neighborhood German shepherd “adopted her” and would walk her to school and wait for her to come out. Perhaps she reminded that dog of someone, and having a “guard dog” so dignified (and intimidating to others) added to the little girl’s status in the neighborhood. When hiking at night, bring a dog!

To be continued….a third experience could be added, and some of the verbiage above could be “cut” to make room and not run to far over the word count. The “adding research” will be explained in class.


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