Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Game

In Which Public Education Is Roundly Abused, And Rowan Is Decidedly Delinquent In Her Updates

Some time ago, when your negligent (my deepest apologies, again) guide was but a tot, my father and I played a game.  We, being imaginative souls, called it "The Game."  (A recently ironic name, since The Wife and I have taken to calling Society "The Game.")  The Game of old was based on a large square of maroon canvas, various pieces of felt and wood, and an abiding and dedicated sense of curiosity.

The canvas was a map - those of you with predilections for scoffing may begin now at this clear reference and precursor to tabletop gaming - and the smaller squares of felt were decorated with trees and mountains, caves, lakes and streams, farms and fields, anything my small, voracious brain could conjure as an appropriate backdrop for adventure.  We sewed them ourselves.

Using this constantly changing terrain as a geographical guide, my father told me stories in which I was expected to participate (I doubt very much whether he or the proverbial wild horses could have stopped me) by answering questions and choosing directions and courses of action.  I might have been unable to cross a bridge until I brushed up on my French because a troll was guarding it and wanted an answer to "Est-ce que ceci n'est pas une pipe?"  I would have to go learn what the troll was saying (and possibly look into surrealist artists) and figure out the right answer before I could cross and continue.  Maybe there was an item priced in lira when all I had were pesos, and I'd have to find the correct change.  Perhaps a dragon or ghost appeared in a dream, demanding that I tell them the name of the secret malefactress in the book I was reading at the time.  It was a game that stitched together the sometimes disappointing mundanity of the waking world and the wildly colorful and challenging scenarios of my imagination, and my father's.  It was a multiplayer game without the computer, a mix of Carmen Sandiego and the brothers Grimm, in which I was both character and storyteller, in equal parts.

I loved it.

"But Rowan," say my Patient and Forgiving readers, "what on Earth has this to do with Taiwan?"  Well, my Gentle Public, today I went to the orphanage again, something I have now done four times, and began a very basic variant of that Game.  I presented Ken (either he's changed his name or everyone's been getting it wrong all this time) with a little green notebook in which I had written the following:

One day, you find a book.  On the cover, there is a picture of a crying woman.  When you pick up the book, you see a ghost.  The ghost says: "Do you have any threes?"
I had him read it aloud, and then we played Go Fish, in which we practiced the constructions "Do you have _____?  Yes, I have two _____s.  No, I don't have any ______s."  I played up the character of the challenging specter, and Ken took great pleasure in trouncing me, gleefully using the correct English phrases the whole time.

I am brought thence to the subject of Public Education, which can be roughly defined as the practice of carefully and thoroughly eradicating our children's desire to learn.  Children seem to naturally thrive on curiosity and its satisfaction, and regularly reach out for more information and more answers and more questions.  The kids in my lower level classes have to be restrained from gathering around the whiteboard in their enthusiasm to write the words correctly (and how counter-productive is that idea? making sure that children never believe they have a place in educating themselves), and jump at the chance to answer questions and play games and draw and learn.  The upper level classes, after a period of slightly caustic wariness, also settle into an honest desire to wield knowledge with skill and inquiry.  All it takes to encourage them is a concrete and consistent set of rules (not too many, not too unreasonable), and a genuine desire to share what you know and learn alongside them when you've no idea.

Why is this so hard to come by?


Hobbes said...

The Game, in our vernacular, is this one: which I have just lost, thanks to you. Your version sounds infinitely cooler and I intend to play it.

And thank you for posting again! I am glad you are not dead. Oh, and chag sameach :) Seder was much less enjoyable without your commentary.

Rowan said...

I totally forgot about that "The Game." I remember hearing about it, several times, and thinking that I hated the idea...

Glad you like my version. Chag Sameach back to you!

pickett said...

I do not have an answer for you, but that might be the best childhood story I ever heard.

Also, re: Hobbes: I JUST LOST THE GAME, damn it.

Rowan said...

I intend to continue the tradition.