An Anthropologist from Another Planet Visits Writing Workshop

Anthropology demands the open-mindedness with which one
must look and listen, record in astonishment and wonder that
which one would not have been able to guess.

~Margaret Mead

I am impressed with the scratch-scratch of writing instruments that move across the page. Here, there seems to be choice. The youngsters, probably varying from nine to eleven years in age, use pencils of all sizes, sharpened to a point. Many of them have “No. 2” printed on the side and a pink eraser that sits like a top hat but does not seem to be used. These students cross out their mistakes by drawing a thin line through the unwanted word or words. It is as if they still want to keep the words they are tossing away, or perhaps they are not sure of their value and will decide when the work is finished. Others favor an instrument called the pen. These writing instruments come in many colors and their marks on the page are largely blue or black. Every so often, a student writer paints the page with words in pink and red and purple. Turquoise blue, tangerine orange, and lime green are also favorites.

A few students sit at computers and tap away at the keyboards. They are not yet able to pass the words to the screen or the paper by thinking them. Perhaps, that is a gift I can pass to them before I leave.  I walk by children who engage in serious conversation in whisper voices.  They do not look at me. The writers are so focused. Their eyes light up as they share the words they have written on the page. I can almost feel the flutter of their hearts as they praise and polish each other’s work. They are eager to hear what their peers have to say about their work. The writers nod and scribble on little squares of paper, sometimes passing these squares to their partner.

The room is filled with writing and whispering voices and everywhere, there are charts – yes, as I look around the room, it seems everything is homegrown. Where is the transmitter of knowledge? The children call him “teacher.” Ah, there he is, sitting on the carpet, and he, too, is writing in a small notebook. He stops for a moment, looks around the room, and smiles. I will come back again tomorrow to observe this thing they call writing workshop. I must admit, it feels somewhat like a magical experience to me.  I feel compelled to share this story with anyone who will listen. slice-of-life2