Thanksgiving Reflections

The very first Thanksgiving that I can remember involves the Macy's Parade on our TV. My mother liked to have it on in the morning while she prepared the food that was to come later (always too much later in my mind). I don't know how much of the parade she ever got to see, but the background noise must have been enough for her.

Honestly, I don't have many surface memories of the gigantic balloons that floated down 34th Street. Just last week I remembered something unexpectedly: Tigger, from Winnie the Pooh, and a balloon wrangler, wearing a Tigger hat, marching proudly down the street. Why that memory stuck is anyone's guess. In general, the individual memories have faded, but the memory of the day, and the feelings I experience when I think back to the day have remained.

In other words, the memories of each float on each Thanksgiving day have largely departed, and yet their failure to stick hasn't left me confused or disordered. The knowledge of the Macy's Parade, and the impression it left on me, are crystal clear.

I didn't see much of what my mother was preparing until dinner time. But I do remember, like it was this very morning, the smell of it as it was in the process of being transformed from mere ingredients into a picturesque feast.

So much of school is like this.

We come to accumulate lots and lots of facts and skills day after day. Days run together.

In time, we don't retain the memory of where we were when we learned that thing, nor do we necessarily know how we know what we know. But we know it. And insofar as we can truly know what we know, we aren't confused.

What we come to know comes with clarity.

Educators will often talk about what percentage of learning is "caught rather than taught." Invariably, some things can only be taught directly.

But it's important to know that a lot of what we come to know is learned in the background. What is picked up by the sounds, rhythms and patterns of the day will be retained in an impression. Individual facts and days will fade, but the feelings and the overall sense of "knowing" will be cemented for far longer than we might think.

This should make us consider the "background noise" of our school and of our homes.

As you prepare for the holiday, and remember with gratitude all of the blessings of the year, and the years past, think about how much of what you know is learned unintentionally, without "trying" to remember.

What sticks isn't always what we think should. The "background noise" matters.

But what we do remember - especially the impressions and the feelings - lasts a lifetime.

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