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Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Secrets from the Crypt

It was a Monday when Harold (not his real name) motioned for me to join him at his locker.

Harold is GT. While most GT kids seemingly gravitated towards dinosaurs in elementary school, Harold researched Egyptian history. When the King Tut exhibit rolled thru Dallas in 2008, he was one of the first to see it.

He was also the first to tell me about every artifact he could recall from his day at the museum.

 By virtue of being in all Pre AP and GT classes, Harold can come across like a know-it-all. Sometimes I feel like he thinks he knows more than me!

I looked both ways as I scurried across a dangerous intersection of giggling girls on their way to 6th
grade lunch. “What is it, Harold? What did you want to show me?”

 He looked to the left and to the right. “Mrs. Dollar, I’m going to learn to read the language,” he said in a hushed tone. “I’m going to teach myself to write it, too!”

 “What kind of language?”

”You know. The secret language.”

 Harold pulled out a brown paper lunch sack and reached inside like an archeologist excavating a rare find.

I could see the Half-Price Books sticker peeling off the weathered brown cover. I recognized it right away.

It was a Gregg Shorthand Manual.

 Back story:

 I was the short-hand champion in high school only because my advisory teacher, Mrs. Platemus (not her real name), insisted I take shorthand as a “career path.”

The truth was that because I played the piano, I was also a fast typist making me a perfect candidate for district competition. Typing I was good at, but learning shorthand was very much like learning a foreign language.

As much as I hated hours of practice, filling up steno pad after steno pad with pencil strokes, by sheer determination my chicken scratches slowly came to life. Sometimes when I’m tired and taking hand written notes, I slip back into my old habits and use shorthand script.

The secret language was nothing more than shorthand. Harold must have seen shorthand notes scattered across my desk.

I could certainly understand how to a 21st century native like Harold, shorthand would look very much like something found in an Egyptian crypt!
I decided then and there to shoot straight. Harold was now in middle school and I’d rather break it to him early in year to prevent being teased for the duration of his middle school life.

By virtue of his obsession with Ancient Egypt and his awkward attempts to socialize, he was already not going to be responsible for painting it neon orange!

wearing a target on his back. I was

 “Harold, I am very impressed that you want to write and read the types of notes I sometimes write, but I need you to know that this isn’t hieroglyphics.”

I paused, carefully choosing the right words. “This is called shorthand and is nothing more than symbols that represent sounds.”
Harold looked at me like I had just beamed down from another planet.” I know, Mrs. Dollar. I thought you might need someone to read and write your notes when you retire...since you don’t have Siri.”

Then it dawned on me. Harold (in his own way) respected that I was holding on to a form of communication that was now obsolete. He had chosen to learn to read and write shorthand just as the archeologists study to preserve the history and stories of the ancient Egyptians.

I confess that I still use shorthand when I’m tired and I slip back into my old habits. But I'm okay
with it.I am confident that when steno pads start popping up in 20th century time capsules or surface in antique wooden office desks and file cabinets, their history will be preserved because Harold will be there to ensure that it does.

I'm sure of it.
Confession Reflection:
  • What other communication tools might become obsolete in the near future? i.e. cursive handwriting, word processers How will this impact how I teach today?
  • How can educators help students strengthen skills sets for a career that may not even exist?
  • Why is it important to embrace technology?