Ripples through time

 

This week at The Carrot Ranch Charli Mills has challenged writers to in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a river and a person (or people). 

A river? That brought to mind two ideas:

ripples, and

that you never step into the same river twice (from the Heraclitus quote).

You are probably familiar with the terms “the ripple effect” and “the butterfly effect”. Both terms refer to the effects, which can be far-reaching and unintended, of small changes or events which may seem insignificant or even go unnoticed at the time.

In his book The Ripple Effect Tony Ryan shares many stories about small actions having a positive effect on the lives of others. He has a firm belief that each of us makes a difference with our everyday actions be it through a smile, a kind word or a helping hand. He says,

“you must believe in your personal power to create ripples that spread out and change the world. In fact, if it is not you who is going to do it, then who else do you think is likely to make the effort? Remember that every change on this planet begins with a human being somewhere, somehow. It may as well be you.”

None of us can ever know the full impact of words and actions.  The potential for teachers to create ripples is powerful and this knowledge, for them, can induce as much anxiety as it does joy. While I am always the first to acknowledge my shortcomings, I hope that positive effects far outweigh the negative.

Readilearn bookmark

Sometimes expressing an opinion that differs from the status quo can be considered ‘making ripples’ or even ‘making waves’. On his blog Theory and Practice, Matt Renwick is making waves this week talking about assessment and standardised testing. (I have expressed my thoughts on the subject here and here, for example.) I wish Matt’s waves a long journey with school-changing effects.

Matt summarises five articles about testing, including one by Noam Chomsky from which he quotes,

“All of the mechanisms – testing, assessing, evaluating, measuring – that force people to develop those characteristics… These ideas and concepts have consequences…”

The consequences, the ripples, are not always the ones we want: stressed and anxious students afraid of trying and of failure are just part of it. The effects reach further: inappropriateness of tasks, reduced equity, mis-placed funding, teacher dissatisfaction . . .

Matt’s voice is not alone. He expresses what most teachers know. Unfortunately teachers are not the ones writing policies and setting procedures about what happens in schools. Often they are not even consulted. The companies who have most to gain by sales of their testing programs can be very influential.

Matt concludes his article saying,

“I think this information needs to be shared over and over again.  . . . To not advocate is to concede our authority as the experts in our profession. We are in the right on this one. There is nothing to be afraid of.”

I agree with Matt. We must advocate for the children, the students, their education and their teachers. So many administrators are talking about data, proclaiming that data is what is important. Now there is even “data mining”, big data mining, as explained in this article by the Australian Council for Educational Research. Check out this great new tool for use in mining data! Don’t they realise the children, their curiosity, wonder and creativity, are the treasure!

And as for the quote that you can never step into the same river twice because you will have changed and the river will have changed. Well I think it’s possible that that situation doesn’t apply to schools. What happens in many schools probably doesn’t look all that different from what has happened for at least the last two hundred years: children sitting in rows chanting meaningless lists. Harsh? Maybe. Reality? Pretty much.

And now to finish in a more positive way with my flash which combines both ideas: the life-changing consequences of a seemingly insignificant event at precisely the appropriate moment, and the difference in the person and the river on two separate occasions. And the person? None else but Marnie.

Richmond Bridge 1825

Ripples in the river

Marnie paused on the bridge and gazed into river.

“My life began here,” she thought.

. . .

More than twenty years before she’d stood there, begging for release from torments she could no longer endure; when a gentle voice beside her said, “Beautiful, isn’t it?” and stood there with her in silence a while before asking, “Care to walk a little?”

. . .

Marnie flicked the agent’s card into the water and watched momentarily as it carried away the last remnants of that other existence.

“I wonder if Miss still lives there,” she smiled. “Must say hello.”

