Recently, I was reading a Nigerian folk tale with my top reading group. It’s called “It’s all the Fault of Adam.” A short summary would be that our main character, Iyapo, is a poor woodcutter, who works hard all day long, cutting, hauling, and selling wood. During his labor, he cries out: ‘It’s all the fault of Adam.’” Then, he meets a wealthy benefactor who takes him into his palace as a son, and he wants for nothing. He has everything at his disposal with the exception of one thing…he is denied entry to the room with the green door. Daily he walks the hallways in idleness, his curiosity building. His feet seem to lead him to the room with the green door by themselves. Eventually, he gives in to his curiosity and enters the room, betraying his benefactor’s trust. Naturally, he tries to hide his deed, then blames it on Adam, is found out, is removed from the home of abundance and returned to life in the village cutting wood.
In order to truly understand this tale, and its moral, the reader needs to understand the beginning—who Adam is, and why the woodcutter blames him.
So I sat there, with seven mostly sweet, but several challenging, eight and nine-year-olds, and wondered: How can I open a different door for them, during a rare moment of full attention? (While monitoring the other thirteen intermittently focused and productive cherubs, mind you.) How can I pluck these few seconds, ripe for teaching what really matters, out from the confines and too-busy-to-slow-down-and-think public school day? What can I say, or do, that will reveal that which is most important of anyone’s education, what will be enough, but not too much?
The first rule of thumb of any teacher: Know your audience.
Two girls and a boy who are always sweet, responsible–one of their mothers is my room mom and I think I remember a Christian church reference in our conversations. One of the girls is Korean-American, celebrates Christmas, but not sure what else.
Two girls of Indian heritage and Hindu background, though, of course, celebrates the gift-giving of Christmas. One is quiet (barely talks above a whisper), with a good mind and when not influenced by the other, a good worker. The other is a complete mystery to me: quite bright, completely unmotivated, and barely works, but with a usually even, though disengaged, disposition in school.
One boy, whose daily existence is a stormy struggle for control over his body, his mouth, his mind and his need to have total control over everything. Yes, I stare him down almost daily, and duck when he throws things. He’s a mess and his sweet openness is revealed only sporadically. He, of course, celebrates the great unifier: Christmas.
Another boy: Crazy, sweet, stubborn, not-in-control of his body either, everything’s for a laugh and loves his big ATV toys.
So I asked them what THEY knew about Adam…and several gave tentative answers that revealed that he was the first person on earth. Yay! That’s a starting point, I thought, and hurrah for at least that much being taught at home.
Then one sweet girl asked ME: Do you believe that is true?
My only response could be: Absolutely.
Then Crazy Boy says: How do you know it’s true?
Oh, boy, time to end the reading group. We don’t have enough private opportunities to handle THIS question! So what do I say? How much?
What I did say is: That is a question that would take a very long time to answer, and we can’t do that now.
Crash and burn. Fizzle out.
What I WANTED to say: What do YOU think? Ultimately, what do YOU believe? How do you know ANYthing is true? And here is what faith is…
So, lesson learned.
Remember the woman at the well. Meet them where they are.
Ask questions. Matthew 16:13ff
How do you know anything is true?
Study it, test it, step out on faith.
I am praying for another opportunity. I am praying that I pay attention more for all the tiny cracks of opportunity in the shut doors. That I remember to ask questions back, like Jesus did. And that I will guide the thirsty to dip their buckets into the living well.