Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Haunted Bathroom

I am feeling perky today. As we say in England, there’s enough blue in the sky to make a sailor a pair of trousers (or maybe it’s just my family that says that). After so many days of rain, a scrap of blue sky is a glorious thing. And so, I discovered yesterday, is a child. No, I’m not expecting one of my own. I started volunteer-tutoring at 826 Valencia.

The workshop that I’m helping out with is a journalism class. Over the course of four weeks, the kids, aged eight to eighteen, each write an article. Then we produce an issue of a newspaper, the Valencia Bay-farer. In the first class, a week ago, we had a brainstorming session. My friend Chris, who was leading the class, asked the kids to come up with as many article ideas as they could in fifteen minutes.
“Britney Spears!”
“My school bathroom!”
“Now that sounds promising,” said Chris. An investigative report on school bathrooms. What about your school bathroom interests you?” The kid thought for a minute, then announced:
“My school bathroom is haunted!” It's hard to teach kids what journalism is.

Marty Seligman, one of my spiritual heroes, says helping others is one of the keys to authentic happiness. This is one reason I volunteered at 826. Unfortunately, I haven’t been feeling the virtuous glow, the satisfied selfish selflessness, that I hoped for. The kids hardly need me, since in the journalism class at least, there’s a glut of tutors, with more than one per student. Plus, I was disappointed to see that the kids all appear to be well-fed and middle-class. Why can’t they get in some underprivileged offspring of crack addicts? Then I’d really feel good.

But while the kids can’t gratify my altruistic impulse, teaching them is profoundly entertaining. It’s really more about them helping me than me helping them. Yesterday evening, in the second class of the course, the kids did research for their articles. One little girl was writing about the Venus Fly-Trap. We listened on speaker phone while she conducted an interview with an expert, the owner of a local plant store.
“Do you have any Venus Fly-Traps?” asked the girl.
The girl was flummoxed. The rest of the questions she had prepared were now irrelevant.
“Wing it!” someone whispered. We watched as the little girl thought. Then she said,
“Is it weird to be a plant?”
"I don't know," said the woman. "I've never thought about it."
"Well, what do you imagine?" persisted the eight-year-old reporter. "And is it weird to stay in one place all day long?"
It may not be weird to be a plant, but is very weird to be a kid.


Blogger Sam said...

I never heard that saying, but I like it and I think I might start using it!

9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've known the sailor's trousers saying for a long time in different parts of the U.K.
What I've never been able to understand is that it must differ depending on the size of the sailor.

2:10 PM  

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