such a deal of skimble-skamble stuff

During my last year of college I volunteered in a after-school arts program at a local elementary school. I and a partner planned and implemented arts-related activities for about a half-dozen fourth graders once a week.

I had to apply to get into this program, and I was initially rejected. But then someone dropped out so they called me. Possibly after calling a half-dozen other people. I am pretty sure I was a last resort. In part because during the interview I told the two students who led the program that I thought my weakness would be discipline and keeping the kids focused. "Thanks for your honesty," they said. But also because the sample lesson plan I submitted with my application was built around having the kids recount how their families came to America. The students at the school were mostly African-American.

My favorite moment from this class was when we had the kids enact talk shows featuring characters from fairy tales. One girl, portraying Goldilocks, confronted the three bears, wailing plaintively, "I was cold! And I was hungry! And I was NAKED!" Those kids were amazing.

But the moment I recall most often was the day we were reading The Little Prince and I needed to explain the word "sacred" to the kids. It's not an easy word to define under any circumstances, and I was on the spot. But what complicated it was my hazy half-baked idea that I was not supposed to make any reference to religion under any circumstances because this was a public school and we had to maintain the separation of church and state. Yeah. Chalk it up to youthful naivete and let's just forget that I was 21.

Anyway, accepting this faulty premise, how the heck do you define "sacred" without making reference to religion? I suppose it can be done, but I was obviously not thinking very clearly. So I told the kids that "sacred" describes something that is magical, like a dragon. Yeah, a dragon. Even the fourth-graders knew that was not what "sacred" meant. I can still picture the incredulous, derisive looks on their faces, and it still makes me cringe. My partner jumped in quickly to set the record straight. I don't recall what he said, but I'm pretty sure it did not involve dragons.

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