Becky Browning, educator

Reflections On Teaching Wolf

July 18, 2003

At the Heart of the beginning of the Past Is Prologue movement was the strong and vital spirit of Paula Underwood. The backbone and support was Jeanne Slobod.

Paula was a teacher and poet who brought her magnificent talent to the task of creating a curriculum surrounding the profound work, Who Speaks For Wolf. I was an elementary social studies, language arts teacher in Austin Texas, enthralled with most anything that would shake up the standard school curricula, and fortunately, I worked with a principal, Dr. Mary Lou Clayton, who understood and supported that need.

Meeting Paula and working with her was one of the finest experiences of my teaching career. Being in the presence of spiritually powerful women has always been especially alluring for me. When Paula told how she was to write the story of her people from its beginning and how she learned that story, sitting with her father in the garage learning each word, remembering those words by standing in the memories as she called it, I knew I was in the presence of a most powerful woman, one who would have an awesome influence on those she taught and the transference of that to hearers of her stories.

What followed in the development of the teacher’s guide, was a series of discussions and meetings with other powerful women and men. I can still hear Paula’s sharp, distinctive laughter as we explored the inquiry that would best flesh out all the many layers of meaning in the text of Who Speaks For Wolf.

Those were meetings a teacher dreams of, where ideas were truly listened to, considered thoughtfully, included or discarded as was fitting. The story was a thing of beauty and to this day, I get goosebumps when thinking about reading it aloud to my students.

The opening passage stirs one’s inner rhythm, a connection with Mother Earth’s heartbeat. I could not read the words without feeling the reverence in those ancient beats and children responded so willingly and openly to it all, sensing the importance of what was to come.

And what came from those brief passage readings were discussions of such magnitude and depth that only those witnessing them would believe that ten year olds could think on such critical and sensitive levels.

What also came from the inclusion of Wolf was a classroom system that incorporated one of the essential principles of the story, that of cooperation.

Whenever we had conflicts among students, we would have powwows to resolve those differences. For the most part, those resolutions were lasting, unlike the treaties of our government with the American Indian!

While the details of the process have faded, the overall experience and its effect on my teaching and life will never diminish. It is so reassuring to know that there are readers, hearers, teachers, and learners who are carrying this tremendous work forward with the spirit of Paula always with us.