Teaching in the Age of Uncertainty

Frindle: Words from Mr. Hodgson on Vimeo.

It’s interesting that the theme of “uncertainty” has come up for the Rhizomatic Learning (#rhizo14) course this week. The other day, as part of a nine year project with sixth graders to construct an online dictionary of imaginary words, I read out parts of the book Frindle to my sixth graders. If you don’t know the story, in a nutshell, a student (Nick Allen) decides that replacing the word “pen” with the word “frindle” would be a nice way to upend authority.

It does shake up the school, particularly with his teacher (Mrs. Granger) who loves her dictionary and finds solace in its authority. The novel revolves around their battles over words and who has the authority to create language. The story ends 10 years in the future, when Nick’s word frindle ends up in the dictionary and Nick receives a note from Mrs. Granger, informing him of why she relies on words to carry her through the changing times. She cites her teaching career before the age of the Moonshot, and before the age of the VCR, and before the age of Personal Computers. (She also slyly lets him know that she used reverse psychology on him, fighting him every step of the way with frindle in hopes that he would continue his effort. “That sly fox,” he whispers to himself.)

“Words are still important,” she reminds Nick, even as she acknowledges the dictionary can change to meet the needs of the day.

Reading the passages reminds me yet again, as does the #rhizo14 discussion around uncertainty, that I really have no idea what the world will look like for my sixth graders or for my own children, or for me. Ten years? That’s more than a lifetime of change ahead of them and us. Given the pace of the “new,” that’s nearly unknowable. Such thinking reinforces my thinking, as it did the fictional Mrs. Granger, that core skills in writing and language will likely remain central to their lives, even if technology and digital media change they way they interact and communicate and compose language.

In this time of uncertainty, I try to hang my ideas on that hook: that writing remains and will remain an anchor in their lives, and in ours, too.

Peace (I think),

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  1. so maybe Mrs Grainger was cheating…not to mention cultivating enforced independence. intangibles like that, applied at just the right time may trump planning and the pedagogical conventions of a particular time or place. I can remember a few Mrs Graingers…

  2. Was just checking Andrew Clements site to see if he’d ever written a sequel for Nick and Mrs. Grainger. JK set a precedent with Harry Potter’s future life revealed. I’d love to see what Nick’s independence and his well-honed literacy and language skills leads him to. You’ve build on Mrs. Grainger’s work well to remind us that though we may touch the future, we cannot know it. btw has anyone ever written a book about what they’ve learned from fictional teachers? Hmmmmmmm…..

  3. I love this. It’s so easy to think of the dictionary as containing the “right” definitions, but of course these can change over time – and we can’t be certain of which, how and when.


    Cheers, Sarah

  4. I love the subtext of subversion and re-subversion and the larger issue of disruption, creative and otherwise. I just finished my week three into week four post for #rhizo14 with an adaption of a Frank Zappa quote: without deviation from the known, no progress is possible. Zappa use ‘norm’ instead of ‘known’ and he was speaking specifically about censorship, but the germ of the idea is one of my core teaching principles.

    I love that you have a ‘nine-year old’ project. Probably a good novel in there a la Frindle.

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