 

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I value your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

32 thoughts on “Ripples through time

  1. lorilschafer

    “The companies who have most to gain by sales of their testing programs can be very influential.” Cynical-sounding, but likely very true. How often decisions that affect us all are made with money in mind!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks, Lori. Geoff also pulled me up on my cynicism. Apologies. I’ll have to try to keep it in check a little better. The words you have quoted above probably are an exaggeration, but monetary decisions definitely rule most of the time. Thank you for the honesty of your comment. 🙂

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  2. TanGental

    Yep, that is one neat little FF. Marnie is such an interesting subject and I like (envy?) the way you take us take us to different points in her life in a non linear way. Quality, as my son would say.
    I’ve always liked the butterfly and ripple idea
    “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”
    ― Mother Teresa
    I do get your understandable cynicism on schools today but actually since the children are themselves a product of their environment today the impact of testing etc must be different in some ways to those of yesteryear so the river analogy probably still applies. I suppose they might be differently damaged which is not much use.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Geoff, for your support of the way Marnie’s story is developing. I think I’m beginning to get a clearer picture now.
      Thanks also for sharing the Mother Teresa quote.
      And apologies for, and thanks for pulling me up on, my cynicism. You are right of course. The children are different, and the classrooms are not exactly the same. I was exaggerating again. I guess I was thinking that the methods have changed little over time. But I feel suitably chastised. Thanks. 🙂

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      1. TanGental

        Aw gosh, I didn’t mean it like that, just a different perspective And you’ve been in those classrooms, under the pressures to tick and mark and what have you. I also have a book to recommend; a friend told me about it today and it sounds right up your alley. http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Master-His-Emissary-Divided/dp/0300188374
        I will read it myself but it seems to intuit what you are saying about our obsession with testing and marking drowning out creativity.

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for your comment, Geoff. Different perspectives are always good. They encourage me to think a little more deeply, and I’m always happy to do that.
          Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ll keep it in mind. It does sound interesting though I thought I’d heard somewhere that the left brain/right brain dichotomy was now not as highly regarded as before. (http://www.livescience.com/39373-left-brain-right-brain-myth.html)
          I could be wrong though. I’d have to do a bit more research into that. I wonder what Iain’s McGilchrist’s credentials are. I saw a little on Amazon but would need to check a bit further. Having said that, I’m listening to a book by a cognitive scientist at the moment and I haven’t checked out his credentials. Perhaps I should. He mostly agrees with me, though, so must be all right!!!! Actually, there are a few points on which our thoughts diverge and he has got me thinking about those areas a little more too, so it’s all good. As I say, I’m happy to consider other perspectives and extend my understanding through learning. Thanks for your keeping me on my toes. 🙂

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          1. TanGental

            The recommendee is a pretty clued up guy. He told me Gilchrist studied and taught eng lit at Cambridge or Oxford before becoming neuroscientist or something in that area so I think it’s pretty good. But you are right ideas move on so one needs to study the credentials.

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  3. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I have found your entire discussion very interesting and have considered the ripple effect (I haven’t heard of the butterfly effect before) and the river quote but not in relation to education so I was intrigued by the arguments put forward. I agree with your comment above that they should be allowed to be who they are right now but I wonder about the life is for living now – not a preparation for the future. Surely that is the aim of education to teach how to survive failures as well as successes. It was something that hit me in Switzerland that little children there are little children. I saw behaviour there that used to be the norm in Australia when I was growing up and I noticed it in Switzerland because i realised I hadn’t seen it for such a long time elsewhere. I thought that was a sad indictment of our school system.
    Glad you are continuing your Marnie story and seeing her gaining strength. It sounds like she is ready to move on. Great flash.
    Loved your ripple photo.

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  4. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I have found your entire discussion very interesting and have considered the ripple effect (I haven’t heard of the butterfly effect before) and the river quote but not in relation to education so I was intrigued by the arguments put forward. I agree with your comment above that they should be allowed to be who they are right now but I wonder about the life is for living now – not a preparation for the future. Surely that is the aim of education to teach how to survive failures as well as successes. It was something that hit me in Switzerland that little children there are little children. I saw behaviour there that used to be the norm in Australia when I was growing up and I noticed it in Switzerland because i realised I hadn’t seen it for such a long time elsewhere. I thought that was a sad indictment of our school system.
    Glad you are continuing your Marnie story and seeing her gaining strength. It sounds like she is ready to move on.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Irene, Thanks for adding your voice and thoughts to the discussion. There have been some interesting contributions.
      I enjoyed reading about your experience and observations in Switzerland. I wonder how long ago that was. I think there was a lot more freedom for children when I was growing up. There weren’t the organised activities after school, and we weren’t constantly under parental supervision. We used to go out and play away from home and were just required to be back in time for tea. There was no monitoring of our activities (except our explanations). I don’t think I could return to that. My generation of parents began the change to more supervision and organised activities, which have increased a lot with this new generation of parents. There are advantages and disadvantages each way and nothing is perfect. I am certainly not one to say ‘things were better in my day’ because many things are better now (no corporal punishment being one).
      While the purpose of education is to prepare children for the future as you have stated, it also must appreciate the stage they are currently at.
      Thanks for your stimulating comment which gave me more to think about. 🙂

