Saturday, October 17, 2015

A John Lennon Moment in My Classroom

Culture & Society ---

It's fourth period on the fourth floor, and my Writers' Workshop class is discussing Kurt Vonnegut's "The Lie." Down in the basement, we could hear Jose's rock band class warming up. Meanwhile, AP was expressing his agreement with JH who had earlier given a stronger argument than that which I had advanced about the main character's father going against his own principle of never asking for favors because he was concerned about his son's welfare. JH had argued, and effectively and convincingly so, that Eli Remenzel's father was not really interested in his son's well-being, but that he was merely interested in preserving the family's tradition of a long succession of Remenzels attending Whitehill, a rather prestigious and intellectually challenging school, and was embarrassed that his son Eli did not qualify for entry, hence his reason for attempting to pull strings. 

As AP is reiterating JH's point, the sound of the school's rock band could be heard coming from the basement. They were working on John Lennon's "Imagine," with the class's lead singer, SW providing the vocals. We could hear the rhythmic beat of the drums and the harmony of the keyboard and base and lead guitars in support. "Imagine there's no country.....nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too..." CS, who is sitting next to JH, starts to hum the tune under his breath just as AP is beginning to share his reaction to the story. But at this point the power of that song had taken hold of us; we were under its power. I stretched out my right arm, signaling to AP to hold his thought while my left arm extended toward KC, palm moving up repeatedly. He understood my signal, and he started to sing along with the voice coming up from the basement, with JH, AP, and me joining in the singing..."No need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man. Imagine all the life in peace...yoo-hoo oohoohooh...You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. I hope some day you'll join us, and the world will be as one." 

At that particular moment, instruction in the analysis of literature took a back seat to the powerful message and lesson of "Imagine." My students (age ranging from 12 - 14) were born over 30 years after the release of that iconic song. Its universality and transcendence of generations was stark. And the time could not be more appropriate, for in our world currently, people were being bombed, students were being shot, refugees were being denied refuge, people were being oppressed and brutalized, children were being shot, and greed and hunger were rife.  At that moment in our classroom, "Imagine" reasserted its relevance. In that brief moment of singing, a special moment of bonding occurred between students and teacher - a bonding around the embracing of peace and a rejection of violence and strife in all forms. In that moment, the instruction, the lesson, was about our humanity and about salvaging our humanity, about imagining, about dreaming - dreaming of a world "living life in peace."

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