From Alacrity to Zest: Keeping it Real

I love words.  If I put my favorite words in alphabetical order, alacrity would lead the list and zest would be the final flourish.  I carry my words with me the way a chef might travel with her knives–I know they help me do my best work.  Without words I would not be able to tell stories.

Children can go anywhere with a story and on Friday we took a field trip to a cave in ancient Greece.  We gathered on the rug and I asked if anyone knew that Sophia’s name had a special meaning in Greek.  They didn’t. I explained that Sophia means wisdom and philosophy means love of wisdom.  They looked interested so I told them about a man whose favorite punctuation mark in today’s world would be the question mark.  He is the father of philosophy and his name was Socrates.

They were still with me so I continued: Socrates was a teacher who told stories to get his point across. His star student, Plato, wrote down a story he told… I began the story and we stepped into a cave.

Imagine a cave where people were chained in a way that they could only see the damp dark cave wall illuminated by a fire that burned behind them.  Behind the fire was a walkway that other people journeyed across, back and forth. The fire cast shadows of these travelers — and of all that they carried — on the wall.  The imprisoned could never turn their heads to see the actual travelers, only their shadows and the shadows of their possessions.  Those shadows became all that they knew of reality.

Finally, a prisoner broke free.  At first he felt blinded and overwhelmed.  But as the world took shape around him, he adjusted to daylight and he noticed olive branches with color and fragrant leaves and twigs that cracked between his fingers. He realized that the shadows in the cave were merely a shadow of reality.

This story is a good fit for our study of ancient Greece in social studies and our study of matter in science.  But it is about more than that and got me thinking.

Ancient Greece was a long time ago, but the cave wall is never far away. And neither are the chains.  We have to be careful with technology.

I am not teaching children to be philosophers, but I am teaching them to be thinking readers and writers. Writers learn to identify experiences that are real and have meaning in their lives. Playing football or soccer is an experience.  Playing a soccer or football video game is a pastime. There is a difference. One is about living out life.  The other is on a screen… a shadow on a cave wall.

There is a difference between television shows and shining moments of sunlight, fragrance, words, and relationship.

I read aloud to my students everyday to keep the desert from encroaching on language.  Technology won’t do that.  It can’t.  Books and poetry line our hearts with word, image, and cadence that seem to surface as we think, speak, and write.

My family went on a picnic in the mountains this weekend.  We picked apples and listened to fiddle music as we had a picnic in the crisp fall air under the cloudless blue sky.  Walt Whitman’s words whispered in the leaves:

Give me the splendid silent sun, with all his beams full-dazzling;

Give me juicy autumnal fruit, ripe and red from the orchard; Give me a field where the unmow’d grass grows…

Words, like apples on branches, wait. We have to notice them and love them and grow them and choose the ones that are ripe and juicy and just right for us.  And then we pick our favorites to have as our own.  With alacrity.  And zest.

About Annie Campbell

Annie Campbell is a National Board Certified teacher and loves her work. After a forty year career in the classroom, she continues to support teachers. Annie enjoys cooking for family and friends; she likes to lose herself in a good book; she loves discovering new ideas, restaurants, perfect picnic places, and movies with her husband, Ben.
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7 Responses to From Alacrity to Zest: Keeping it Real

  1. Gayle Hefty says:

    We mentioned Plato’s Allegory of the Cave in my class last night but never talked about it. I’ll send this link to my students if that’s OK with you. It was a beautiful weekend for picking apples with alacrity and zest. Or for a wedding!

  2. Stacey says:

    I love the connection you made between favorite words and apple picking. Beautiful.

  3. Wanda Brown says:

    Have you ever read Apple Tree Christmas? (Trinka Hawkes Noble) Somehow your piece made me think about that story…apples and words…apples and drawings…the connection is not strong but there for some reason for me. I love words too. Ambient and zeal are my a and z.

  4. onesunflower says:

    I am a lover of words as well and have a little leather book that I carry around to write words that bubble up from time to time. I put the date and sometimes the formal definition – just because I love to explore the meanings and derivation as well.
    A few of my friends know about the book – but if I was struck by lightening, I’m sure it would seem an odd little book!

  5. Amanda says:

    I love the way you wove so many truths and ideas into such a well-crafted piece. Thank you so much for sharing!

    By the way, I might have to {steal} the idea of favorite words from A to Z idea as a class project! Love it!

  6. Joan Phipps says:

    Hi Annie, I enjoyed the extra details and pictures of your trip to the Grand Canyon. I needed to read the part about forming a community. I hope it will help me with my little group of 4th graders. I’m sending your site off to Emma and might see you tonight at the movies.

  7. Molly says:

    I love the description of the cave and the life of the prisoners in the story that you told. It is a great story with an even greater message, to get out and experience life, to see and wonder and observe and live, or at least that’s what I got out of it! Children definitely need this message because there is so much technology to hold them indoors and away from experiencing the world. I also think that it is great to read all types of different literature to children every day, so that they will hopefully always love and cherish it.

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