you're reading...
Learning at its Best

From Algorithms to Stories

Warning: This post has nothing to do with schools or education or policy. Just a personal reflection from time spent with my kids.

I watch the boys play with reckless abandon in the forest. They run and crash land in puffs of dirt; which they call “magical dust” in the enchanted forest.

Brenna picks flowers for a daisy chain, joins the boys for the race and then moves back to the flowers. Micah gets distracted with a butterfly and for five whole minutes sits with his hands out hoping it will land on him.

Eventually we go for a short hike. I feel a few rain drops, but think nothing of it. It begins to drizzle and it feels like Christmas to the boys, who shift from hiking to prancing and dancing and skipping along the trail. Slowly, it shifts to a downpour. The boys, once covered in dirt are now covered in slippery mud and Micah, who has exhausted all of his energy in running through the forest now asks me to carry him up the remaining hills.

When we return to the truck, I’m soaked and mildly irritated. I hate getting wet. Minutes later, the truck gets stuck in a rut and I have to stand out in the rain trying to push it. Christy, sensing that I’m upset reminds me, “It’s a story.” It’s a code phrase for me, letting me know that this is the setting where adventure happens. These are the external conflicts that push the internal conflict. Will I remember that attitude can be a choice? Will I remain patient with the kids? Will I allow the characterization to happen? This is where the themes emerge. 

Three days later, we leave Colorado. We have a predictable route. We have snacks and water bottles and books to keep the kids distracted. We leave at 8:30 Colorado time, which means we’ll have lunch in Kayenta, they’ll nap by Tuba City and we’ll be home by 5:30. However, as we pass Flagstaff, we find out that the I-17 is closed just outside of Phoenix. We choose the route through Payson, only to learn that the state highway is closed as well.

“It’s a story we’ll share,” Christy says.

So we drive through the beautiful, dense ponderosa pine forests of Pine and Payson. We meander through the high desert mountains and hit the “golden hour” on the way to Roosevelt Lake. It’s sparse and majestic and beautiful.
Eventually we snake around to Globe and then Miami; a western ghost town without the tourist charm. It’s a place of small town charm, mixed with rust and decay and apartments with shattered windows. I notice the train yards, where urban art is carted into rural areas without the blessing of the law. I smile at the old western corridor with all its charm and then cringe at the new chain with their gaudy blandness. This place is a ghost town in purgatory, never completely leaving or coming back, always in transition.
A work in progress, like me.
The sunset bathes the town in a vibrant red as we head toward Superior. Power lines tower over the once-majestic cacti, reminding us that who truly holds the power in this state. But as it grows darker and the sunset fades, we’re covered in a canvas of stars and I’m struck by the illusion of power.
I realize that it’s not much of a story. The dialogue was great. The setting was beautiful. The conflict was more internal than anything (learning to be patient with the constant demand for food and water and the play-by-play reports of who hit who — though, honestly, the kids were troopers).
I hope I remember the theme.
Ditch the algorithm.
Embrace the story.

About John Spencer

I teach. I write. I live. I want to do all three authentically.


4 thoughts on “From Algorithms to Stories

  1. Nice. Relate 100% 🙂

    Posted by John Patten | July 10, 2012, 3:32 pm
  2. Well said. I am lucky enough to be a “mature” mother raising a second family. My oldest kids have reached 30 and my youngest is almost 5. I find it much easier to live the story now that I did first time around. And life is richer and more beautiful. Thanks for sharing this non-education story that teaches so much.

    Posted by melissa | July 13, 2012, 12:39 pm
  3. John, This is beautiful, and thank you for sharing it. I love the power of play here, and in so many of your observations.

    Happy Saturday,


    Posted by Kirsten Olson | July 14, 2012, 6:02 am
  4. I think you pegged everything that needs to be addressed in the realms of schools, education and policy — or at least what ‘should’ be addressed in those areas.


    Posted by Brent Snavely | July 14, 2012, 4:55 pm

Join the Conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 4,101 other followers

Comments are subject to moderation.

%d bloggers like this: