I have had occasion in the recent present to think a lot about renovating. In fact, I’m hiding upstairs in a small nook I’ve cleared of construction dust and grime while the flooring guys are laying wood floors downstairs. I don’t know if it’s the heady perfume of new carpet, freshly painted walls, or floor glue, but the complete renovation–upstairs and downstairs–of our 20 year old house has me waxing philosophical about many things.
Firstly, you never really fully appreciate how much stuff you collect in 20 years of marriage until you have to move every. single. bit. from room to room in the inevitable Construction Shuffle. Nothing is left untouched. Questions like “When did we get this?”, “Have we ever used this?” and “What the hell is this?” get asked often, usually by me. My rule of thumb: throw it out if it hasn’t been used or worn in a year or if the technology is obsolete. My husband, however, is a hoarder. The only people I know who have as much attachment to their clutter are my grandparents who grew up during the Depression. Tim has clothes that he hasn’t worn since 1982 and items I can only identify as “stuff” and “junk” cluttering every room of our house. He claims he’ll wear or use them, or perhaps worse for the unsuspecting recipient, offers to give them to some person he knows who could use the items. We have VCRs from early in our marriage, an actual tube television with VHF and UHF channel knobs, a stereo amplifier from a vehicle we had 3 cars ago, enormous floor speakers from the first commercially available home theater system sold in the 90s, and I swear something that looks suspiciously like an 8-track player. He also has a couple snap button shirts circa Travolta’s Urban Cowboy, a Don Johnson Miami Vice white jacket, and a pair of basketball shorts from the ’70s, green with white hem piping, that he swears he can still wear. I told him if he ever did, I’d divorce him and take the dog. He laughed but abruptly stopped when he realized I wasn’t joking. He loves that dog.
All of this ruminating leads me to consider other things people tend to hang on to for too long, especially educators. So many times I hear teachers say their students can’t do something or that a particular strategy won’t work or even just completely refuse to try something else. It’s scary and intimidating and uncomfortable trying something we’ve never done, but by choosing not to change, we are robbing students of essential skills. The way we educated students 20, 30, 40 years ago no longer works in today’s society (I wonder if it even worked then). Lecture-based lessons, worksheets to turn in, scores of fill-in-the-blank notes, and recall multiple choice questions simply don’t work because they don’t engage the skills students need today like collaboration, interaction, problem-solving, research, and inquiry. The days of sit-and-get are long over, so why do so many teachers hang on to these strategies? Perhaps because it’s “how we’ve always done it” and it’s easier to pull out a lesson that’s been done before than it is to plan a new one whose outcome is unknown and whose process is messy, chaotic, and uncomfortable. It’s difficult to fail and rethink and restrategize and try again in front of students, but isn’t this the very heart of learning? Isn’t this what we should be teaching students more than anything else? And aren’t we doing them a disservice by leading them to think life is a worksheet rather than a renovation?
Unless we are forced to do so by circumstances, most people won’t clean out the clutter, and more often, will decide not to change the lives with which they’ve grown comfortable. I’ll be honest, I told Tim we were never renovating again. The direct, sustained, brutal upheaval of my comfortable life and routine has been nerve-wracking and exhausting for my Type A personality. Yet even now, as I peek over the banister to check the progress of my floors, I can see the beauty emerging under all the dust and trash. In two weeks, when everything is clean, in its place, and livable again, I know I am going to be happy with the results and the pain and misery involved in arriving there will be an adventure in learning–about myself, about my fortitude, and mostly about my ability to adapt to change for the greater good that can emerge.
And that’s what life is all about.