Posted by: Stefan Anderson | May 13, 2014

Recognizing Greatness in the Seemingly Ordinary



~This blog entry is brought to you from the electronic portfolio of CS8 student Lauren Summers. Conserve School electronic portfolios connect student experiences to the school’s learning goals. Lauren is from Franksville, Wisconsin where she attends St. Catherine’s High School.~

Recognizing Greatness in the Seemingly Ordinary

Conserve School Learning Goal: After successfully completing a Conserve School semester, a student … Will have taken a strong step forward on their educational path equal to or greater than the expected progression in their sending school.

What is greatness? Are we able to see greatness in the world around us, or is there a need for constant context? What exactly are the parameters for a “great literary work?” These and many more questions were addressed in English class this week. Our teacher, Jeff, introduced the lesson by explaining what is now referred to as the Joshua Bell Experiment. Joshua Bell, one of the most accomplished violinists in the world, played in a Washington D.C. subway station for about an hour for only six people to stop and listen. These citizens could not recognize greatness as it was masked in everyday clothes instead of a suit and an average venue versus a grand concert hall. I like to believe I would have stopped to hear the sweet melodic notes, but maybe that is just wishful thinking. As a class we then performed our own version of the Joshua Bell Experiment. We were then each given a literary passage without any prior knowledge of the author, the work it came from, or the context it was written. We were challenged to deem the work as something great, or possibly lesser. I received a beautiful story entitled “My Desert Pond” and I was extremely impressed with the writing. The words flowed across the page, poetic and sweet, and I soon found myself in an almost hypnotic trance. I yearned for each new word, the next sentence, never wanting the story to end.

Many times our personnel opinions are skewed by outside influences and social pressures subconsciously. However, this lesson made me realize it is possible to appreciate good writing, even if I am unaware of anything about it. We must forge our own connections to literature instead of only reading something because it won a Pulitzer Prize. Great writing should speak to you, absorb you, and enthrall you without being aware of whom it is written by and why. That is what makes great writing so great.

This entire experience really astonished me in quite a profound way. In English class at home, I am so used to reading this piece because so-and-so wrote it, or because it won this special award. Very rarely are students asked to critique the work they are reading because it is already regarded as great. Well in my English classes there have been several books I have read that I would not establish as great. That is what really stood out to me about this assignment; the fact that I have never been asked to do something similar in my sending school. Students should be allowed and encouraged to debate, discuss, and argue the credibility of a seemingly ‘great’ piece of literature. Literature resonates very differently in different people and the connection between the reader and the author should be voluntary, not forced by an educator.

~Lauren Summers, Conserve School Semester 8

A few photos from Lauren’s time at Conserve School

Conserve School provides a semester-long immersion for high school students in environmental studies and outdoor activities that deepens their love of nature, reinforces their commitment to conservation, and equips them to take meaningful action as environmental stewards. Thanks to the generosity of Conserve School’s friends and its founder James Lowenstine all accepted students receive significant scholarship support.


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