When I look back upon my childhood I remember all those myriad occasions when I was in the company of people who were in the throes of trying to explain something that they cared about — sometimes half to themselves and perhaps more often in the company of others.

The dinner table, for example. Listening in the car to the conversation of adults. Listening in to my brother and his friends. The dinner table talk was often “above my head”, and I could rarely join in. Still I listened attentively to the world I would someday be old enough to join fully — one I took for granted that I actually “belonged” to. I looked for opportunities to test out whether my ideas could contribute, and it never seemed dangerous to do so. The back-and-forth was sometimes like a good competitive tennis volley with an occasional overhead smash hit; other times, it was a more casual attempt to try out diferent ways of handling the racket. Always, though, it “mattered”. So too, when I was walking in the woods and discussing wildflowers or trees with my mother — and trying unsuccessfully to absorb her knowledge, knowing the proper (Latin) names for them was beyond my poor memory skills (and may well explain why I didn’t venture into gardening). But I accepted her dictum – that one should know their proper names. (“You wouldn’t lean up against someone whose name you didn’t know,” she admonished as she identified each tree.)

How can our schools become such efficient settings for the young? How can our schools serve as places for such walks through the woods, dinner table conversations, and long car rides to as yet unexplored places — places where the half-understood is an invitation, not a criticism, and ignorance is a source of excitement, not a judgment?

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