I spent most of March traveling and although I’ve been back for a while, I haven’t entirely unpacked yet. Because I hate unpacking.
It’s the least romantic part about traveling to me: dirty laundry, (hopefully still intact) souvenirs, used boarding passes/train tickets, crumpled receipts, postcards you meant to send but forgot about; it’s like taking down Christmas decorations after the holidays – it always feels too soon.
I think of emptying a suitcase as surgery: delicate; you have to remove piece after piece carefully and in the right pace or it’ll be a bloody mess.
I love to keep some sand in my shoes, and some change if the currency is foreign. I usually find little notes, candy wrappers and flyers advertising concerts, museums, movies and all sorts of food between the pages of my journal after I’m already home for weeks.
This time, there was also a note from a friend I visited for a few days of my trip.
She moved to Houston last year and I hadn’t seen her new apartment yet. I only knew her old apartment in Austin.
In the end, the new one reminded me a lot of the one she’d had before – her bedroom looked almost the same, to me it did anyways: postcards and pictures on the wall (quotes in English and Arabic), books (in English and Arabic).
One evening, we sat on the floor, having an indoor-picnic-dinner (because, even though we were in Texas and it was March, it was still too cold to picnic outside).
We decorated slices of apple with dabs of peanut butter and the soft carpet with crumbs of bread (there’s a reason why people usually picnic outside). I tried to pick up a few crumbs with the tip of my index finger, tracing back the way our dinner had gone, a path back and forth between our plates, like a bridge; I tore it down (sometimes, that’s what you have to do).
We hadn’t seen each other in almost a year so we talked about things that had happened: life and everything in between.
We talked about how one of her friends was almost pulled into a car by a couple of strangers on her way home while they studied together in Egypt and how this is not a big deal there because it happens all the time and no one ever says a thing (until it happens to them, but it doesn’t, right? it’s always someone else); we talked about how one of my friends was kidnapped a couple of years ago because her family was too wealthy and the rest of her country too poor and how this is not a big deal there because it happens all the time and no one ever says a thing (until it happens to them, but it doesn’t, right? it’s always someone else).
Sometimes I’m sure there’ll be a loud creak any second and the world will just fall over, unhinged, because there must be an imbalance between good and evil in the world; sometimes I’m sure the only reason it doesn’t happen is because you’re in a relatively stable position while you’re knee-deep in the shit.
Other times I get up to my favorite song on the radio and it’s enough to make me think it’s maybe not that bad. Not because I think my favorite song is going to level out everything that’s going wrong in the world – but if we’re going down, I feel a lot better knowing that at least the soundtrack is good.
We also talked about our favorite songs, a movie I’d recommended to her a while ago (Harold and Maude), and boys love, its complications, its many layers and whatever it is that girls people talk about when they talk about love.
We talked about the future – job possibilities, what our friends had done with their lives (and impressed us with it, or the opposite), what our parents wanted us to do with our lives (and how we didn’t really want the same, of course); things we wanted to do, ideally; things we could imagine settling for.
There’s so much life ahead of us, she burst out all of a sudden. The only answer I could think of: What are we going to do with it? So we tried to come up with a plan; it ended up being a list of things – written as a note, the twist: we wrote it to the other (because advice to others is often easier).
My note said: * Keep writing * Keep learning/teaching * Keep breathing * Keep doing yoga * Keep taking pictures * Keep watching inspiring movies/reading inspiring books * Specific items to do: play guitar, research teaching assistantships in America, find and visit the German-speaking part of Romania (yes, it exists! no, it’s not where the vampires are … or is it?) * Always remember: it’s worth it to fall in love.
I put the note into my journal; I re-read it many times since she first wrote it. I’ve been trying to keep it in mind – while I’m waiting for the loud creak and the sinking feeling you get when you’re going up/down too fast for your stomach to keep up because the world’s falling over after all; while I’m hoping it doesn’t.
Because there’s so much life ahead (and a lot in between).
It’s sitting in the corner, gray and plump and it’s not likely to go away – the elephant in the room: “What’s so different?”
Once I’ve told people I’ve recently been in the Netherlands with one of my education classes in order to take a closer look at their system of public education, it’s – inevitably – the question everyone asks.
The answer, however, is not nearly as intuitive.
Yet, there is one word that’s been buzzing around in my head for a while. It jumped at me when I first set foot in one of the schools there and it’s stuck with me ever since: Openness.
First, openness in the most literal sense of the word. The classroom doors: open. The classroom walls: open (i. e. glass). The principal’s office: (mostly) open! The area around the school: open (no fence, no nothing).
Second, openness in a more metaphorical way: A (for me) surprising as well as pleasant candor. It seemed people were neither afraid to open their mouths nor to open their ears – for questions, answers, even (potential) criticism.
In very broad terms, I also noticed their openness for: cooperation (instead of the dog-eat-dog mentality that you will find frighteningly often among the teaching staff at German schools), color (arts & crafts style, but also multiculturalism; pluralism in a lot of ways – in thinking, teaching, learning), creativity (self-explanatory), and also unity (in the sense of support; yet, also in the sense of collectivity – which can be a good thing…yet, I think, it’s also the one thing that goes on my personal list of bad things I’ve noticed about their system).
Unity (one method).
An interesting idea: the method. No wait, this needs more emphasis: it’s the method. Because there’s just one – one method per school. For the teacher this basically means two things. One, less work (hooray!). Two, less latitude (womp womp…).
Here’s how it works: Each school decides on one method – i. e. one style of teaching (possibly focusing on Montessori pedagogy or Helen Parkhurst’s Dalton Plan concept). This also includes a range of textbooks for all different subjects as well as computer programs to go with their whiteboards. Everything’s well-matched – at least it should be.
It seems to be an entirely holistic approach (which ties in with most Dutch school’s aim: learning with head, heart and hand), and that is a very good thing. It doesn’t leave teachers on their own, trying to pick the few cherries out of a huge pile of teaching material and objectives, and that is most certainly a good thing.
Yet, it also seems very close-meshed. It definitely leaves less room to design a curriculum that matches your own as well as your students’ preferences. It’s like wearing another person’s outfit, trying not to feel silly.
Of course it’s possible that I simply missed the point. Still. This approach, to me, doesn’t include the openness I’ve encountered elsewhere.
That’s, of course, not an in-depth analysis, but more of my own, unfiltered gut-feeling spilled out. In general, looking at the schools in the Netherlands left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling – possibly, even with butterflies in my stomach, or as they say: lentekriebels. Maybe just because it’s Spring. However I think, it’s probably more than a short-lived fling…