Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Clock, the Chart, and the Compass Rose

Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.
--William Butler Yeats

It all began in second period, where I assist some of my higher-functioning special needs students in a seventh-grade resource math class. The teacher had begun a lesson on coordinate graphs, explaining the x axis and the y axis and then showing the four quadrants of the graph. He labeled them I, II, III, and IV and explained what the Roman numerals meant and how they were numbered starting in the upper right-hand quadrant moving counterclockwise around.

All of a sudden, I was transported in time to a day somewhere between my fourth and sixth birthdays, to a hallway in our home in a small village in Southeast Alaska. While my mother had actually taught me how to tell time on a clock with Arabic numerals at age four, it was my dad that carried the lesson a little deeper. He showed me the clock hanging on the wall and pointed out the Roman numerals, explaining how they work: the ones, the fives, and the tens; how the positions of the numerals determine whether you add or subtract them; how when the clock reaches twelve, it starts all over again - twice a day; and how the clock had to be wound by pulling up the weights once a week.

It's not very likely that children today see many clocks with Roman numerals. In fact, other than in a school, it's not likely they see many analog clocks or watches at all. Thank heavens, analog clocks are still used in school! As it is, the terms clockwise and counterclockwise often have to be re-explained, not just to elementary school students, but even to some teens and twenty-somethings! To the students in yesterday's math class, understanding the four Roman numerals was new learning and remembering which way counterclockwise is was a review lesson. Once again I am reminded me of how fortunate I have been to have the parents I have: life-long learners who passed on their love of learning to me.

I can't tell you the times I've looked back at my childhood and remember experiences that prepared me for being a family historian and using genealogical research skills. Before age six, I knew how to read a map and a compass, and how to divide up a section of land! Oh, yes, indeed I did! And it was all done in simple, enjoyable little lessons, often before bedtime.

Also hanging on the hallway wall, opposite my bedroom door, was a chart of the waterways in our vicinity. I remember my dad showing me where our village was, located on the western side of the north half of Prince of Wales Island. I learned that all the numbers on the white part of the chart represented how many feet deep the water was in that area, and that all the squiggles with tiny numbers on the buff-colored parts were contour lines showing how high the many mountains and hills on the islands were. Many of the islands and straits had interesting names: there were Spanish names starting with San and Santa, Russian names ending with -of, and many British names with Prince, Princess, King and Queen at the beginning - all testament to the explorers who had sailed through over the previous centuries. Additionally, there were many little villages with difficult-to-pronounce names that had lots of Ks and Xs in them - native villages retaining their original Tlinget names.

And then there were the pajamas; the long sleeve, snap-up-the back shirt that snapped at the waist to the pink, footed leggings. On the front of the shirt was a design of a large compass rose. Well, that was a lesson in and of itself! I learned that N was for North and S for South. That NE was between North and East and stood for Northeast, while WSW was between W and SW and meant West Southwest!

Put the chart and the compass rose together and get another lesson! In Michigan, Dad told me, where he and Mom grew up, they didn't have all these islands and straits like we did in Alaska (well, not in Western Michigan, anyway; I learned more about the Great Lakes later). All the land, he said, was divided up into squares one mile long and one mile wide. Those were called square miles; easy enough for me to understand! Those square miles were also called sections and sometimes they were divided up in lots of different ways. If they were divided top to bottom, then you had a west half and an east half. If the west half was divided left to right, then you had the northwest quarter and the southwest quarter. Those could be divided up, too! Pretty soon, I knew what the south half of the northeast quarter of the southwest quarter of a section was. Boy, did that come in handy when 30-some years later I looked at land records!

Today's kids have X-boxes, iPhones, and netbooks. I had my parents who taught me the clock, the chart, and the compass rose. And from that, grew a genealogist. I'd take my childhood over anyone else's today!


Sheri Fenley said...


A most excellent article. The quote you used by Keats is the same one I have on my blog title! Great minds and all that . . .

See you at Scanfest.

Miriam Robbins said...

Thanks, Sheri! I first came across this quote in my homeschooling mom days (another lifetime ago!).

Looking forward to seeing you at Scanfest, for sure!

Mavis said...

Wonderful story!

Miriam Robbins said...

Thank you, Mavis, and thank you for reading!

Greta Koehl said...

What a neat childhood you had! One of my childhood dreams was to live in Alaska, by the way.

Miriam Robbins said...

I did have a unique and wonderful childhood, Greta, one that I didn't appreciate until I became an adult. After moving to Washington State when I was 12, I had a very hard time adjusting; it was culture shock and Alaska at that time was about 20 years behind the Lower 48, in many ways.

I guess we always wish for something a little different than what we have...it always sounds so much more exciting somewhere else!

Thanks for dropping by.

Bill West said...

Great post, Miriam. Looking back now, there's so much that our generation learned and knew how to do that kids today are missing out on.Sometimes progress is a double edged sword!

Miriam Robbins said...

Thanks, Bill...I got to thinking that our parents probably thought the very same things about us! :-)

Unknown said...

I loved it. These stories are so inspiring.

I think I learned as much educating my daughters as I did as a child. And I was better prepared for the information later in life, too.

Happy Dae·

Miriam Robbins said...

We have a saying in education, Dae, that goes, "The one who teaches is the one who learns the most."

I think one of the things I love about genealogy is that we are always learning something!