I recently visited my city’s public museum, a well known collection of natural and cultural artifacts. Having not been to the museum very often since my youth, this was my first time looking at the museum as a teacher. And I found two things of interest to my English-teaching self: one specific object and one broad realization.
First, the artifact.
This is a writing desk and quill from the Lewis and Clark expedition. The quote on the inserted sign is from a letter written to Meriwether Lewis from Thomas Jefferson before the journey. It reads: “Your observations are to be taken with great pains and accuracy; to be entered distinctly and intelligibly, for others as well as yourself…” Isn’t it interesting that Lewis and Clark’s most important “assignment” required some of the same essential features that we still require in writing? Thoughtfulness, accuracy, clarity, and mindfulness of one’s audience as well as one’s own feelings and goals: I don’t think I could ask for a much better general set of writing guidelines!
And the realization…
As I strolled the museum, I found so many things that felt new and intriguing, from the spectacular dinosaur skeletons to the subtler, small things, like the antiquated silverware pictured above. It reminded me that observation and reflection are a huge part of thinking in a literary way. It is so important to have an open mind when approaching tasks like creative writing or taking alternative viewpoints in a discussion on literature. And part of that mind-opening process is being able to step back and think about the world, the people in it, and the countless strange, amazing things that surround us. Exploration is an underrated concept, I think, in our society today. We should be able to walk about and discover things every once in a while. Natural and cultural wonders are part of our textual universe. When you look at things in this light, is much easier to see how science, sociology, and history overlap with this (practically subjectless) subject we call English. I mean, aside from the hardware skills of reading, writing, interpretation, and discussion, “English” is really about EVERYTHING, about our world. And we need to explore our environment to understand it–both philosophically and physically. English isn’t found in the classroom. It’s found everywhere. And I found it at the museum.
So, what was accomplished here?
1. A re-affirmation of my theory that the universe is a text, and we English scholars are obligated to explore, interpret, and create what we can.
2. Every subject, even science, can lead to an English lesson. *Evil laugh of satisfaction*
3. Career goal: Come up with a field trip (such as a trip to the museum) that will allow both time for exploration and education. Kids will want to have a free for all, obviously, but maybe that’s part of living that’s intergral to the process of literary creation and interpretation. I want to harness the inherent passion for discovery and learning that every child has, and use it to aid learning. There is so much energy in young people–why waste effort squelching it when it can be developed and employed?
The beauty of language and ideas is everywhere… we just have to look closely.