Teaching Thinking to the Tenth Grade: A Mini Play

Golden Gate Park on a beautiful autumn Sunday afternoon.  Two teachers from the Waldorf High School pass each other.  Dr. Burket is holding a bunch of papers, while Mr. Wong clutches a round dish-shaped object.

Wong: Well, hello there Dr. Burket, nice to see you out of doors in this fine weather.

Burket: Good day to you, Mr. Wong. Yes, it's a relief, though I sense that things might be changing
soon.

W: Strange how things suddenly change, though in this town it seems there's always an Indian Summer around the corner.

B: True enough. If you don't mind, can I ask you why you're holding that dish-shaped object?

W: I'm actually off to practice hurling this discus. (He holds up the discus and starts swinging his arm to demonstrate.)

B: Is this a new hobby?

W: No, I'm working on my form for my Classical World main lesson with the tenth grade.  As part of our routine, Mr. Jackson teaches the students discus hurling, shot putting, and javelin throwing.  I believe you are in the middle of your Embryology main lesson with the other half of the tenth.

B: Indeed I am.  And I've got this pile of marking to prove it!  (He waves the pile of papers as proof.)  By the way, I heard you're writing an article for the monthly bulletin. What's it about?

W: I'm trying to write one. It's supposed to be about how we teach thinking in the high school.  Maybe you could help me. 

(A flock of seagulls pass overhead)

W: Do you like birds?

B: Of course I do, I'm a natural scientist.  Those were California Gulls by the way, Larus californicus, to be precise.

W: I like birds because they remind me of a moment in the Iliad when a seer named Kalkhas gets called out to reveal the truth behind a situation.  Some people read palms, others tea leaves, Kalkhas scans the flight of birds.

B: Your point being…

W: Two points really.  First, I ask the students to read for patterns in the text and then to grasp meaning in them.  

B: In a way as if they were Kalkhas the seer.

W: Yes. 

B: And second?

W: Well, on a wider level I hope that these sixteen-year olds might also recognize something in the scene as part of a larger changing whole.  In this case how people have always looked or signs from higher worlds to interpret life, and yet over time they also begin to follow an impulse to rely on themselves. 

B: Can you be more specific?

W: Well, from the time of Homer in 800BC to the time of Golden Age Athens in the latter part of the 400's it's as if the Greeks changed the way they thought about things.  I'd describe it as shift from mythological to historical and philosophical thinking.  From a dependence and interplay with the gods, to a reliance on one's own perceptions, experience, and knowledge.  You look intrigued.

B: That is not so far away from what we do in Embryology.

W: How so?

B: Well, we study the phenomenon of creation, generation, cell division, reproduction, development and differentiation, those kinds of things.  As far as possible we do lab work and practical things to show the movement or evolution of an embryo.  Kind of sounds like you do the movement to reinforce an understanding of the evolution of thought.

W: That sounds about right.  What was that definition of Phenomenology that we talked about the other day?

B: Let me see. Oh yeah, 'Developing an understanding of things as they appear in our experience of them. 

W: That's the one!  It feels like your class attends to the physical world.

B: And your class attends to the metaphysical one.

W: Why then am I holding this discus and you are holding a pile of words?

B: Hmm. 

W: Perhaps the physical and metaphysical are not mutually exclusive.

B: Perhaps we're showing that they are actually mutually inclusive.  Food for thought.

W: Hmm. 

B: So, ready to write the article?

W: I don't know.  I was thinking of doing it as a Platonic dialogue but I'm not sure it's going to work.

Nick Wong, High School Humanities Teacher