Lessons from sheep shearing

Recently, I got talking with a sheep shearer who, as it turns out, shows off his skills at schools around New England. On the day we met, he was acting as a guide at the Calvin Coolidge homestead in Plymouth Notch, Vt., pointing out the highlights of a barnful of farm implements. But he quickly digressed into his observations of the students who watch him strip down a sheep in a matter of minutes.

Particularly captivating was a boy he'd met recently. He'd given his demonstration to a group of young middle-schoolers and showed the kids how he could spin a length of yarn on the spot. After a short break, he returned to find that one child had managed to spin a similar length - with more skill than others who had greater experience in the art.

None of that would be too unusual, except for the boy who had paid such close attention. He was one of the teacher's most challenging pupils. For some time, she said, she had tried to engage him, and attributed her difficulty to his diagnosis of attention-deficit disorder.

What he did that day, of course, took concentration and focus. And this shearer was left shaking his head, wondering if educators were thinking creatively enough about reaching children who chafe at traditional structure, but have the wherewithal to succeed.

President Bush is pushing for closure on his education proposals, which have been passed in separate bills by the House and Senate, and await reconciliation. A big part of the plan is annual testing. It's important to ensure that kids are keeping pace with their grade level. But in the rush to standardize, educators shouldn't forget the outside-the-box ideas that can help a kid start to shine.

E-mail newcomba@csps.com.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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