During the time of my visits, a 6 1/2 year old named Alan invented a learning environment for himself.  Alan’s basic metaphor was WAR.  I was at first a bit put off but then I realized that Alan, more than anyone I had met, hated and feared war and the consciousness of WAR that pervades American life.

It was as if, by understanding war down to the roots, Alan might gain some sort of dominion over it.

Alan’s home base was a corner of the reading-reference-junk room at the school.  There he had built and impressive fortress that changed in character and armaments as the campaign he was imagining changed.  Alan spent quite a bit of time helmeted and armed, within the fortress.  But he spent far more time at what he called “my work”.  His work consisted of filling large sketch pads with line drawings of battle situations.  Vivid and accurate in detail, the drawings were produced with great speed and economy of line.

When I told him my own combat experience had, fortunately, kept me out of the trenches, he said, “Do you want to see what trench warfare is like?” and leafed through a completed sketch pad.  The sketch he showed gave me the EXPERIENCE of being in a World War I trench – the cramped surroundings, tangles of barbed wire, exploding shells, the distant yet ominous presence of the enemy.

After a couple of days I learned that Alan’s “work” involved a project of grand proportions: he was creating a picture history of every major war the U.S. had fought, from the Revolutionary War through Vietnam.  At the time of my visit, he was up to the North American Campaigns of World War II.  When Alan needed further information about some battle or mode of warfare, he would take a book about the campaign, retire to a corner and read avidly.  No “motivation” problem here.  Or he would go to the Art Room and paint combatants’ flags and insignias, or model tanks and warships in clay.  In the Woodshop, Alan would build appropriate armaments.  In the Gym, he would invent war games.  Or in perfectly reasonable switch, he would organize peace marches, with hand-lettered signs like “War Is Sick”.

Perhaps not by accident, Alan’s headquarters were located within easy hearing distance of the table where Wilbur Rippy (Educational Director) read aloud about and discussed history, geography, evolution, etc.  While Rippy would read, Alan would continue his work, hardly seeming to notice the “lesson,” but actually taking it all in.  When Rippy would leave, Alan would rush to the table, scan the written material, look at the pictures, study the specimens, then mutter” “I must get back to my work.”

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