Maximo was a mathematical
whiz kid in Cuba! Maximo had been a child prodigy among math geniuses in Cuba!
Maximo had been a member of the Math Olympic champions in Cuba!
And Maximo had asked for
a conversation before our Social Environment course would begin one Fall
semester at our Hialeah Center. He had communicated through the Hialeah Center
Director in a respectful manner, never telling the director exactly what he wanted
to discuss. But our center director was very proud to have Maximo at his center
and nowhere else in the college. And the staff seemed deferential to Maximo
because he was sooo smart in mathematics.
At the outset of a
semester, I was generally excited about new and renewed encounters with a broad
range of scholars from a variety of disciplines. My area of principal focus was
social sciences but I was also very supportive across disciplines, especially
mathematics, calculus and physics because so many college students are fearful
and I am not fearful about the beautiful and important subject of mathematics.
On the other hand, it
occurred to me that perhaps I was being encouraged to in some way be
deferential to Maximo’s strengths and not be overly demanding in my specialty
area of social sciences. Maybe a genius in math was social science-phobic like
others claim to be math-phobic. But my colleagues never were intrusive or
imposing in such a matter. Maybe Maximo had language and linguistic problems
since he had only recently arrived from Cuba. And losing a math genius did not
reflect well on the totalitarian-authoritarian political regime there. Maybe
there were security issues. Who knew? I would review my own competencies in the
delicious Spanish language so as to be appropriately ready for my conversation
with Maximo! (Maximo actually translated to mean MAXIMUM but could be
interpreted to be awesome on a good day).
Maximo and I met early on
the first day of class. I bought him a cup of “cafecito Cubano” (Cuban Coffee)
and he proceeded to pick a large tree at the side of our building under which
we would converse. The tree reminded me of one in a park near where I grew up
in Chicagoland: many leaves, many branches, easy to climb and cool in the heat
of the day when direct sunlight could be very stifling.
Maximo spoke of his love
of mathematics and how mathematics when applied properly could help solve many
problems of the social environment, natural environment and material
environment. He appeared to be demonstrating his readiness for our class. I was
impressed and somewhat thrilled that this exemplary human being was going to be
in my Social Environment class.
We spoke about how each
student has his or her own unique learning style and teaching style, absorbing
and mastering content and then applying and demonstrating what was learned and
how it impacted the human condition from aesthetics to zoology. As someone who
was informed and inspired by Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences theory, I
was fascinated with Maximo’s self -knowledge and how to make his unique
learning needs and wants and capacities work for himself. And we both agreed
that each scholar should create or contribute to the optimum learning context
and dynamics in which he or she and learning peers could advance best.
Maximo truly seemed happy
with our discussion. I was absolutely enthralled with his participation in our
class. He excused himself and said he would “verle en la clase” (see you in class).
Perfecto, I surmised.
I arrived in the third
floor class on the North side of the air conditioned building to find the
window open, providing a friendly breeze. The thirty plus class members were
gathered at the window chatting with someone or something on a tree branch
outside. I was amazed to discover that Maximo was situated in the tree outside,
with his notebook and pen in hand and a textbook in a book bag. Trying not to
be shocked nor surprised nor angry nor fearful of an accident, I walked over
and greeted my new scholar: “Thanks for joining us in this novel way. Please
come into the classroom so we can begin class.”
disheartened and disappointed, responded: “I can learn best at this center when
I am seated here in this tree. And we both agreed that each student had best
ways of learning. Mine is here. You can close the door and save air
conditioning during this class. And I will be very attentive when each person
speaks, if each can speak a little louder than normal. And I will speak a
little louder to accommodate my fellow students.”
This was a new experience
for me. Since it was a sunny day, without major winds and no signs of a storm,
I decided to proceed with the class, noting that the other scholars appeared
curious, probably thinking this could have been a role play or a novel approach
to getting focused on the first day. Social Environment. Why not? We had
self-introductions, an introduction to course expectations – and no one
questioned the non-traditional placement of Maximo in the tree.
After class terminated, I
closed the window, Maximo descended and I sought some advice and guidance from
the center director. We agreed to change the class to the second floor
(reducing the hazard) since there was no classroom on the first floor. The
director volunteered to get any background information that explained why
Maximo preferred tree sitting to being in a classroom. His parents were not in
Maximo arrived for the
second class with assignments prepared, reading done and very participatory.
His peer learners were surprised to find how conscientious he was but still in
the tree on the second floor. Upon doing some inquiries, we learned that
Maximo’s parents and brothers died in a catastrophic fire in Cuba in a
deficiently constructed and unprotected building. His preference to not
immediately trust learning inside a building right now was understandable. We completed
the semester with him up a tree or sometimes all of us in a garden, as Maximo
maximized his new social environment for success and sensitized his new faculty
2015 © Michael J. Lenaghan