The other day I was enthusiastically telling a colleague about a workshop I had prepared for my English Fundamentals class last Friday. I've done this activity with students before--several times in the ten years I've been teaching. I call it a "Cherished Object Workshop" and the purpose is a) to help students use their newly found powers of description to bring alive inanimate objects; b) to encourage them to open up more with each other; and c) to encourage reflection on the things that are truly important to them. Each student was told to bring in an object that he/she greatly cherished. My colleague listened and shook her head. "Be prepared for a lot of cell phones and iPods," she told me--somewhat cynically, I thought (I hoped). Surely no one would consider an iPod or a cell phone to be truly cherished? Surely not!
I include below an inventory of what my students brought in:
Student A: one small, 3 x 5 silver frame with the words #1 Dad woven into the design of the metal. Inside the frame is a washed-out color photograph of an older man gently holding a seven- or eight-month-old baby girl on his lap. He is spoon-feeding her out of a little jar and his mouth is open, as if he is speaking tenderly to her. The frame is rubbed smooth in places, as if it has been held often. Student A tells the class that this is the only photo she has of herself with her father.
Student B (normally a very quiet and soft-spoken young woman): a mysterious, heavy object wrapped in yards of embroidered blue cloth. Student B asks her workshop partner to wash her hands thoroughly up to the elbows before unwrapping the package. Once this is done, the object is unveiled for all to see. I have guessed already what the cherished object is, taking my cues from Student B's head scarf. Student B is a Muslim, and her cherished object is her Qu'ran. As Student B talks about the book, her face becomes animated and her normally quiet voice rises and is filled with warm excitement. The class listens politely as she tells them about her prayer cloth and about the worship calendar she follows.
Student C (who is visibly moved by Student B's discussion of her Qu'ran): one gold locket with a garnet, her birth stone. The locket was given to her by her grandmother, who raised her.
Student D: two xxx-large T-shirts, each with the face of a young black man on it and some dates, written in curly italic letters. The young men's faces look hard and determined--a mixture of steely defiance and odd vulnerability. Their eyes stare out in challenge and the muscles on their necks are taut. Student D tells us that the young men are dead, victims of gang violence and drugs. He keeps the shirts not so much so he can remember his young cousin and his best buddy, but as a reminder of what he himself almost became. Large and imposing, Student D's voice is soft and the other students nod in silent accord as he tells the story of his shirts.
Student E: a heavy silver key hanging from an equally heavy silver chain. The key belonged to his grandfather, who died in Hurricane Katrina. Before they evacuated the house, Student E. grabbed the key. His grandfather stayed. His grandfather died. A quiet fell over the room while Student E. talked. Everyone was thinking, I'm sure, about the tragedy, and about Hurricane Ike.
Student F: one cell phone.
Student G: one iPod.