I normally only write about teaching related issues on this blog. But, I’ve decided to make some changes in the New Year. One change I am making is to start posting book reviews, or posts prompted by books I’m reading, that are in some way connected to teaching, learning, schooling, or education in general. I aim to broaden the scope of my blog so that I don’t find myself frantically searching for a topic to post about every week; this has stopped me from posting on a regular basis. The purpose of making this change isn’t to proliferate my blog with trivial posts, but rather to allow myself a broader scope from which to ruminate about learning in the broadest sense of the word.
Wally Lamb’s Wishin’ and Hopin’, A Christmas Story is a great read and not just at Christmas time. Lamb was able to take a one-time fictitious event – the 1964 Christmas play production by the students at St. Aloysius Gonzaga Parochial School – and build a story around it that touches on current events of the time with parochial school culture as the backdrop. Most of the action takes place in and around Felix Funicello’s 5th grade classroom. (Yes, he’s a distant cousin of Annette’s and she does play a part in the development of the story!) As the events unfold, we get a taste of how the social mores of the time coupled with petty jealousies, and a strong sense of good vs. bad, inform (not always accurately) Felix’s particular point of view. Lamb manages to write a story that is both funny and endearing, but like all good stories, Wishin’ and Hopin’ pushed me to reflect about myself in the context of the story: what was it like to grow up in the mid-60’s in the US?
My family emigrated to New York from Cuba in 1966 so a lot of the cultural and political events in the book resonated with my own memories of the time. Even the character of the new Russian student, Zhenya, who joins Felix’s class right before the school gears up for its annual Christmas pageant and whose feisty personality gives the class goodie two shoes (Rosalie) a run for her money, brought back memories of my Russian playmate, Lucy, the daughter of the Russian supers in our building. From Lucy I learned a few Russian words, how to summon spirits on the Ouija board, and how to play some of the NY signature street games of the time. Lucy was instrumental in my acculturation into life in the US during the five years I lived in that building, though I didn’t know it at the time. It wasn’t until I started writing this post that these memories, scant as they are, came flooding back.
So, what is this post about really? Wally Lamb’s book or my memory of starting life in the US? Does it really matter?
I go back to the introduction to this post and revise it somewhat: I am expanding my blog topics as a way of understanding myself better through books or events that have impacted me and have pushed me to reflect, revise, and retell my own life story. Sometimes I will ruminate on how these experiences have impacted me as a teacher.
That is the learning in this piece.