“The books are here!” English teacher Christina Lopez shouted excitedly as she pushed through the faculty lounge door. She held a brown cardboard box in her left hand and a box cutter in her right. She crossed to the table and dropped the box. Its thud splashed coffee over the rim of P.E. teacher Rex Kane’s coffee mug.
“Whoa, there, my young Epicurean!” he said. Christina shot him a look to silence him. She had no patience to suffer fools, and there was no bigger fool than Rex. But, as often happened, Rex’s appearance stopped her short, transforming the anger that had flashed across her face into an expression of incredulity. Rex sat at the table in a bay-wreath crown, a toga, and sandals.
Rex jumped into her baffled silence and continued, “Now then, my young Athenian friend, how about carping the diem and telling me what is in the box?”
“The poetry anthologies my creative writing students put together,” said Lopez, looking away from Rex to the other teachers at the table—librarian Jon Kleinhut and math teacher Jane VanderAsch. She cut open the box and pulled out a book. “I am so excited to show these to the kids next period.”
“Let me see,” said Jane. She took the proffered book, a paperback entitled Living Dreams, Dreaming Lives: A Celebration of Poems inspired by Antler. The cover of the book featured a poorly drawn picture of an American flag sporting a pair of deer antlers. Kleinhut, looking over Jane’s shoulder, almost sprayed his coffee across its pristine cover.
“Antler?!? “ said Kleinhut. “One of your students was talking to me about him. Isn’t he that hippie from Wisconsin who leads writing workshops while sitting cross-legged atop a desk and burning incense? Why are our kids writing books about him?”
“Not about him,” Christina corrected. “Inspired by him.” Some of our students who went to the High School Poetry Institute were quite captivated by his work. It was their idea to develop a book of poetry in tribute to Antler.”
Jane VanderAsch, who had turned through several pages, asked, “What, did he have a degree in alternative spelling?”
Christina looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“I mean,” said Jane, unable to hide a note of superiority in her voice, “that I’ve read three of these poems so far, and I’ve already found five misspellings. Did anybody proofread this?”
Christina looked crushed and maybe a little angry. “It was the student’s project from start to finish. They assured me they had proofread it.”
Rex came, unbidden, to her defense. Rising like Poseidon from the sea, he leaned forward, both fists on the table before him. As he did so, the sunlight streamed through the window behind him, bestowing upon him an aura of gravitas that slipped at the same moment his toga did, revealing a shoulder as wooly as a lamb’s back. The hirsute shoulder, which he scrambled to recover, ruined the effect. “You know full well, Jane, that student mistakes are just part of the process in project-based learning. VanderHaar’s been pushing us in this direction for a year, and he acknowledged that outcomes from this kind of learning are bound to be messy. I’ve run into similar problems in my classroom.”
Kleinhut jumped in. “What kind of outcomes are you talking about, Rex? Students learning to dribble a basketball while wearing a toga?” It always amused Kleinhut when Rex referred to the large gymnasium as his “classroom.” “Come on, you haven’t required your kids to write three consecutive sentences in over fifteen years.”
Jane smirked, and Christina found herself in the unusual position of having to defend Rex. She sighed with resignation and said, “I think you are exaggerating, Jon. Rex makes his students write.”
Rex puffed out his chest with pride. “You betcha, I do. Why, just the other day that Bultema kid missed five free throws in a row, so I made him write, ‘I will no longer throw up bricks’ one hundred times. You know that kid’s shooting improved the next day. How’s that for an outcome?”
Rex folded his arms proudly across his Olympian chest, and Christina buried her face in her hands. Rex continued, “And for your information, my bibliophallic friend, I have teamed up with our new history teacher, Caleb Rigatoni, to do a unit on the Olympics. He is showing the movie Ben Hur and I am having my students play games from the Olympics while wearing authentic Athenian garb.”
Kleinhut held his ground. “Let me say something a minute. First off, I think you mean bibliophilic, Rex. Second, I actually understand what VanderHaar is saying—and I love it when students come into my library looking to do research on something they are really excited about. I know you guys are the teachers, not me, but isn’t there more to this than just getting kids excited about something? Don’t you, Christina, have some kind of responsibility to guide students as they explore stuff? And at least make sure they are spelling things correctly before it gets memorialized in a book? Project-based learning works the best when students work under ‘real-world’ conditions, and it seems to me that any publisher in the real world would proofread more carefully than your students did. And Rex, shouldn’t the connections between the disciplines be a little stronger than having kids dress funny while they play the same games you always play? Maybe all project-based learning should start and end in the library. How about those ideas, huh?”
Kleinhut rose to storm out of the room, but the bell rang, rendering his grand gesture less grand. Christina followed, looking dispirited, and close behind her came Rex, pulling at his toga that kept slouching down his left shoulder. Only Jane remained, for it was her free period. She found herself thinking about whether it would work to have her math classes to do some geographical population studies to see if the talk about moving Bedlam’s campus was really founded on where its constituents were living lately.
Then she started thinking about how ridiculous Rex had looked in his toga. He was so funny all the time and she was so serious. She wondered what it would be like to have dinner with him sometime. Maybe they could go out for Greek food. She smiled to herself, and then shook all crazy ideas about project-based learning and goofy gym teachers out of her head to focus on the papers she had to grade before fourth period.
Jan Kaarsvlam, who is currently the project-based learning coordinator at Whitinsville Christian High School, is pleased to announce the release of his first book, Injecting Chocolate and other Fairly Stupid Ideas, available through Lulu.com. He encourages those interested to buy now as there are several lawsuits pending that may soon make it unavailable.