During my third grade year (when the dinosaurs roamed the earth), I had a wonderful teacher. Class was held downstairs next to the boiler room in the old elementary school just a few blocks from my home. The ceiling was low; there were odd noises; we could smell lunch before anyone else in the building. I loved that class. Mrs. Suehr was amazing. In a day when tolerance was not generally considered a necessary virtue, she taught us how to work together with those who were different. In our class were children of different colors, religions, economic status, and abilities. We sat in groups of six desks which rotated regularly. I was not best friends with everyone in my class, but we all learned to get along and appreciate one another. She was also doggedly determined that no one would leave her class without the ability to read, write, and understand math appropriate to grade level. (It was years before I realized how much time she spent with each of us.) She taught us to think critically, and encouraged us to express opinions. She encouraged those who were struggling, and cheered on those who were advanced and needed enrichment activities to keep moving. I loved this woman!
My memories of third grade are many, and most are quite delightful. One, though, has almost haunted me into adulthood. We had returned to our classroom after lunch and the desks had been shifted to make room for the other third grade class to join us. That generally signaled to us that we would be watching a film strip or television clip, but no tv or projector was in sight, so we all sat down on the rug and wondered what was happening. She read a book whose name I would not learn for 25 years, but whose story has stayed with me from that day forward.
Fast forward 25 years. I am attending a home school convention class on government, and the presenter takes 15 minutes to read a small volume to the attendees. Within a few sentences I recognized the story and had a difficult time containing my excitement. It was the same book read to us that long ago day in third grade. This time I was able to better understand the story and its implications. And I was able to speak with the presenter afterward to get the title and author. The book is The Children’s Story…but not just for children by James Clavell.
Best known for his novels Gai-Jin and Shogun, Clavell wrote The Children’s Story as a response to an experience he had with his young daughter when she returned home from school one day. It is effectively written, and has a message every adult who values freedom needs to hear. Just be prepared to be slightly disturbed, and have someone to speak with afterward. Sometimes truth resonates with agitating clarity. While I would not read it to a seven or eight-year-old child, adolescents need to hear its message as well. I read it to my teenagers each year as part of our “beginning of the school year” routine.
If you are unfamiliar with the book, you may find a copy in your local library. It can also be purchased online for just a few dollars. (It was also made into a film that can be watched online, but I would read the book first. The written version is slightly different, and I prefer it.)
Sometimes life comes full-circle. It certainly did for me with this book. Looking back, it is apparent that the message of this story affected actions I took and some I didn’t. It definitely had an effect on the things I felt it was vital to teach my children when they were young.
If you find a copy, let me know what you think.