Saturday, April 12, 2008

Platform 9 3/4

If you are at all familiar with the wildly popular "Harry Potter Series" of seven books and now, 5 or 6 blockbuster movies, you are probably familiar with the title of this post -"Platform 9 3/4". This is the "stepping off point" for J.K Rowling's literary vehicle that transports so many millions into her fantasy land of Wizards and Witches. It is an imaginary train depot platform between #'s 9 and 10 in a ficticious English city. The express train boarded there each year at the semester'start transpots aspiring students to "Hogwarts Wizarding School". What a creative idea for a whole book series. I read that she got the idea while riding on a real English train to Edinburough,(?)where she wrote the first books in a coffee house. She was also proposed to and married on that train. Trains in our culture are by and large gone as an icon or means of transport for people.

It strikes a chord with me because so much of my childhood and college days were spent on cross country trains. My dad worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad as a "Time-keeper" (payroll) and so we, as a family,got passes to ride across out beautiful country. It was a much slower pace of travel for time to sight see and to develop the art of conversation with fellow passengers and the hired "help". I went to Chicago to my first two years of college on a train by myself. I packed a box lunch of fried chicken that lasted for most of the trip and only ate in the diner cars for breakfast. I'd get off at short stops for drinks and fresh fruit. It was a great adventure.

But I digress again. My purpose in writing about this is that last week I worked in a classroom that had the "9 3/4" sign over it's door. I was intrigued and fascinated with the concept. It would've have been something I would've done as a teacher. When I retired I was reading the second book to my class aloud. (Chamber of Secrets, I think) They were spellbinding back then to me and the class. They reminded me of reading "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" to my class when it first came out. Theirclass was all decorated and "themed" around the "Harry Potter Series". The bulletin boards were gray, stoney castle walls with parapets. There were "cubbies" for "Owl Mail" and several owl sculpture around the room. There were monster pencil sharpeners. I counted at least three that made a scary monster noise at the end of the sharpening. There was a pyramid of "Wizard's Chess" for an on-going tournament/club. Of course that class was almost wall to wall desks with 34 fourth and fifth graders and their smelly bodies cramming every cranny. Yes, it was a combination class. This had not stymied the obviously creative teacher at all. She had two lessons going on at all times and her retired Husband/Science teacher took turns with her teaching Science and Math. She also had a volunteer, German-Speaking Aide who came in weekly and taught German phrases to these, mostly Hispanic kids. What I was most impressed with was the extra attention paid to writing and reading skills. I could see the results of her effort post on the wall and in their attention to detail. There were on-going "hands-on" craft-type projects around the room also. There was great attention to detail and evidence of alot of "after-hours" work and loving care.
The kids seemed to enjoy the whole experience: i.e. the room, the suspension of "reality" and the teachers. This was the kind of teaching I was "into" and still am. You see very little of it anymore. Sure there was "test-prep" but it wasn't taking center stage...ideas and imagination were.

They had pictures and models of the heroic house elf "Dobie" from the Series. He was leading them through their American History/Exploration/Discovery Timeline. (the Gold Rush, Pioneers etc.) Little did they know, yet that this little house elf was one of the key characters in the series who helped save Harry on several occasions. He is an ugly little thing but loyal to the end. I'm invited back in a week so I can continue to update you on the progress of this classroom and teacher. Maybe there is some hope out there still. RRR

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm willing to bet that she had some problems with "buy-in" for some kids and their parents with the "Wizard Concept". Yes, we do have a few very conservative, literalist religious protesters out there. Probably descendants from the original "witch burners" in Salem. RRR