This scene from the Dead Poet’s Society begins with Mr. Keating standing upon his desk asking his students the question, “Why do I stand up here?” One student suggests that he wants to feel taller, but Mr. Keating quickly squashes that notion and says, “I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”
Last week, the East coast was ravaged by hurricane Sandy. Kim is still without power and people in her hometown are sitting in long lines waiting to purchase gasoline. They are becoming irritable, wondering when they will be able to return to the comforts of their pre-hurricane lives. While being temporarily displaced feels like the end of the world, compared to her neighbors living along the coast a few miles to the west, it is really a mere inconvenience. Kim’s neighborhood lost power. In a few days, she will be able to return home and life will be just as it was before. Her neighbors in communities like Long Beach and Breezy Point, however, won’t be going home in a few days, a few weeks, or even a few months. They need to create new homes because they lost everything. Life as they knew it, will never be the same. When put this way, we receive a shocking jolt of perspective and realize how easy it is to perseverate on the unimportant unless we remind ourselves “that we must constantly look at things in a different way.”
We are currently steeped in year two of Common Core implementation. As we become mired in conversations about what standards RL.3.4 and W.3.7 look like instructionally, it is easy to lose sight of the state’s larger Common Core goals and objectives, which are spelled out on page seven of the document.
Rereading this page helps to ground our understanding of the work we are doing and reminds us once again that the standards are not simply about ticking off items on a checklist, but rather, they are about working toward the loftier goals of helping children become more communicative, collaborative, and thoughtful about their world. Interestingly, the last point on this page addresses perspective directly and the Common Core states, “Through reading great classic and contemporary works of literature representative of a variety of periods, cultures, and worldviews, students can vicariously inhabit worlds and have experiences much different than their own.”
Imagine a world where children have opportunities to see past their most immediate existence. Add to that teachers like Mr. Keating, who nudge students with admonitions, such as “Now when you read, don’t just consider what the author thinks, consider what you think.” Children can begin to value other people differently. They can begin to see problems differently. Assuming other perspectives opens us up to “dare to strike out and find new ground.” Imagine what the world could be!