“You want to do what?” The king looked at me incredulously. “You can’t do that. Decisions have to be made. Things have to be figured out. I can’t do this without you. I don’t know how to teach independence. You don’t have time to teach kids to read and write and do all of that.”
“I’m trying to teach independence,” I explained, patiently. “It will be easier to teach it to the kids so that when they grow up they can take over. If they know how to read and write they can learn history and science. Read those books that I brought. You will know what I am talking about then.”
“I don’t have time to read those books. I have a responsibility here,” he exclaimed.
We were back to our old argument about responsibility. He always seemed to think that I was always throwing mine away and that he had to pick up the extra slack. I doubted that was ever going to change.
“Just read the damn books,” I spat and walked away from him. I decided to go outside and search for a place that would work as a site for a school. People looked at me curiously as I gazed around. There had been rumors as to why I had been gone so long. People thought that I might be sick and didn’t want anyone to know.
I decided on a spot that was not really suitable for planting but would be flat enough to put a building on. I wasted no time searching out the men responsible for construction of buildings and explained to them what I wanted. They began to work immediately and for once I was happy that I could get them to do anything I wanted without question.
The king was stubborn. He complained every chance that he got about my school project and refused to read the books that I had brought home. Instead, he began to come up with other projects that he thought were much more important and tried to get me involved in them. He became frustrated when I refused to give up on the school.
The school was completed within a week. It was just a little building with one room, but I knew from my reading that they all started out that way. Eventually, I could see it growing into something amazing, opening new realms of possibilities for everyone who entered it. For the first time ever I could breathe inside a building as I could out in the woods.
I walked around the town, letting everyone know that I wanted students to come to my school so that I could teach them how to read and write. Parents shook me off like I was trying to peddle them rat poison. I heard the same argument everywhere I went. They needed the children to help out with chores. I pushed harder.
The day that my school was opened I sat in the front of the room in my desk, looking around at the emptiness that had been perfectly sculpted to resemble what I had seen in picture books. The only thing missing was children.
It happened every day that way. I came to the little school and sat for hours, waiting for someone to show up. I felt myself die a little inside as time went on. I decided that in the end, I would bring my own children there and begin to teach them, even though the Hawk had been in charge of their education all this time.
It was soon very clear to me as I sat True and Prince on my lap and tried to instruct them, that I had no idea how to teach this kind of stuff. It was different than teaching someone out in the wilderness. I became frustrated with my children very easily when they wouldn’t pay attention or got something wrong. I decided that I couldn’t do this on my own, so I invited Rossannah to help me.
Rossannah was a new reader. She had only been reading for a year when I asked her to come and help me, but she was patient and kind with Prince and True and that is what I had needed. She seemed to be able to explain things in ways that I never could, and I stood back and watched her. I was a little ashamed of myself that Rossannah had a better relationship with my children than I had, but I was not built like she was. She had been born to be a mother.
True and Prince were young and learned faster than Rossannah. At some point, we both had to admit that she could not teach them anymore because she was still learning herself. I swallowed my pride and asked the Hawk to step in. She gladly accepted the job. She had missed working with the children. I had to explain very carefully that the lessons she was teaching them had to do with reading and writing skills only. I didn’t want a repeat of what I had to go through. Rossannah also hung around for the Hawk’s lessons and seemed to be doing a lot better with her work than when I had been teaching her.
The Hawk became an unlikely ally to us in the school argument. She managed to convince the king to stop fighting the issue. She seemed to be truly happy in her new role as teacher, and the children flourished under her instruction.
The three of us split up the workload when it came to the school. Rossannah worked to keep it clean and prepared food that she brought to the school, even though my children were the only students. I supervised the physical activities that we did to break up the day. The Hawk was responsible for the education. We were a well-organized team.
One day, we were all sitting around listening to the Hawk read the children “Little Red Riding Hood”. I caught a glimpse of something through the corner of my eye and glanced over to see two children staring intently through the window. They ducked when they noticed that I had caught sight of them.
I got to my feet and left the school. I walked around the corner to where the window was and saw them sitting down under it, arguing with each other about what to do next.
“Come on in,” I invited them. They stared at each other, terrified. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, just come in and sit for a while.”
The both got to their feet. The older one looked at me for a moment and I couldn’t tell if he was going to run away. The little girl beside him grabbed him by the hand and it seemed to trigger a reaction in him. I laughed to myself as I saw them disappear into the schoolhouse. I stood out there for a moment or two, allowing myself to cry a few tears of joy before following them inside.
