Critical thinking is a mysterious entity. Sometimes it is logical and straightforward; other times, it hides in fear waiting for the thinker to trust enough to discuss possibilities without being thought nutty or way off target. Stories in history or fiction invite interpretation, and though we all have aversion to pat answers, there’s a feeling of uncertainty when an answer isn’t pat.
“The Rocking-Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence is an old short story fun to use because it has obvious disturbing problems that arise when lust for money trumps love in relationships. However, simple as that sounds, the story is soaked in strange, even bizarre behaviors open to many interpretations. Here’s the fun.
It was even more fun when a student emailed asking for help with the assignment. The challenge is to point to a concrete strategy without lessening the creativity of the student. It’s also important to say, “Trust your gut. Let your intuition lead you.” The best professors I had wanted students to analyze stories themselves first before running to the library or Internet for security. Everyone has the capacity to observe and interpret. Even if the interpretation isn’t original, it’s original with the student, and that’s the point. Library resources can figure in later to stir new insights. Don’t give up too soon. Stretch!
The student who emailed me popped into my classroom the next day at the end of a different class, wanting to test some ideas about the story. This was marvelous. She had even thought of looking at YouTube clips of the story. As we stood talking, she went back and forth with a few ideas, looking at me for confirmation or rebuttal. She was looking for safety but taking risks nonetheless.
As I stood by the teacher station, bag on shoulder, enjoying the conversation before heading to the door, she asked, “What does the rocking-horse mean?” I said, “I don’t know. I’m waiting for some student to write a paper and tell me.”