New Education

I went on a field trip today with my class.

The class is Natural Disasters. We have been dealing with different topics – this week’s is flooding. An appropriate topic for the Pacific Northwest and one that can be easily explored, unlike earthquakes or volcanoes.

We weren’t just casual observers on this trip. This trip required active participation, which I’ve heard is standard for field trips, but I had never seen it. In my mind, field trips are where the boys and girls would split up into mean-spirited little groups and make snide commentary until the trip was over.

It is possible that this happened, but if it did, I didn’t see it. The age group is older, although the vast majority of my classmates are sitting between eighteen and twenty. What I saw were students paying attention to their teacher and trying to fulfil the requirement of the class.

We went to Whatcom Falls Park. The river is swelled right now due to a lot of rain coming in over the past week. Fortunately for us there was a rain break.  We stood on bridges and tried to measure the river’s speed, depth and width with a string, a rock and some leaves.

I felt like I was on The Amazing Race. We struck out to the first bridge, away from the teacher. I got distracted by a leaf that was suspended by some errant cobweb, and took a picture of it while the other team sailed past us. We caught up to them, but I felt like we were behind on the challenge. The other team would get their clue before us!

Our team worked together well. I found a rock to tie to the string to plumb the depth of the river. My other two teammates got leaves and a stopwatch and started doing time tests. The other team seemed to be struggling, although I wasn’t paying enough attention to know why. They didn’t ask for our help, and soon enough we had our data and were ready to go.

The leaf was still hanging by the same thread when we came back through.

This isn’t the first instance where I’ve been surprised by the quality of group work in my class. In my Communications class, we had to each look at a picture. Then using only words to describe the picture, line up in the order the pictures went in. My heart went to my throat thinking about talking to twenty some kids that I barely knew. I appeared to be the only one with this concern. The kids in the class wandered around like this was an everyday occurrence, with self-confidence and determination to get the job done. To my surprise we did it, too.

Education would come a long way since I’ve been in school the first time, but experiencing those changes first hand leaves me feeling a bit out of place. My ingrained habits are outdated. I’m no longer a bullied girl playing defense just to get through class, which is wonderful, but a little disorienting. It’s taking time to develop these new skills. In the long run though, developing these new skills underscore how much this new education is worth.

What You Think You Know

Today I played a game with my classmates in Communications. We were given pictures, back side up, and at once we were to flip the picture over and look at what was there, every detail, because we didn’t know what would be relevant. Then, we had to walk around and find the people who had matching or similar pictures, then line everyone in the class up in the order we perceived from the stories told in the pictures.

This was a complex game, but a fun one – it required everyone to talk to everyone else, and for all of us to work together, despite knowing whether or not that help would cause problems for us later on. I noticed that my classmates didn’t seem to have any problem walking up to other people and talking. Fortunately, I have had some practice with walking up to groups of people I didn’t know and talking to them, but even still it’s not my natural state. I like to be a quiet observer when the people are not people I know, or know well.

We did manage as a group to correctly identify the order the pictures went in, but I admit that where I was impressed was how this group interacted with each other despite us barely knowing each other. I’m sure there were others who privately felt the way I did, but overall no one showed any stalling or unwillingness.

I remember being in school in Wyoming, and how different it was. The competitiveness, the petty tyranny, bullying and the blind eyes that didn’t notice. I was self-sufficient because I didn’t have anyone in my class to rely on. That changed somewhat in high school when I finally found a few friends, but by then I was trained that fellow students were more likely to cheat off of you or intimidate you than to befriend you.

I look at these differences in culture and it makes me sad. I know I can’t have been the only bullied kid in my class, but because I felt so separated from everyone, I never found anyone else that had the same experiences. Now I’m surrounded by kids who take including everyone for granted, and I feel that old suspicion rise in me, despite the fact that zero people are behaving the way I grew up.

I hope that these culture changes will stick around. I like the idea of a world where people believe it’s entirely natural to help other people out, rather than get one over on them. I like thinking that there will be a day when people will be considered equal, instead of sighing over political correctness. I like to think we will make it over the hump of the job losses sustained due to automation of jobs. I want to believe that this culture will make the necessary changes to push us forward, instead of pulling us backwards. I thought I knew what the world would be like, but now I see that I don’t know what’s in store and that’s okay.

Late Night Excursion

It was eleven o’clock at night, and I was alone in a one-bedroom apartment that wasn’t mine. Shad was a petty officer in the Navy, and to help my fiancé out, he’d offered me a place to crash while we set up a new life here in Oak Harbor.
Shad was out doing something Shad-ish and Dave was out as well. I didn’t feel like sleeping, so I was doing the laundry.
It was a rainy September evening, but the weather had not yet turned cold, and I was charmed. Back in Wyoming the frost came early and stayed late. Here the weather was barely dipping into the fifties in the evenings. It came as close to tropical as I had encountered.
Fumbling with the heavy cloth of Dave’s work overalls, I sorted clothes into a plastic tub to carry to the laundry room. The one-bedroom Shad lived in was nice, but not so nice that it had in-house washers and dryers. The downstairs machines were coin-op, as well, which I had never before encountered. Still, I figured that at this late time, there would be very few people vying for the laundry machines. It didn’t occur to me that there may have been a reason for that.
Armed with my tub, laundry soap, and purpose, I strode out into the night, the path lit by the warm familiarity of sodium lamps. I was careful in my tread. The rain had slicked everything down and the wood was treacherous under my bare feet.
I reached the rough rock of the walkway. It wasn’t a configuration I’d seen before – it was made from tiny rocks glued together by some form of concrete, but it left the rocks visible and textured. It wasn’t quite like what I imagined walking on a beach was like, but I hadn’t encountered Washington beaches yet, either. I thought about getting my shoes but it wasn’t a bad texture, and I didn’t want to start over again.
I took a step down from the side walkway to the main one. There was a sudden crunch followed by a slimy squish, under the ball of my foot. I looked down.
Snails, five or six of them, stared in mute horror at the execution of their friend, who dissolved onto the small rocks, his shell cracked like an egg.
I couldn’t force myself to take another step. I didn’t know about snails! My grandmother once told me that there were two things that were the worst to step on. Those that went crunch, and those that went squish.
Snails did both.
Horrified, disgusted, and guilty, I fled back upstairs to the apartment. The laundry could wait.