On Serendip

The following is an excerpt from an essay and a poem written by a student in Bryn Mawr College English 207, Big Books of American Literature, taught by Anne Dalke in spring, 2002. It is presented as encouragement for further discussion of the significance of play in the educational environment and generally, as well as of the relationship between freedom and constraints.

Playgrounds and Classrooms

by Brooke Lowder (Haverford College 2002)

Before elementary school, I reveled in playing outside. I rarely watched television. I loved to read. Most importantly, however, I loved to invent. Creativity enthralled me. Everyday I had a new game invented. These games were not like hide-and-go-seek or freeze tag. They were much less ephemeral. My games lasted days, weeks even. They contained elaborate plot twists and super powers. Everyone on the playground played my games. For once, I made the rules. And, like a junior Napoleon, I was not questioned. Life is always full of rules. However, being the ruler is much more enticing than being the ruled.

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I stopped playing, stopped creating and inventing on my own schedule. It all started with homework. Homework was the destroyer of my childhood imagination. Melodramatic, I know, but so are most childhood memories. After pre-kindergarten, I began attending school fulltime. School began at eight in the morning and ended at three o'clock in the afternoon. Upon arriving home, the homework began. Dinner promptly concluded or interrupted homework. After dinner, if the homework was not complete, I sat down to finish the work. Bedtime arrived shortly afterwards. Everyday was like this. Even if I finished my homework early, it was usually dark and I was unable to play. One shining light continued to shine: recess. As long as I had recess I could continue my play and exercise my imagination.

The older I grew, however, the more the time allotted for recess diminished. Recess became physical education. Such a scientific name for something that should be fun. The teachers were once again able to convert play into a set of rules associated with education.

This entire diatribe now leads me to the point of this exercise. This class has given me the most wonderful opportunity. The opportunity to reclaim my lost playtime. The opportunity to create and imagine.....I wanted to use form poems to demonstrate the often encountered disparity between creativity and restrictions...

  Freedom: A Villanelle Variation
--inspired by Huckleberry Finn

A small child runs with speed
through the scenes of life. Racing time,
he never stops to question that innate need.

That small child, grown tall from greed,
still has that faded glitter in his eye
of a small child. He runs with speed,

Failing to cultivate that tiny seed
that lies dormant in his mind.
He never stops. To question that innate need,

to remember the exhilaration felt when one can lead,
escapes with every audible, adult sigh
that masks a small child, still running with speed

through his mind, without heed.
Why can't that child and that seed die?
He never stops. The question, that innate need

burns strong in the back of his mind. A seed,
once planted, only needs time.
A small child runs with speed.
He never stops to question that innate need.

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