Building an Incredible Mind

When I entered the room, my student already had his desk cleared and gave me his full attention. What a joy.

I showed him the beautiful atlas I brought from home. I thought it might be a good resource for his project on South Dakota.

As I turned the pages, we explored the many ways we use maps: to describe political boundaries, physical masses of land or water, time zones, continents, hemispheres, countries, roads, history, population, wealth, and so on. He immediately asked me to point out Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and Korea. This boy is 11 years old, but he obviously was aware of current events.

As I turned the pages, he volunteered what he knew about the Louisiana Purchase, and various American regions’ relationships to France, Spain, and England. He told me about Pangaea. He pointed out where penguins live. I love it when students share what they know.

Together we counted what time it would be in Egypt at that moment. We traced highways with our fingers. We talked about the Pyramids and the Transamerica Building.

He wanted to know what the provinces of Canada were and why there weren’t more people living there. He asked if we’d built a fence on our border with Canada like the one we had with Mexico, and then wanted to know why not?

He asked me why people burn our flag. He worries about war. He questions me often about how people in other countries perceive us. In fact, he’s been having this conversation with teachers, his school counselor, and other adults on a regular basis, and he gave me an interesting run-down of their various opinions. Smart questions; tough to answer.

I told him about a show I’d watched recently on our Constitution which included an interview with a Muslim woman who’d lived in the U.S. for more than a decade. Although she’d faced discrimination by people assuming she was anti-American simply because she wore a headscarf, she professed her love of our country. The interviewer asked her why, to which she responded,

“America may be the only country that is constantly striving towards an ideal of equality. You don’t see that in other countries. Here, a Muslim, a Jew, and a Christian can stand side by side and work together.”

He was watching me intently, taking this in. He asked me to repeat the story and I know he was trying to commit it to memory. He’s trying to work out our place in the world: who we are; why we aren’t all we could be.

And then he asked if I’d brought an article from the newspaper so he could do his reading assignment. We read about a crew of workmen who discovered Miwok Indian artifacts while constructing a frontage road. He asked if I knew about the Target store that was planned nearby. He connected these two stories. They are both local news, spanning time from Miwok Indians of a century ago to a future shopping experience.

He’s building an incredible mind.


Through my work as a writer, public speaker, and communication strategist, I help organizations express the impact of their missions through the voices of those they benefit. My stories inspire, engage, and connect, to advance branding, advocacy, and fundraising objectives. I also write for pure pleasure, to express what I learn from others, and to make a ruckus...

Posted in One-On-One

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Joanne Ritter
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