By this time the activity engaged my curiosity, so I decided to
check with the teacher to see what was going on but I noticed she
too was busy writing. I felt it best not to interrupt. "I can't
get John's mother to come for a teacher conference." "I
can't get my daughter to put gas in the car." "I can't get
Alan to use words instead of fists."
Thwarted in my efforts to determine why students and teacher were
dwelling on the negative instead of writing the more positive
"I Can" statements, I returned to my seat and continued my
Students wrote for another ten minutes.
They were then instructed
to fold the papers in half and bring them to the front. They placed
their "I Can't" statements into an empty shoe box. Then
Donna added hers. She put the lid on the box, tucked it under her
arm and headed out the door and down the hall.
Students followed the teacher. I followed the students. Halfway
down the hallway Donna entered the custodian's room, rummaged around
and came out with a shovel. Shovel in one hand, shoe box in the
other, Donna marched the students out to the school to the farthest
corner of the playground. There they began to dig. They were going
to bury their "I Can'ts"!
The digging took over ten minutes because most of the fourth
graders wanted a turn. The box of "I Can'ts" was placed in
a position at the bottom of the hole and then quickly covered with
dirt. Thirty-one 10- and 11-year-olds stood around the freshly dug
grave site. At this point Donna announced, "Boys and girls,
please join hands and bow your heads." They quickly formed a
circle around the grave, creating a bond with their hands.
They lowered their heads and waited. Donna delivered the eulogy.
"Friends, we gathered here today to honor the memory of 'I
Can't.' While he was with us here on earth, he touched the lives or
everyone, some more than others. We have provided 'I Can't' with a
final resting place and a headstone that contains his epitaph.
is survived by his brothers and sisters, 'I Can', 'I Will', and 'I'm
Going to Right Away'. They are not as well known as their famous
relative and are certainly not as strong and powerful yet. Perhaps
some day, with your help, they will make an even bigger mark on the
world. May 'I Can't' rest in peace and may everyone present pick up
their lives and move forward in his absence. Amen."
As I listened I realized that these students would never forget
this day. Writing "I Can'ts," burying them and hearing the
eulogy. That was a major effort on this part of the teacher. And she
wasn't done yet.
She turned the students around, marched them back into the
classroom and held a wake. They celebrated the passing of "I
Can't" with cookies, popcorn and fruit juices. As part of the
celebration, Donna cut a large tombstone from butcher paper. She
wrote the words "I Can't" at the top and put RIP in the
middle. The date was added at the bottom. The paper tombstone hung
in Donna's classroom for the remainder of the year.
On those rare occasions when a student forgot and said, "I
Can't," Donna simply pointed to the RIP sign. The student then
remembered that "I Can't" was dead and chose to rephrase
the statement. I wasn't one of Donna's students. She was one of
mine. Yet that day I learned an enduring lesson from her as years
later, I still envision that fourth grade class laying to rest,