“Hey, why aren’t you copying the notes off the board?” I asked one of my freshman boys a few years ago as I made my way around my classroom.
“Uhm. Well, because I can’t read them. What the [insert expletive here] is that, French?!” he snapped back at me.
As I glanced back and forth between my very confused student and my white board, a few things ran through my mind:
1) While my students typically come to DSS with knowledge gaps from being bounced through various schools and life, I knew this particular student was legitimately capable of reading what I had put on the board, and that I wasn’t dealing with a reading level issue here.
2) My handwriting was neater than normal. In fact, for a relatively new teacher, it wasn’t even as slanted as it usually was…
As I stood there dumbstruck, trying to formulate some kind of response, one of my other students piped up.
“How old are you?” she asked her classmate.
“Fourteen,” he said brashly, glaring between the senior girl and I, clearly trying to determine whether or not we were going to judge him for his age.
“He probably can’t read cursive, Miss. They stopped teaching it in the schools. My little brother can’t read it either and they’re the same age.”
I stared at the white board covered in my cursive squiggles and made my trademark teacher “I’m-trying-to-buy-myself-some-time-here” humming noise, slightly relieved that there wasn’t a larger issue at hand.
At the time I didn’t realize cursive wasn’t being taught in public schools anymore, but as I’ve switched into auto-pilot and made the same mistake time and time again through the years, I am always reminded just how different school and culture are from when I was growing up.
(Yuck. That sentence just made me feel a million years old, but it’s true.)
The world of education is drastically different than it was ten years ago when I was in my students’ shoes. And when we stop and really think about it, the world as a whole is completely different now than it was ten years ago.
In 2005, Facebook was just getting its start in the collegiate world and texting hardly existed (and was a royal pain in the tush on your brick phone anyway). In 2005, my sister and I still had a land line with a cord in our bedroom. (The coolest land line ever, mind you. Check out that bad boy. We were SO cool. Ahem…moving on.)
Heck, this time ten years ago, there was no such thing as the iPhone and the novel concept of the iPod and MP3 player was just barely catching on.
Maybe it was just my youthful disillusionment, but ten years ago the world seemed more connected.
People still made small talk on buses and in line at the grocery store because they weren’t glued to their iPhones or Droids. It wasn’t out of the ordinary to stop by someone’s house to see if they were home instead of calling or texting them. And while it’s hard to believe, coffee shops were full of people talking to each other instead of pouring over their laptops with their headphones in. GASP!
But today, we live in a world that is separated, yet pretending to be hyper-connected due to social media and the ridiculous amount of technology in our everyday lives. We hear about it in the news, but we rarely think about how disconnected our lives have become as we tune into our music, Facebook apps, and text conversations instead of interacting with the people that God has put right in front of us, if only for a moment.
In May, one of my favorite men passed away. Papa Dean was hands down the best at interacting with the random people God put in his path each day. Dude would talk to anyone and everyone. And usually did.
He didn’t care if it slowed down the line at the coffee shop or if you were in a hurry to get somewhere “important”.
Nor did he care if he knew the person for 10 years or 10 seconds; he could strike up a deep conversation in a matter of minutes and every time his new friend would walk away with a smile on their face (Even if it was just the typical ‘what a bizarre old man’ smile). Papa Dean’s friendly personality made everyone that he encountered feel loved in the most magnificent way.
At his funeral, this was ever apparent by the variety of people who showed up, hugged strangers, and wept with smiles on their faces as the pastor recounted what a marvelous man Papa Dean was in his eulogy.
And just like Papa Dean, his eulogy was special. It wasn’t simply a list of nice things about a man who loved so well. No, it was a message about culture and it went something like this:
“One of Dean’s favorite things to do was write letters. Every day he studied his Bible and wrote a letter to whoever God brought to his mind. Sometimes it was his grandchildren, sometimes his son. Sometimes he wrote letters to God Himself, his caregivers at the assisted living home, or the baristas at Starbucks. The letters varied in topic and length, but always had one thing in common– they were always carefully written in cursive.
Dean prided himself on his penmanship– a skill that was taught to be of the utmost importance when he was in school seventy-some years ago. Seventy years ago, culture was different; the world wasn’t as divided as it is today. People talked to each other on the buses and smiled at strangers on the streets. Neighbors struck up conversations while they mowed their yards. Children played outside after school and their parents would join them for family dinners and modest feasts amongst friends. Life back then was more fluid and genuinely connected, just like the cursive in Dean’s letters.
While dealing with Dean’s passing is not going to be easy, it seems appropriate that He is no longer with us. He didn’t blend into this rushed, disconnected world anymore. He belonged to a culture and generation that is unfortunately fading– one that invested in things that were difficult and tedious like cursive… a culture that believed in written communication and letting people know when they were valued and loved… a culture that wasn’t concerned with rushing through life…
Thinking back on these words nearly a year later, I am reminded that I am a product of the culture around me just as much as my students are a product of their previous public school educations.
I am perpetually in a hurry and generally tethered to my little green and black iPhone… I “connect” with several people a day via social media and text messaging, but the majority of those “connections” could hardly be considered as such by any real standards. Out of habit I read the news or scroll through my Instagram in line at the grocery store or when I sit on the couch at night. It’s what I’ve been socialized to do and thus, I do it.
But what would happen if we all simply stopped and truly engaged with the world again?
What would happen if we as a culture/country/generation struck up conversations with that person we see on the bus every morning or the cashier who usually checks us out at the store? What if we spent the time that we normally wasted mindlessly scrolling through social-media garbage and wrote someone a well thought out note– a note of thanks, a letter of appreciation or encouragement. Or what if we simply wrote letters to the Lord or prayed for the people that God has entrusted us with?
Just like learning cursive, it’s going to be foreign and uncomfortable at first.
(Shoot, I can remember being so frustrated by cursive in grade school that I chucked my letter writing pad at my little sister and screamed, “This is dumb! I’m never gonna need to write like this after junior high anyway!” Aaaaand now I write almost exclusively in cursive. Oops. [Sorry about that, by the way, Kirsten Leigh.])
Imagine the change that could take place in our world if we put aside our discomfort and committed to slowing down and reconnecting our ourselves with the people around us. It would make a difference not only in our generation but in generations to come– not only in our culture but the cultures who model themselves after the institution that is America.
Just like in Papa Dean’s carefully penned letters we could tell stories– stories of God’s goodness both within our own lives and the lives of our newly connected communities… Stories radiating God’s Glory that everyone could understand.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”