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      1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

        Switzerland was 2006 that we noticed it and it was still the case in 2009. I think you hit it on the head – we don’t see it here because there is an army of cars waiting to pick the children up from school in the afternoon and very few if any walk home without parents. In Switzerland it would seem that the fear of kidnap and other disasters which parents worry about aren’t an issue over there as the kids walk home as kids do being kids without a care in the world.
        I wonder how much creativity is being stifled with parents monitoring and organising activities or is it being stimulated. Are kids losing the ability to amuse themselves happily if they are not presented with something organised and suffer from boredom as a result.
        I don’t know – I don’t have kids and I form my opinions of children from my nephews and my friends grandchildren and observation of children in the street. I have to admit most of them scare me to death but the kids in Switzerland still had that innocence and childish fun and acknowledged our presence on the pavement. 🙂

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        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks so much for coming back with so much more information and additional thoughts, Irene. I wonder is life safer, at least for children, in Switzerland; and if it is, what changes should be make here?
          I often wonder about the relationship between organised activities and creativity too. And boredom. I was/am never bored. There is always something to do or think about. Though I have heard others say a little boredom is a good thing because it encourages one to think of things to do. I don’t need to be bored to do that! But maybe I could do with a little more relaxation! 🙂

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          1. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

            I think it is possibly safer, certainly people respect each other there much more than we have seen in Australia. There doesn’t seem to be that much crime. What can we do about it here to make it safer for children. I really don’t know. If I was a parent I would probably be just as protective.
            I do get bored but it is when I am forced to do nothing – like watching TV or attending some functions. Like you I need to learn how to relax and do nothing .

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            1. Norah Post author

              I know. It’s difficult to not be protective, and really I wouldn’t want parents to be that way. Children are a precious gift. I was just reading another post tonight written by Kathleen Andrews Davis and shared on Book Chat by Michelle James (http://michelleclementsjames.com/2015/02/21/the-gift/) that was about a little boy left at a bus stop. Fortunately Kathleen came along and got him to school safely, but it raised many issues. some of which are very familiar to us here with the Morcombe story.
              I think for me the boredom situation requires an acceptance of the moment, that it is where I need to be, that life is too short to not enjoy it, so accept and find what there is to appreciate. I always find something. Well, usually. I can’t say it’s not difficult though. 🙂

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  5. Pingback: A River Runs Through It « Carrot Ranch Communications

  6. Bec

    Hi Nor, thanks for this interesting post and great FF. I am always keen to see more of Marine’s life as her story evolves (though I am a bit disappointed she threw the card into the river!). It’s interesting to see you highlight (what I interpreted as) the potential negative ripples which come from the standardised testing. When we think of ‘the ripple effect’ it tends to be the thought of goodness flowing through the world, but of course the same can be said for less favourable things. I remember in my 2nd semester of uni, after a pretty mediocre first semester, getting a good grade on the first assignment of the semester was what really motivated me to try hard for the rest of my studies. That was certainly a big splash in the water near me. Without that…? And when we put so much emphasis on grading and assessing and comparing, it can’t be nice for the folks who try hard but don’t quite get there for whatever reason (the marker’s prejudices sometimes?). This makes me think about my friend’s design school – there are no grades, just a mark of ‘competent’ or similar, and then constructive feedback with it. How nice. Oops, another tangent!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your comment, Bec. And for chastising me (Marnie) for tossing the card into the river. It was an impulse to signify the end of the abuse she had suffered there. I didn’t think about the environmental impact when writing, but it is paper and will soon turn to mush and biodegrade in the river. !!!
      It is interesting to read the effect of a good grade on your studies. I wonder what would have happened it you hadn’t received that mark. Would you still be doing a PhD? Good marks can certainly be both affirming and encouraging. Poor marks can have the opposite effect. It takes a strong person to defy the sentence of a poor grade by working hard to overcome it.
      I like that my post encourages thoughts to veer in many directions. I have received links to a number of articles and posts for further reading this evening. I always enjoy being educated a little more.
      Thanks for sharing. 🙂

