Our Winter Count – Inspiration For Educators From the Lakota SiouxBy Todd R. Nelson
If you drew last year’s highlights on an animal hide, like the Lakota Sioux, what would they look like? They probably didn’t come in a shopping cart.
We have entered the season of counts. On the one hand, it is the count of the Advent calendar; on the other, the soulless countdown of spending days until Christmas, and the turn of the calendar year at New Year’s. We are preoccupied with enumerating the passage of time, expense, and our accomplishments connected mostly to consumption and the year’s impending expiration. Another fiscal year draws to an end, and we prepare for the reckoning with the tax man—the annual bean count.
Thanksgiving asks us, “How have we been fortunate?” and New Year’s Day, “How will I make good fortune in the future?” If there is sincerity and humility attached, they are questions that also draw us out of ourselves to think of others: How have I, or how will I, help others share in the benefits that abound?
“What would the winter count for our school look like?” I asked my students. The fourth grade class contemplated their own winter count after we looked at a Lakota example.
Some sports fan felt it would be remembered as the year of the soccer World Cup. One boy knew right away that it would always be the year of “my baby sister.” For Charlotte, it would be the arrival of Amber, her new cat. For other kids, the pictograph would show making igloos, or skiing for the first time, or the start of our recycling program. Others cited natural disasters, and disaster relief; continuing warfare, and glimmers of peace.
My own list cited the year of Rosa Parks lying in state in the nation’s capitol and a local fisherman winning a MacArthur grant for studying local fisheries—unexpected moments when wonders seemed natural.
Our school “tribe” is certainly defined by more than professional sports victories, the advent of little sisters, or nature’s turmoil. Nonetheless, it’s still good to add up this winter’s key moments because they affirm that we have a voice in determining what will be remembered in the next winter count. Are we working toward another “Winter that Strengthened our Voices?” Will this be a “Winter of Shelter,” to cite two Lakota counts? It will be, if we look outward, forward, past the urge to refill our shopping carts, and lend a hand.
View the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History online exhibit “Lakota Winter Counts” in flash (audio and video) or html
Todd R. Nelson is Head of School at The School in Rose Valley, Pennsylvania.