Rossannah grinned at me as she walked to my side and we both stared down at the two new children sitting on the floor beside my own, wide-eyed and eager, as they listened to the Hawk’s story. After it was finished, the Hawk set the book down and asked the children questions that were deliberately designed by the three of us to make the children think for themselves. The two new children seemed to catch on fast and I felt better about the school and the world itself. They were the hope that I had held out for, that someone out there was willing to take steps to a better life.
A few days went by and the children showed up every day to learn. After that, other children began to trickle into the school, one by one. Then it came in a flood. We had to adjust our teaching plans because there were so many children showing up. Rossannah took over the new learners, teaching them what she could before turning them over to the Hawk. I took children in groups out to the woods and taught them hunting and foraging skills and organized races and other things so that the Hawk and Rossannah wouldn’t be overwhelmed by their numbers. The children that had been there the longest were given “buddies” that they were responsible to help teach.
Months passed and the school had become much more successful than any of us had hoped. Then the adults started to trickle in. We decided that it would be best for everybody if we started to teach at night as well. Eventually, nearly the whole town showed up for lessons at least some of the time.
The king became increasingly more agitated as I spent more time at the school. He was beginning to see its importance but his complaint was that he felt like he was forced to rule alone. Now that he felt that there was a way out of his chains of responsibility, he resented me for spending so much time out of mine. It was as if he thought that I was putting more of a burden on him.
“I don’t see why you can’t spend a little more time helping me with the council,” he fumed, “You are never there anymore. You never used to skip it. Now you spend all of your time at that school.”
“I never used to skip it,” I explained, “because I didn’t think I would be able to trust you. I was there simply for the protection of my people and myself. I felt if I let you run things alone you would make life very hard for me.”
“I just don’t see why you have to be there every day!” he yelled, frustrated. “Progress doesn’t have to happen overnight. You can let it take some time.”
I agreed to spend three days a week helping him in council, which I now found extremely boring since we spent most of the time agreeing on things. We were both working toward a common goal and that made things less abrasive.
I convinced the king to come help me at the school a couple of days a week as well, although most of the time he was there he spent sitting in the back reading the advanced history books that we had not been able to introduce yet. Every once in a while he would stand up and walk over to me to point out something that he had read. I would nod and explain to him as he repeatedly pointed things out that I had read all the books. Then we would talk about whatever had excited him for a moment or two and he would go back to reading. He was almost as eager to learn as the children were.
Then he became the history teacher. He would come to the school for one hour every day to talk about something that he had read. It was amazing to watch him teach. He was animated and enthusiastic about the material that he talked about. He would act out battles and speeches and the children would cheer him on and beg him to borrow them the history books. He would gingerly hand them to the children, who would open the book and become frustrated with the words and then turn the book over to him again. Then he would begin talking again and the children would be mesmerized by his words and forget the disappointment that they had just suffered. He ignited a passion in the children that kept them coming to the school so that one day they might be able to pick up those books that he brought to life for them and devour every last word.
Years passed and some of the children that we had been teaching had learned just enough to go off to different towns and start their own schools. Some chose to stay and learn as much as they possible could. My children were ever present even as the hit their teen years and were supposed to be learning the more delicate matters of ruling. I had expected the Hawk to whisk them away at this time to teach them how to act “properly”, but she seemed more committed to the school than ever before.
It didn’t dawn on me that what we were doing at the school was working until Prince and True were 15-years-old. The children were outside playing a game of football which they had read about in one of the books that I had recently brought back during my last trip. True had gotten the ball and was running for the touchdown when one of the boys caught up to her and tackled her. True had let out a scream of pain and I forced myself to stay back as I watched Prince run up and pull the large boy off of her.
“You are done playing!” he ordered the large boy, pointing his finger to direct the boy away from the group.
“I’m just doing what the rules say to do!” the boy argued back. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I’m the future king!” Prince maintained. “I say to leave and never come back.”
“I don’t have to listen to you,” the boy argued. “You aren’t king yet, and even when you are, I might not listen to you. They do have voting now, you know. I’ll just get everybody on my side.”
The large boy reached down and offered his hand to True, who took it, and he helped her up. True and Prince stared after the boy as he stalked away and I noticed something in True’s face that I would have recognized anywhere. It was the same look that I caught Rossannah giving me on those days when we had first started out. It was desire. True was in love with this boy and I knew it was for his independence.
Prince seemed to convey a different emotion on his face as he glared at him. He had been humiliated. I realized that Prince was going to have a hard life. He was being raised to be a leader, but with the progress that we were making already I doubt that he would ever be able to claim that title. I began to understand what had prompted the king to be so rigid in his early life. He had taken control when he was the same age that Prince was now. He had not been given the opportunity to grow like Prince was going to have.