Introduction to Biology. Ms. Pieroni asks us what’s going to be on the double-grader—what did we learn? The answer: a lot, i.e., a) living things; b) animals; c) chordates; d) cladograms (not familiar with that term; will have to look it up). She asks how we’re going to spend the bulk of our study time—we have study packets, plus there are the flashcards that everyone has made. Given all the long, complicated nomenclature, those strike me as a good idea. There are as many flashcard styles as there are students. Jeremy has standard note cards, Nathan has assorted scraps of paper—whatever works! We do a rapid review of primates and hominids (Ms. Pieroni will post the PowerPoint for later reference and review). We move rapidly through old vs. new world monkeys, the importance of head position, random mutations, and adaptations. “So how DID we get out of water and onto land?” Ms. Pieroni wants to know. By the end of class I know what a cladogram is. Which goes to show, if you keep paying attention, the answers to certain questions will reveal themselves.
Intro to Bio, round 2 (actually, section 2). It’s quite useful to be able to do it all again, with a different group. This time we talk about bigger heads, bigger brains, non-grasping tails, and opposable thumbs. “Foramen magnum (from the Latin, meaning “great hole”): the large opening in the base of the skull through which the spinal cord exits the cranial vault.” Some intriguing questions are raised: “Are we evolving TOWARD something? What’s the end goal?” (I assume it’s survival.)
Third period: Greek 1. Papers with lines of Ancient Greek are taped to the board. Mr. Roth announces a speed-scanning contest. Judging from the reaction, this seems to be a frequent occurrence. Michael is reputed to be a solid competitor; OP and Zach take him on. The three of them go after it, with gusto. Mr. Roth asks lots of questions, starting with, “What’s the hardest line up there?” There’s discussion of spondees and dactyls. Then we move to translation of some lines from the Iliad (this is, after all, Homeric Greek). We’re told to take out the “map”— apparently, a personal guide to endings and forms, of which there are many. There’s mention of “liquid future.” Mr. Roth suggests that this would be a great name for a rock band. I silently agree.
Detail from the Venetus A manuscript, showing Iliad 3.1-9.
Back to American Studies with Ms. Audet— I hope she’s not getting tired of seeing me. But as I’m in 9th grade today, and as this is a combined 7th-8th-9th class, there’s no other option. She opens with good news: “The quizzes from Friday rocked!” Smiles all around. Then she talks for a minute about current events, the study of which is a constant in this class. We are reminded of basic criteria: Is it news? Is it interesting to talk about? There’s mention of an incident that took place one recent night at a hockey game, which involved hateful speech targeting some Native American kids—does that qualify as a current event? Given the timeliness and importance of the issue it raises, we agree that it does. Next it’s time for final practice and performance of the History Minute skits (I saw preparations for these when I was in 8thgrade). Group 1’s skit clearly articulates the differing views on having the federal government decide free or slave status of states as they enter the union. Ryan, Daniel, Aaron, and Hong Ding make their arguments with great emphasis. Theirs is the skit set in what appears to be a tavern (their beverage props are age-appropriate, marked as “coffee”). Now Group 2 (Michelle, Mason, Jeremy, and Allen) make their own arguments on the question of slavery, only their venue is a train station, complete with sound effects. They’re all very engaged and seem to relish making arguments.
Ten minutes into World History. The class started with a quick quiz on an excerpt from Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. The topic is colonization in history and fiction. Discussion follows. What does Conrad say about the land? Ms. Barenkamp reads a paragraph aloud, so we can really get into the words. Everyone listens carefully, and when asked about “tone” words, terms like “murky” and “gloomy” immediately emerge. We talk about “untamed” landscape and the “impenetrable” aspect of nature. It’s obvious that this class is developing a keen ear for language and that they really enjoy vocabulary. The discussion shifts from the physical environment to the people in it. We discuss the idea of “other” and how Conrad links the people and the land as things both free and monstrous. David comments that this really reminds him of “Star Trek” and the Enterprise’s visits to other planets. Before we can get into this connection, which seems apt, the bell rings.
I find I enjoy having first lunch—one hour makes a difference. Today it’s the taco bar. Another opportunity to exercise individuality.
From tacos to geometry. Mr. Pesek is the teacher and a prime example of a TJ alum: multi-talented. In addition to geometry, he teaches Italian and yoga (why not?). He distributes a ten-problem double-grader with two bonus questions that he says I might get. As it turns out, all ten of the geometry problems contain clues to the bonus answers (I learn this only after the fact— very clever). I stare at the problems, racking my brain. I’ve seen things like this before, but I can’t quite retrieve what I need for solving. How to approach? How to read? This is basic learning. Suddenly, I’m reminded of my recurring nightmare in which I find myself taking an exam for a class I’ve never attended. It’s the worst feeling: being unprepared. Thankfully, in this school, given its size, the nature of its program, and the relationships between teachers and students, I don’t think that particular nightmare scenario happens very often.
For the final period of the day, it’s a bit of a relief to be back in an English class (more up my alley), talking about a book I’ve actually read. The students seem to be enjoying Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Dr. Human quickly reviews the Who? Where? What? Why? of the current section, and then goes on to talk about “natural” vs. “unnatural” things. Is nature perfect? In the time of this story, people thought it was good to get out into nature and gaze upon its beauties. In the story, Victor takes walks and benefits from nature’s restorative power. Dr. Human advises: “Pay attention to nature. It’s going to be important.” My mind wanders back briefly to the earlier discussion in history class—there’s a connection. We go on to consider the question of why Frankenstein’s monster never gets a name. We talk about why something unnatural strikes us as evil. What makes a human being, anyway? And where does goodness come from? Weighty questions, ones that have engaged philosophical minds for millennia, including now the 9th grade minds in this room.
Classes are over. It’s Tuesday, so we gather for our weekly assembly in the Dining Hall. As usual, there’s a series of announcements and reminders: clubs, theatre outings, Student Council, basketball, service learning. In their capacity as Heads of Lists, Tom and Jim exhort everyone to do their jobs and take better care of the spaces we all share. They’re quite serious and eloquent about it. Contrary to what students might think, adults sometimes really appreciate having someone else do the nagging.
The afternoon is quiet. Students are all over campus, working in their dorm rooms, in Main, in study hall. Some of them are up on the second or third floor, working with teachers. Everyone has had the chance to get out of dress code and into more comfortable garb (I don’t take advantage of this—I prefer to get dressed only once each day). There’s a bit of socializing going on in Sayers Lounge— that’s a necessary part of the program, as well. In Founders, Dawson is showing his developing card trick skills to some of his friends. I comment, in passing, that he really should check out Ricky Jay, a true master of the art.
The “business” day is over; day students head home for the night, unless they have basketball. Everyone else gets ready for dinner.