Thursday, March 30, 2017

"I Already Know That"

He is our resident expert on stability. Earlier in the year he rarely left the block area where he tended to use every block that was otherwise not employed to create his complex, messy buildings. His process tended to be one that grew to fill all the time our schedule allowed, because even after he had used all the blocks, he would continue to fuss with them, adjusting them, shifting pieces from here to there, perpetually seeking improvement. And his main criteria for improvement was "stability" which he would discuss with a wide-eyed officiousness that caused the rest of us to stand back a few steps, you know, just in case the whole thing came toppling down. When we were using our larger blocks he would climb atop his creations as they tipped and tottered, warning anyone who approached, "Be careful! It's not stable!"

If other children wanted to play his game, he let them in, but he kept their focus on stability. Sometimes it seemed that he built intentionally unstable buildings and that the ultimate goal was not actual stability, but rather putting himself in a position to warn the rest of us about instability, even to the point of ludicrousness. Indeed, there was a point at which I was convinced we were seeing a quirky sense of humor at work and I tried to get him to crack a smile, but he remained steadfastly sincere.

It wasn't long before both other children and adults began to turn to him in his unofficial capacity as our resident stability expert. Whenever there was a question about whether or not something would fall down, he would be consulted, a job he readily accepted, always finding our constructions woefully unstable, before offering his stability services.

As the year has progressed, he's moved on from this type of play, expanding his horizons to activities beyond the construction zone, but I still regularly find him amongst the blocks, head down, hands engaged. If the subject of stability comes up, it rarely comes from him these days, but from our collective memory of his earlier passion. We still call on him in when we have questions, which he gamely answers, although perhaps without the zest and personal involvement of a few months ago.

Earlier this week, a few of his closest friends were working on a significant building of their own, one intended to house our plastic insect collection. I was sitting nearby and noticed that one wall was about to fall. They had worked long and hard on their creation so I thought they would appreciate my input, "Hey guys, that tall wall is about to fall."

They studied the wall for a moment, not seeing what I saw. "What wall? This wall? It doesn't look like it's going to fall, Teacher Tom." Then I turned to our expert, who was puttering around a few feet away, not in any way engaged with a construction project, "We need your help. Is that wall stable?"

He was curled over a pile of insects he had collected for his own purposes. He didn't look up at me, but I saw his back expand, then heard a long, slow release of breath as he issued a huge sigh. He then turned to me with exaggeratedly weary eyes, before glancing perfunctorily at the wall in question. In a tired-of-the-world voice he said, apparently letting us in on a professional secret, "If you push it a little and it doesn't fall it's stable. If it does fall it's not stable. Okay, guys?" He then went back to his business, washing his hands of us along with his role as stability officer.

One of his friends gave the wall in question a gentle push and the whole thing came crashing down. One of them said, "It wasn't stable."

Without looking up from his insects, our newly retired expert replied, "I already know that."

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