suzanna Tornberg's Learning Story


A few years ago, I had a 5th grade class that I looped up with to 6th grade. We had had two years of class meetings to discuss their problems, issues, and concerns. We had also planned on a field trip across country to visit Washington, D.C., their nation’s capital. The student’s excitement from 5th grade U.S. history drove them to raise over four thousand dollars for the trip. As I always tried to bring in current world events, I mentioned the recent legal case that stemmed from Florida (the names escape me now) where a husband wanted the ability to declare his comatose wife’s life over. The Florida courts stepped in and so did the U.S. Senate. We used this case to discuss the lines within the three separate powers of the government. This is when one the quietest boys in the classroom shared that his 3 year old brother nearly drowned and now has the functioning ability of a 3 month old. His family must drive 300 miles to Los Angeles for oxygen treatments at their expense since the insurance company would only cover one treatment. During a class meeting the students’ conversation drifted to the boy’s family. One girl blurted out that they should give some of their field trip money to the family since they would not raise the money needed before the deadline. The magnetic energy over this suggestion drew every student, emotionally, into the same conclusion. Give the boy’s family all $4,000. When the family heard about this gesture, the mother asked to speak at the next class meeting. She was in tears when she spoke. She thanked the students for their kindness, but asked them to keep their hard earned money. After she left the room the students tossed her suggestion around. After five minutes, one student called out for a vote and made the motion that they would give the family $600.00. Every student voted yes, even though there were a few that wanted to still give all the money. This class’ example of democracy will never leave me. And I know that they learned more in that one class meeting, and should be exemplars to our nation’s leaders.