I sit in a classroom with the students I work with as a Writer Coach and see something different. I think, "I'm sitting next to hope." I work with two eighth grade boys, Larry and Tommy, on assignments about John Steinbeck's novel, Of Mice and Men. The story is difficult, but the students in the class have seen the movie, read articles about the Depression and the Dust Bowl, which sent many people to California searching for new lives.
Both students are grappling with the relationship between two itinerant workers, George and Lenny: are they friends or more like father-son figures? The students are being asked some tough questions about loyalty and friendship, the dream of owning a piece of land, and loneliness and companionship. Listening to the students speak about the themes in the book gives me hope. They see parallels to today's world of immigrant workers, people with special needs, and the security of a strong friendship. Larry brings up some of his own family's experiences while Tommy uses his math logic to puzzle out the relationships.
As I sit with them, I am filled with hope. I know that middle school is a time of great change, a time when students begin to define themselves and their beliefs, and to question what they have learned. These students already have a better grasp of how the world works than I did when I was their age. I'm glad to see schools such as this one take on the task of developing critical thinking in their students. I sit with hope.