City Slickers

I don’t know why I am still a little surprised every time one of my students asks me something about the country (not the nation, the countryside, fresh air, etc). Most of my students have never left the island of Manhattan, some of them haven’t even been outside of the neighborhood more than a few times. This would explain their complete and total bewilderment when we talk about life on the prairie. We are smack in the middle of Westward Expansion, and we are spending a considerable amount of time looking at the journey west and the whole pioneer/forty-niner/wagon train stuff.

I grew up mere moments from one of the mid-points on the Oregon Trail, and I have some really cool pictures of the Rocky Mountains and a bunch of the grasslands. Some of them are totally amazed, and others promptly declared the mountains ‘mad boring’. In an attempt to help them get a better picture of what life was like at that time I gave them a little story about being on the wagon trail. I made a mini-glossary to go with it, but it didn’t occur to me to include the word ‘brook’. I added it to the list of new vocab after the 15th or 16th student asked me what that was. I also got a kid who didn’t know what a pine needle was. That was a little shocking.

In the afternoon Goofball asked the following question.

“Miss, if them people knew they was gonna be gone so long and needed foods, why they not just put a frozen animal in the wagon so they could eat for a long time?”

I found this to be a fascinating question, and had to remind him about the lack of electricity to run a freezer in this time period…let alone one that would be able to fit in a wagon. It also struck me that he said ‘animal’, not chicken, beef, meat etc. He told me that he envisioned a full animal, an ox perhaps (which I had to show him a few pictures of since he was just saying “them things that be pullin’ the wagons”) or maybe a few goats. He said he knew it wouldn’t be all packaged up, so he figured it would just be whole and they would cut bits off as they needed.

I can’t wait for our school trip to the mountains in Pennsylvania in a few weeks. These city kids need to see a bit of nature.

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2 Comments

Filed under goofball, students

2 responses to “City Slickers

  1. happychyck

    I’ve thought about this idea of what students understand about the country–and history of the west. I grew up around mountains, lakes, creeks, pastures, and even the desert. The area where I grew up has some interesting history, plus my parents took us to historical places, AND I enjoy reading pioneer and western stories. To me what your students question seem crazy, but I do have to admit that the longer I live in the city, the more detached I get from nature. I find myself more and more entrenched in the fast-paced life of living in an urban area. Nature is far off and difficult to see in the smog, and the heritage of my city is overlooked in the name of the tourism industry. I can easily see how what you and I would think is a no-brainer to understand is unimportant to our students. I hope your visit to the country opens their eyes to a whole new world that they might keep in their hearts for a long time.

  2. Ms M.

    Most of the time their questions seem crazy to me as well, and sometimes I just realize that they don’t understand the context. I finally figured out that the pine needle question was actually asked because in the story they are using them to make a bed, and the kids were only thinking of the really sharp pine needles. I had to explain that there are other kinds of pine trees with different length/textures of needles.

    I really hope the trip gives them a taste of nature, some of our kids have been given the opportunity to go to free/low cost summer camps not far from the city, and I’m hoping that this inspires them to take the risk and go.

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