Mamacita says: I want to talk to you all about standardized testing and butter, and then I want you to tell me which is more important.
I ran into a former middle school student in a store yesterday. I recognized him right away, in spite of the beard, the wife, and the three little kids, but for the first time, I couldn’t remember a student’s name. This concerns me.
My mind’s eye could see him with the years stripped away, and I could remember where he sat and who sat on either side of him. I could remember things he did and said in class, and I could remember his handwriting and where he liked to sit in the cafeteria. I couldn’t, however, remember his name.
He said to me, “I bet you don’t remember me!” And I replied, “Of COURSE I remember you.” Because I did, even if his name was gone from my brain.
He said to me, “I will always remember that one thing we did in your class.”
I replied, “And which thing is that?”
“Remember when you read that olden-days book to us and they were always eating and making stuff from scratch, and you taught us how to make stuff? What I remember most was the butter. My kids and I love to make butter, just like you showed us in 8th grade.”
The book was Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy. It was perfect for a low-ability class of 37 14-to-17 year old students, all boys, who hated reading and honestly couldn’t see any connection between something in a book and the outdoors/ hunting/farming/mechanic/taxidermy/4H/cattle-raising lives most of them were already considered experts in.
It was English class, but we cooked, and we whittled (GASP, how politically INCORRECT!) and we made sourdough starter and later we made bread with it, and we made pies and jerky and boiled candy (it’s just fudge or taffy) and jam. And about once a week, we made butter to go with our bread. I had a glass churn, but that was too complicated so we poured the cream into a big Tupperware thing and passed it all around the class and the boys shook it while listening to me read. I would read until the butter ‘came,’ and then the boys sprang into action. They poured off the buttermilk and squeezed the butter until it stopped weeping. They sprinkled just a little salt into the butter and kneaded it in. Then they all washed their hands and whoever’s turn it was that day sliced the bread and they all put napkins in their shirt collars and tucked in. We used KNIVES to slice the bread and to spread the butter. Heavens to BETSY.
I know that many of them were enthusiastic about this book because of the food, and they loved the food because all teenage boys love food, and also because these particular teenage boys were seriously hungry.
I loved those Laura Ingalls Wilder units. Other teachers criticized them because watching sourdough rise, and making butter, weren’t proper English lessons.
I maintained, and I still maintain, that anything we as teachers or parents do that makes learning come alive is a proper English lesson. Science lesson. History lesson. Math lesson. Life lesson.
I was sad when the principal forbade me to do this kind of thing any more. There really wasn’t time, anyway, what with all the ISTEP prep the boys needed to do. That was more important in the long run, right?
I ran into a grown man in a store yesterday who remembered those lessons and did them with his own children.
I’m sure he remembers and does the lessons required for ISTEP, too.
But I know for a fact that he remembers the butter.