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No Sweater

posted Mar 22, 2010, 5:33 PM by Dan Dunbar

I think spring has arrived in Budapest because my eyes are itching and I have been sneezing like it is hay fever season. There was a big spring cleaning event here in the city this past week. Citizens could bring anything they wanted to get rid of and pile it beside the curb. I contributed to this pile one day when one of my beloved gray V-neck sweaters and I parted ways.

 It all started when Ben Tanguay graciously bought me a delicious gyro sandwich and I gracelessly managed to spill most of its tangy, brown juices down the front of my sweater. I took the sweater off in a bathroom and tried to clean it; the stain was mostly gone, but the smell remained. When I had done the best I could, I began walking back to my hotel to change my polo shirt, which had also absorbed some of the gyro juice despite being under the sweater when the spill occurred.

 I was carrying the soggy sweater over my shoulder when it slipped away unnoticed. Somewhere along the way, perhaps when I pulled my iPod out of my coat pocket, the sweater took its opportunity to escape. At the metro station, I discovered my loss, and although this gray sweater had served me well, I was unwilling to retrace my steps to search for it. I hoped that perhaps my sweater would be happy in the possession of a new owner who would clean it and wear it.

 Four hours later, I retraced my steps to the church to attend the evening service. I was not expecting to see my sweater, but there it was, lying forlornly on the sidewalk, where it had slipped off my shoulder that afternoon. It was cold and damp from its earlier cleansing, covered with dust, dirt, and a few dead twigs, still smelling of gyro sauce. Reunited, I began picking twigs off the gray wool as I walked toward the church, but after a few minutes I stopped.

 I was not going to tote this stinky sweater into church to sit with me or bring it back to my hotel room to stay with me or pack it in my suitcase where it would share its pungent aroma with my other clothing. I realized that I was going to leave this sweater behind, and when I saw one of the curbside discard piles, I draped my faithful gray companion over the back of a broken chair, hoping someone would see its value, restore it to its former dignity, and enjoy its warm embrace.

 What does this story have to do with education? Not much. By a great stretch of the imagination, I could say that this story illustrates the idea that when something no longer works for us, it is time to let it go. I think that we all get attached to ideas and practices and are reluctant to give them up even when we recognize they no longer serve us well, if they ever did. We say and do the same old things simply because we have always said and done them, not because they actually work. Periodically, we need to examine our practices with objective eyes and recognize that there may be better ways. Teachers need to update their teaching methods and classroom management skills. Students need to update their study methods and organizational skills. I’m not talking about latching onto the latest fashionable fad, which will be virtually useless in a year’s time, but looking at what is not working, not producing the desired outcomes, and recognizing that the solution is to try something different.

 If studying on his bed makes a student fall asleep and wake up in the morning unprepared to take his test, maybe he should try studying somewhere else. If a particular method of teaching makes students grow bored and fail to grasp the lesson, perhaps the teacher should try some other method. It wasn’t easy for me to give up my favorite gray sweater, but I could see it had to go; its loss gave me an opportunity to find something new, if needed. Spring is such a hopeful time. What seemed lost all winter emerges with fresh new growth and vitality. Nature updates herself year after year; we can at least consider improvement.