One of the more colorful of my students this term is a Spanish guy (“I mean actually from Spain when I say that, you feel me?”) I’ll be calling Preacher. At 30, Preacher is pretty much an elder statesman in my class. He’s a fiercely religious working graffiti artist. No. For real. He gets paid to tag things, gets flown to other locations, to other countries to paint. It’s his work as an artist that has pulled him back to school. The more he traveled, the more he realized how much he needed his GED and maybe college, too.
I am entirely impressed by this. And by his enthusiasm for being in the class. He pays such close attention, wants to reason everything out, gets this Look of Concentration on his face and puzzles his way through stuff. He likes finding ways that things are connected, how big global issues he’s never heard about might actually relate to his one individual life. He’s a bit incongruous with his “I am a philosopher,” class persona and his mouth full of silver teeth glittering like chrome rims on a new ride.
Tonight I wrote the Preamble to the Constitution on the board (minus the words that actually named the document). This is easy for me to do because I just sing the song* in my head. But my writing without a pause, without looking at a piece of paper or a book, made some students think I was just making it up as I went along.
“How do you even learn to think well enough to write something like that,” Preacher said.
And I was as flattered as I was amused. I quickly assured everyone that I hadn’t written it, that it was part of some famous American document. We talked a long time about what all the pieces meant in ‘real’ English, and used our translation to figure out what the document was. All kinds of questions came up along the way. After steering us back from a tangent about Amerigo Vespucci, Preacher put his pen down and just sat shaking his head. I asked what he was thinking.
“There is just so much to learn,” he said. “All these things you just have no idea about, and then you learn it and you’re thinking: damn! why didn’t I ever hear that before?”
* So, “the song” …
YouTube, which pretty much never lets me down in my wacky searches, has come through yet again. Needless to say, none of my students, even the ones like Cheo and Preacher who are old enough to know, had any idea what I was talking about when I said the Preamble had been set to music. “Who would sing this?” Joshua asked. I haven’t decided whether I’ll force them to listen to it. They will have more than enough reasons to find me weird without this …