04 September 2010


Locus Focus: Take Seventeen!

Welcome to the School Settings Challenge!
Link up your favourite learning environments today!

Yes, I know you're all very excited. But before I kick us off, let me get ahead of myself . . . =P

Next month, in line with my participation in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril V Reading Challenge, the theme will be . . . Scary Settings! Go Gothic on me on 2 October, and I'll love you forever.

And since my inner Horror blogger is rising to the surface again, I propose an extension of the festivities: Scary Settings: The Movie Edition on 30 October. I'm going to invite all my Horror blogger buddies to this "mixer" and hope you all show up in your own scary costumes, too. =)

(Thanks to Birdie of Birdie's Nest for this excellent idea!)

Alberto's Apartment
No. 14, New Square

Sophie's World
by Jostein Gaarder

(Translated by Paulette Moller)

What amazed Sophie most was all the stuff the room was filled with--furniture and objects from various historical periods. There was a sofa from the thirties, an old desk from the beginning of the century, and a chair that had to be hundreds of years old. But it wasn't just the furniture. Old objects, either useful or decorative, were jumbled together on shelves and cupboards. There were old clocks and vases, mortars and retorts, knives and dolls, quill pens and bookends, octants and sextants, compasses and barometers. One entire wall was covered with books, but not the sort of books found in most bookstores. The book collection itself was a cross-section of the production of hundreds of years. On the other walls hung drawings and paintings, some from recent decades, but most of them also very old. There were a lot of old charts and maps on the walls, too . . .

When I was still a full-time teacher, I took part in a seminar about students' learning styles and the different strategies teachers could use to address the variety of needs in a single classroom. One of these strategies was to make radical changes in the physical design of those classrooms. The facilitators encouraged us to spend some time sketching our own "ideal classrooms": whether or not we'd ever get to build them, the point was to practice thinking about how to help all our students find a way to fit in.

What I got out of the exercise was a conviction that the classroom--or if you wish to be less structured, the learning environment--should reflect the student. Jostein Gaarder is more ambitious: in Sophie's World, the learning environment reflects the whole world. Indeed, it potentially is the whole world, although the characters don't set foot out of Norway. Alberto's attic apartment is just the classroom for the lesson on the Renaissance.

I've always been very theatrical as a teacher (All the school's a stage . . .), and I've used my share of costumes and props, although I couldn't do much about my "stages." To have an arsenal anything like Alberto's prop-filled apartment would have been a dream come true for me.

In the course of Sophie's lesson on the Renaissance, Alberto calls her attention to an old compass, an early rifle, and an incunabulum--a book printed in the very early days of the printing press. And he points out that the development of the compass, of firearms, and of the printing press were "essential preconditions" of the Renaissance.

"The compass made it easier to navigate. In other words, it was the basis for the great voyages of discovery. So were firearms, in a way. The new weapons gave the Europeans military superiority over the American and Asiatic cultures, although firearms were also an important factor in Europe. Printing played an important part in spreading the Renaissance humanists' new ideas. And the art of printing was, not least, one of the factors that forced the Church to relinquish its former position as sole disseminator of knowledge. New inventions and instruments began to follow thick and fast. One important instrument, for example, was the telescope, which resulted in a completely new basis for astronomy."

Later, Alberto also brings out a board and a marble and uses them to explain Galileo's Law of Inertia and Sir Isaac Newton's Law of Universal Gravitation. Props are sweet.

The only strange thing is that Sophie doesn't get "touchy" with the props. I know that every time I brought some new curio into the classroom, I'd have to let my students pass it around. It wouldn't be as "real" to them otherwise. But Sophie, surrounded by all those treasures, doesn't lift a finger to examine them more closely.

This is partly because Sophie has to be in the same setting as the reader at all times. And since none of us can grab the compass and turn it in our hands to watch the needle, or pick up the firearm and practice aiming it, or leaf through the incunabulum and test our knowledge of medieval Latin, there's not much of a point in making Sophie do any of these as well. Alberto's apartment has to be as abstract to her as it is to us: since we can't explore it physically, neither does she. And thus it ends up as arguably the most under-used "ideal classroom" in the history of literature.

But that probably isn't such a bad thing. Unless you are the teacher who has been guiding or wrestling with the student in question, watching someone learn something can be as exciting as watching someone read a book. It's hard to make these moments dramatic, and Gaarder knows it. But if you happen to be the student--or the reader--then it is also your moment and you supply much of the drama on your own. Sophie's World relies on its readers' willingness to do this learning--even if it limits them to a medium which appeals to perhaps the least common of the myriad of learning styles.

Now it's your turn!
Leave the link to your Locus Focus post in the linky
and take some time to check out and comment on those of others.
I can't wait to read what everyone has to say! =D

Quick Links to the Other Loci Foci:

The Marcia Blaine School for Girls @ Birdie's Nest

Ramblings about Schools @ Pearls Cast before a McPig

Image Sources: a) Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder, b) Renaissance compass, c) Arquebus, d) Incunabula Typographiae


Carolina Valdez Miller said...

Oh my, sounds deliciously scary!

Enbrethiliel said...


That's the plan, Carol! =)

If you have some free time to make a post, I hope that you'll join us. Or more likely, that you'll join me. =P As much as I love doing this meme, I don't get more than one or two other participants each week. But no pressure to join the uncool kid for lunch! ;-)

Birdie said...

yay for scary settings in October

And yay for adding ANOTHER book to my TBR pile. Sophie's world sounds right up my alley!

PS I treat my classroom as a stage as well, though I can do nothing about the setting. I act and I ask my students to do the same :D

Enbrethiliel said...


Filipino students are usually very happy to have teachers who perform and to perform a little themselves, but I had to come up with a completely different teaching strategy when I taught Korean students.

Perhaps it was because they were all males and adult learners who had been through two years of compulsory military service, but they refused to act anything out with each other. And acting things out was more essential than usual because it was an ESL class! (I know performances were my favourite part of French class. I would be able to do more than just read Latin, I think, if they had been part of my Latin classes, too.)

Thanks for linking up again this week, Birdie! =)

Sullivan McPig said...

I should give this book another try. I tried to read it back when it was just released but couldn't get into it.

Paul Stilwell said...

That is very enticing: "the learning environment reflects the whole world." And therefore the whole world can be like a classroom; endless discoveries to be made. It's interesting how the author handles the setting.

Honestly, I tried thinking of a school setting and for the life of me could not come up with one, even though I'm sure I've read a number of books that have them. My mind kept drawing blanks.

Enbrethiliel said...


@Sully: The beginning was a little slow for me, too. I think I hung in there because of the mystery of the postcards.

Thanks for playing again this week! =) I'm almost off to read about your locus!

@Stilwell: A few days before I had to write this, the same thing happened to me! I know I've read many books set in schools, but nothing was standing out.

So I picked an "alternative" classroom for the challenge week . . . and suddenly remembered another unusual one I could feature for next week.

But I can expect you for Scary Settings, right? =D

Paul Stilwell said...

Oh yes, you can expect me for Scary Settings. Is the ideal to be pure Horror genre and Gothic, or can Scary be generally scary?

Enbrethiliel said...


Gothic is the best! Horror is always welcome! But I'd also be curious to know what falls under "Generally Scary" for you. You know I'm liberal about the challenges. =)

But here's an example of something that isn't really scary =P . . . I recently told someone I was reviewing a Disney Channel movie, and she said, "Another Horror film, I see." LOL, yes--but not that kind of scary, please. ;-)