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Crossing the Road – from “Please Stop Teaching!” – a work in progress

March 14, 2022

I am writing a book.

It is currently called “Please Stop Teaching!”.

Here’s what may be the introduction.

Tell me what you think.

Extract from an unpublished short story called, with what will turn out to be bitter irony, ”Road Safety”.

[The narrator (Grandad) is walking his grandson Ed to the nursery. Ed is walking cheerfully along the pavement, while Grandad manages Ed and Ed’s scooter. Ed is swinging his cross-eyed bear, Gladly, by its arm.] 

Ed gives Gladly an extra vigorous swing. And loses his grip on the bear. Gladly soars, and lands in the middle of the road. At the same moment the scooter hits a badly laid flagstone, and jolts me. Ed twists his hand out of my not very tight grip – he hates having his hand held tightly – and dashes into the road to retrieve Gladly. 

Look right look left run!

The white Mercedes van stops well short of us, maybe 20 feet away. No horn, no tyre squeal, no drama.

I manage not to shout at Ed. 

I retrieve Ed and Gladly. 

I turn Ed so that he can see the stationary van. Hold him facing the van for a long moment. Then walk Ed and Gladly back to the curb.

…..

Ed says – “Sorry Grandad”.

I pick him up, give him a hug, and set him on the brick wall of our front garden. Face to face.

The van passes slowly by. The driver ignores me.

“Ed.”

“Sorry Grandad.“

“I know. I know. But we can’t have that again, can we?“

“Sorry Grandad“.

This line normally gets him out of trouble, especially when, as now, accompanied by a wobbling lower lip.

“Ed. This is very important. Now, listen. I need to get something out of the car. And I need your help. Tell me. Is it safe to cross the road to the car?“

He looks at my face. He expects to see the answer inscribed there, as the less powerful often do in the presence of the more powerful.

But he sees no answer on my face.

“Don’t know.“

“Okay. Different question. What would make it not safe to cross the road?”

He states at me. He can still see no answer on my face.

So his brain goes to work.

“Snow?”

“Yes. Snow would make it slippery and not safe. Would anything else make it not safe to cross the road?”

He thinks for a moment.

“Swan.“

On a recent walk round our local lake, a swan had Intruded on Ed’s personal space, and made a profound impression.

“Yes. A swan can be pretty scary. What else?“

“A tricycle?“

This is turning into a long conversation. But, what the heck, he doesn’t have to be at nursery at any particular time. And I am determined to take the grandparent’s approach.  Education, from educere, to draw out (that which is, to some extent at least, already in there, already known). Rather than the parental approach. Which is mainly just to tell, and somehow hope that what is told will be learned. 

I know. I’ve been a parent. 

My method works better, but dear God it needs patience.

“Yup. A tricycle can be pretty mean. Especially if it’s got big spiky wheels and a machine gun.”

Ed knows when to ignore me.

“What else could make crossing the road dangerous?“

Long pause

“A vee hickle?”

I hug him again. Vee hickle is a new word, a new concept, just a week or two old.

“So, can you see any veehickles?” We can work on pronunciation later. A new word is a new word, and to be enjoyed. And used.

“Red one!”

He points to our car, parked on the other side of the road.

“Yes! Now, is that red car dangerous?”

“Mum says you drive too fast.” 

Moving on.

“What would make a veehickle dangerous? When you want to cross the road?”

He scrunches up his face. It’s a complicated question. But he is my grandson. And therefore very bright.

“White?”

The encounter with the white van has also made an impression on him.

“What else could make a vehicle dangerous?”

“Car on fire!”

On a recent bus journey into town, going to see the new Disney, we had seen a car, parked neatly by the curb, and blazing from bonnet to tailgate. A fire engine was arriving. Great excitement.

“Yes a car on fire would be very dangerous if you wanted to cross the road.”

I was beginning to appreciate the parental approach to teaching kids stuff. Educare – tell, impart.

“What else?”

Very long pause.

“If it was moving.” No question mark this time.

Another great big hug.

“Yes! A moving vehicle can be dangerous if you want to cross the road. So. Now. Look up and down the road. Is it safe to cross?”

Ed carefully and thoroughly looks up and down the road. I guess  what’s going through his mind. Any tricycles? No. Swans? No. Snow? No snow. Blazing cars? No. It looked OK to me.

But Ed said “No.“

Educere. Draw it out. However long it takes. Today, right now, nothing is more important than this.

“Why isn’t it safe to cross now?“

“Vee hickle is moving.”

True enough. The white Mercedes van is still making its way down our long road, stopping periodically to deliver a parcel.

“OK, Ed. Good. It is moving. But” – to heck with educere for a moment – “I think it is safe to cross. Why do I think it’s safe to cross?“

Another long pause.

“Going away!“

“Perfect! Yes. It’s safe to cross the road now because the white van is moving away from us!” 

His mother might briefly have been proud of me. 

“Now, Ed, one more time – is it safe for us to cross the road to get the thing from the car?”

_____

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