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November 21, 2010


  How is that little children are so intelligent and men are so stupid? 
It must be education that does it.
            Alexandre Dumas fils
      The above quote reminds me of something a second grade girl told me many years ago. “You know, Mr. G., kids are like butterflies and adults are like cocoons.” I doubt she’d ever read Dumas. 

      I’m now in my 40th year of teaching and I like to think I’m still a butterfly. Teaching little kids does that to you, keeps you young in heart and spirit if not in body. (It never used to creak when I bent over!) Children have few preconceptions, few biases (I like to think they have none) and a wide open belief that anything is possible; they are well-springs of spontaneity and creativity. They open the doors of my own imagination when I listen to them or read what they’ve written. Einstein famously said, “To know is nothing; to imagine is everything.” I believe he, too, was a butterfly. 

     Here’s an assortment of similes penned by second- and third-graders. In most cases, I supplied the first half and the students finished it.

• The trees were bunched together as closely as a crowd of people around a
   talking cat.
• The water in the lake was as still as death.
• The flower stretched to the sky like a man begging for light.
• Her teeth chattered like tap dancing feet.
• Fresh snow covered the land like frosting on a cake.
• The path twisted and turned like a never-ending pretzel.
• The trees were bunched together as closely as the candles on an
   old man’s birthday cake.
• The buses ram their way through traffic like worms struggling
   through dirt.
• The desert was as flat as a map on the wall.
• The babies were crawling all over the place, like ants on an old
• The runner was out of the starting blocks like pop-tarts out of a 
• The teacher was as mean as an unfed dog.
• The old woman’s face was as wrinkled as a boy’s shirt.
• The book she was reading was as boring as a room full of
   business people.

      On a darker note, consider the following. Pacific Northwest magazine some years ago noted that in the 1940s, teachers listed the following as their top seven student discipline problems:

            Chewing gum
            Dressing inappropriately
            Not putting paper in the wastebasket
            Passing notes
            Running in the halls
            Skipping class

      In the 1980s, the top seven student discipline problems faced by teachers were:
            Drug abuse
            Possessing alcohol
            Possessing weapons
            Skipping class
      And not much has changed since then.

      Finally, a wonderfully whimsical little poem by John Updike; it appeared in the New Yorker  probably forty years ago:
                       The cars in Caracas
                       Create a ruckukus;
                       A four-wheeled fracacas,
                       Taxaxis and truckus;
                       The traffic is farcic;
                       Its weave leads the stomach
                       To turn Caracarsick.
                                 John Updike

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