At last. Finals are over and grades are in. During the holiday break, the faithful contributors to pleasureinlearning are taking a much-deserved break to recharge and refresh. While they’re off guzzling eggnog and wrapping packages, I’ll use the traditional “Twelve Days of Christmas” to highlight our pleasures in learning. While some sources have recently suggested hidden religious meanings for the twelve days, snopes.com and others have presented evidence that the origins of the carol can be traced to eighteenth-century France. The song may have originated as a children’s memory game, with each player adding a verse to the growing list of gifts. We’re taking the liberty of starting today instead of on December 25, as we don’t post on weekends. Whether you’re humming the carol or making a futile effort to avoid it, check back each day for a new take on the featured gift.
A Partridge in a Pear Tree
Have you ever seen a live partridge? It’s a fairly large game bird with a bright orange face. The pear tree in which he finds himself may have been added to the gift via a misunderstanding of “perdix” (roughly pronounced “Pair-dee”), the French word for partridge. However it happened, the partridge claims the only solo role in the entire song, making him a perfect symbol of autonomy, our latest addition to the pleasures of learning.
Clearly, the partridge has the whole pear tree to himself and can perch anywhere he chooses. Posing on the front of a Christmas card, he looks large, in charge, and quite satisfied with his choice. Students like to choose their own “perches,” too. The choice may be a literal perch, like a seat in class, or selections from other options. We might offer students some alternative ways to demonstrate mastery. We can offer options for some of our exam questions. And, of course, we can remind learners that they choose their own final grades by deciding how hard to work and how many tools and resources…including the teacher…to access.
Thinking about that partridge reminded me of a long-forgotten episode…as in 50+ years forgotten. During the first week of first grade at my elementary school, my teacher, the saintly Mrs. Bailey, placed a pale green test booklet and a shiny, fat pencil in front of each child. (I was offended by the size of the pencil. Even then, I wondered why people who were just learning to write were given pencils with no erasers. Weren’t we expected to make mistakes?) Mrs. Bailey called out a series of words, instructing us to circle a corresponding picture for each word.
“Rodent,” she said.
“Ha!” I thought. “I just saw that on Captain Kangaroo. I know what it is!”
“Psst!” whispered my neighbor Gary, who also sat at my table. “It’s that one.” (He pointed to a picture of an anchor—a blatant invitation to cheat on my very first exam.)
I just smiled and circled the picture of the rat. My choices were my own. I knew I was going to like this school business.
I still do.