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  7. macjam47

    This is a very thought provoking post, Norah. I have never heard of the ‘butterfly effect’ nor the quote “you never step into the same river twice”. I especially liked the quote and Matt’s interpretation. As for your interpretation regarding schools, it is sad to think that children do the same boring things when the possibilities for turning learning into an exciting experience are endless. Children want to learn, but they want it to be interesting, fun, even exciting. So many times do I remember hearing learning isn’t supposed to be fun. What? There is nothing wrong with learning being fun.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your wonderful comment and support. I think Matt’s interpretation of the river quote is especially good. We need to appreciate every moment, for each of us, really. And as for learning being fun, I think all real learning is fun. Sometimes it takes a bit of work, but it is great to get there in the end. I’m thinking especially of some learning I have done in the past couple of days. Tough going, but a great sense of satisfaction when I got there! 🙂

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  8. Annecdotist

    Such power in your words, Norah, both in highlighting the limitations of education dogma and in your lovely flash.
    I hadn’t thought before about the money to be made out of testing children, which suggests the education systems might be going the way of healthcare, where it’s as much (probably more) those involved in creating and selling the technology (particularly pharmaceutical companies which – especially in mental health care – create diagnoses for which they have a solution rather than the other way around) that drives policy, rather than those with the expertise – teachers/health professionals – who know what’s needed because they are there every day trying to deliver it.
    But even though I’m not a meliorist, I agree we all have to do our bit, small as it might be, where we can to make things better because we never know, it might just have an impact in the right direction, as you’ve shown so beautifully with the unfolding story of Marnie.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for adding your thoughts about the healthcare industry to mine about education. I listened to an interesting TED talk yesterday about the (un)scientific findings of much of the research that we are quoted when recommendations are made for drinking coffee, or not, red wine, fish oil etc. I have tried to find it again to provide the link for you, but have been unsuccessful. It’s a shame because it’s fits very well with your comment. 🙂
      I appreciate your comment re Marnie’s story. I’m not sure how she got to be so strong. Maybe there was some therapy in there somewhere; but I wouldn’t be game to include a session!!!! 🙂

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  9. Charli Mills

    I like how you added the teacher effect. It is a huge responsibility to do do the little things that matter when it comes to students. Thank you for the links to Matt Renwicks’s writing. My son is pursuing his masters at Stout and is engaged in the topic of education in Wisconsin.

    These scenes where we see Marnie strong and stable make me think that the teacher effect had a positive impact on her. Her reflection at the river is moving because she can see its beauty. Thank you for this wonderful post and flash!

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    1. Norah Post author

      I didn’t realize your son was doing education. How could I have missed that? I’m sure he will enjoy Matt’s blog. Matt collates a lot of interesting articles and information about educational philosophies and practices. He writes a lot of sense. I tend to agree with most of what he says. His blogs are a great source of information, and perfect that your son is investigating education in Wisconsin. 🙂
      Thank you for the challenge and the prompt to continue with Marnie’s story. I am beginning to feel that she is going to have happiness now that she is finally free of her dysfunctional family.

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  10. Sarah Brentyn

    The “ripple effect” and “butterfly effect” are both amazing ideas. (I also adore the quote: you never step into the same river twice.) It is so true that none of us can ever know the full impact of words and actions. You never know what will stay with someone. Nice how you tied this into teaching.

    Great flash, Norah. I love this continuation of Marnie’s story.

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  11. Matt Renwick

    Thank you Norah for highlighting what I shared recently. It is affirming to know that this issue of an overemphasis on testing is not just an issue here in the frigid state of Wisconsin.

    When you shared the quote, “you can never step into the same river twice”, it reminded me about the students in our schools. They will never get to be a kindergartner, first grader, or second grader again. This is their only year. Don’t they deserve the very best we can offer right now?

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    1. Norah Post author

      I understand what you mean by affirming that others are also subject to the same overemphasis on testing; it’s a feeling of being not alone, that others are feeling the same way. How wonderful it would be if none of us had to feel that way at all!
      I love your interpretation of the river quote. It is perfect as is your sentiment – a very important reminder to let them be who they are right now. Life is for living now – not a preparation for the future. Every step is to be appreciated and enjoyed for its own beauty and value. They are little ones for such a short time!

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