Sunday, November 22, 2009

Societal Strengths vs. Individual Strengths

Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time questions society’s standards of the appropriate ways that people should act and think. The main characters, although they might feel like they do not fit in with the world around them or, in Calvin’s case, fit in but do not feel at home in their own bodies, recognize that what may seem like a fault or an unnecessary or strange way of thinking on earth can, when applied to situations beyond our understanding, be of great importance. Although the story is set in a universe and sense of time that is incomprehensible to human beings, and this often causes difficulties for the earthly characters and for the reader, the message can be applied to earthly matters that we deal with on a day to day basis. I constantly see my peers, both at Loyola and at home, struggling against the imposed societal and educational ideas of which thoughts or actions are considered normal and which are strange (or useless); it is no surprise to me that even the kindergarteners of Govans face similar issues of accepting and questioning the norm.

The Govans kindergarteners may seem young and therefore incapable of understanding the concept of individuality and the ability to adhere to one’s own perspectives over those of the American culture and society. However, as I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, the children do display bouts of individualism and creativity amongst the somewhat structured and formal environment; their centering time allows for them to play with whatever toys they like, regardless of gender norms. Because of these short periods of time when the children express their true personalities, which are often much more agreeable than the acts they put on during class time, I find it very hard to observe them when at other times they are struggling to learn a new concept or arguing with the teachers. I find it even harder to watch how the teachers react to such interruptions, especially since a few of the teachers do not even take into consideration the needs of the individual young children and merely scream at them or embarrass them in front of the rest of the class. A lot of the children resemble Meg from the story in that they do not feel comfortable in the classroom setting and express their anxieties and frustrations in ways that are harmful to others and to themselves.

When asked to privately work with a few struggling individuals on their ABCs, I realized that most of the students that act out are capable of understanding and learning the material but must approach the learning process in a different way. Working with a small group of three students allowed me to see their strengths over their “faults” (faults by societal standards); the children were fully aware of the letters of the alphabet when taken out of the classroom setting, the setting that inhibits the growth of some minds. Although these kindergarteners have trouble following the standard, structured way of teaching does not mean that they are not intelligent or that their thoughts are not useful and worthwhile. As proven in A Wrinkle in Time, often children that have very particular ways of approaching or thinking about things are those that can cause great things to happen, things that could not happen if it were not for those who think outside of the standard box. From working with these children and with the class on a whole, I appreciate the differences that some children display towards the teacher and the material because it proves that society does not have a complete hold on people, that individuality does exist and that our world is not like the planet of Camazotz.

Like some of the children of Govans, Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin all feel as if they do not have a place in the world dominated by appearances and a standard, bookish evaluation of intelligence, or the world represented by the twins. Although Calvin manages to fit in because of his popularity as a star basketball player, he does not feel like he is at home with himself or that he is living up to his inner potential: “There hasn’t been anybody, anybody in the world I could talk to. Sure, I can function on the same level as everybody else, I can hold myself down, but it isn’t me” (45). Only when he encounters Meg and Charles Wallace does he feel as if he is not alone in his “abnormal” world perception. Calvin, like many students at Loyola and at Govans, appears to fit in nicely with the societal norms and the emphasis on athleticism and popularity but does not feel as if these aspects of his self are aspects of his true identity. He says himself that he is a star basketball player mainly because of his height, because of a physical quality. The fact that the twins focus on his athletic abilities proves that that part of Calvin is very much accepted by society, no matter how much Calvin does not relate to this part of his identity.

Charles Wallace, who is very much like Calvin in his ability to understand others, proves very intelligent for a five-year old boy but does not readily express his knowledge for fear of facing hatred from those who cannot accept him: “I think it will be better if people go on thinking I’m not very bright. They won’t hate me quite so much” (31). Like many students at Govans and from many of my own experiences with particularly smart students in my classes, I can understand why Charles Wallace feels that he cannot express his true self and the depths of his intelligence because many classroom settings do not allow for the acceptance of those who bring to the table a sense of unnatural, unequal comprehension. A lot of students do develop hatreds for children like Charles Wallace whose intelligence can come off as condescending, proving that our society and educational setting does not readily influence some of the smarter students to speak up or express their true potential.

Meg is a perfect example of many of the Govans students and students from my own educational history that encounter in the classroom nothing but discouragement and therefore develop low self-esteems. Because Meg is constantly criticized for her inability to focus and get good grades, she does not even attempt to express her intelligence, which actually proves to be very developed. Meg’s mind works in a different way, a way that teachers are not accustomed to and therefore do not accept because she does not learn like the majority learns: “’The problem with Meg and math,’ Mrs. Murry said briskly, ‘is that Meg and her father used to play with numbers and Meg learned far too many shortcuts. So when they want her to do problems the long way around at school she gets sullen and stubborn and sets up a fine mental block for herself’” (43). Meg sees her inability to look at things as others do as a problem and a quality that alienates her rather than a gift. Only when she tessers throughout the universe does she realize that her way of thinking and going about things is perfectly fine, that her true identity can be extremely useful and important.

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