I am working with Jonathan on his Mountain Lion essay.  It has, per classroom instructions, an introductory paragraph and three additional paragraphs.  What they eat, where they live, and… “Destiny?” “Destiny.  Destiny is very important.  All characters have a destiny. Sometimes, it’s about what your name means.  So, for my third paragraph, I want to talk about destiny for mountain lions.”  I remember that the class has been reading Leisl Shurtliff’s Rump: The True Story of Rumplestiltskin, which is set ‘in a magic kingdom where your name is your destiny’.  The class had also dug deep into fairytales and folktales before this current assignment hit the inbox, and Jonathan, like many learners on the spectrum, is not always able to shift gears very fast. Okay then.  Destiny.  I’ve cleared it with his classroom teacher, who was hoping for a paragraph on conservation issues but believes, poetically, that we might be able to get exactly there from here.  I try to help Jonathan flesh out his understanding, and thus, his third paragraph.  “Destiny is what you’re meant to be, what you’re meant to do.  So, what do you think a mountain lion is meant to do?” Jonathan’s brow furrows as he reviews his paragraph about what mountain lions eat.  “They’re meant to hunt.  And eat meat.  Maybe even people.  Oh no.  The destiny of a mountain lion is to eat all the people.” Ever the optimist, he tries to reframe.  “Maybe, maybe the destiny of a mountain lion could be to be friends with people.” We work on it for awhile, trying to hit a nuanced place between two exaggerated impossible futures, trying to satisfy the classroom teacher’s intentions while still honoring Jonathan’s interpretation of what’s important to know and write about.   “In a fiction story, you could make the mountain lions all be friends with people.  And actually, in a fiction story, you could make the mountain lions villains, and have them decide that they want to hunt all the people and eat them.  But Jonathan, if this is a research-based essay, you’ve learned some important, true things about mountain lions.  They aren’t tame, are they?  They don’t want to be close to people.”  Jonathan nods.  “It wouldn’t be realistic to give them a destiny as pets, or friends, I don’t think.  It wouldn’t be likely to really happen in the world, for all of the mountain lions. researched what they eat, right?  Are people at the top of that list?” It was a rhetorical question, because I’d just finished helping him massage THAT paragraph beyond “They eat meat”.  First, we generated a long list of all the animals mountain lions could conceivably devour, and then we did the thing that Jonathan will need to do for at least the next ten years of his life: stretch it out to fill up the page.  We made one sentence to cover small/medium animals, and one completely different sentence for medium/large animals.  At times, I strongly dislike the five-paragraph essay–especially when paragraph two really doesn’t have enough to stand on its own, but every new topic must be its own paragraph. People had actually not appeared in any of the requisite three sentences for Mountain Lion Diet Paragraph. “So, it’s not going to be their destiny to eat all the people, either.  I wonder…maybe there could be something kind of in the middle.  Where the mountain lions are around, and the people are, too, and it works out for everybody.” With a bit more, um, indirect verbal prompting, Jonathan finishes his Destiny paragraph, hitting all the key points for mountain lion conservation and staying well within the boundaries of informational text.  Before, um, going on to take me at my word and construct a bonus Folktale, in which the mountain lions did, in fact, slaughter hundreds of the soldiers of the Wealthy Evil Prince.  Leading to another serious of mini conferences conducted through Google Docs, in which the classroom teacher begged Jonathan to consider a way for the mountain lions to solve their problem “without so much killing”, Jonathan responded that “sorry, the mountain lions have very sharp teeth and no jail”, and I pointed out that a crucial element of most Folktales is the hero learning to wield tremendous power with responsibility and discretion. My destiny as a teacher will never be a dull one.

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1 Response to Destiny

  1. Linda Scott says:

    Well, that is brilliant.

    My son hung up on the idea of destiny a couple weeks ago. As he will do in the throes of echolalia, he started chanting “our destiny is fire.” Then I tried to explain what “destiny” meant: like if a boy is really a prince but grows up not knowing that, and still ends up King, for instance.

    He pondered. “Or queen?”

    “Or queen.”

    “Well, MY destiny is to have a toy in this blanket and he is a prince. He will grow up to be the queen. And do you know why?”

    “No,” I prompted, expecting the closure of “because it was his destiny.” But what followed was,


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