By Dr. Ray Patton
“Meidlinger is dead,” I think. Peter lies motionless in the brush on the side of the path, where he landed after catapulting over his handlebars. Thankfully, he gets up, dusts himself off, and gets back on the bike. We ride on.
It’s the latest in a series of extreme bike rides beset by heat exhaustion, brake failure and human catapults. Well, perhaps not so extreme. We barely leave the city limits on our rides, and families with strollers regularly enjoy the trail that nearly took Peter’s life.
Yet our rides truly are extreme in another sense. Peter invited me on a ride just weeks after I moved to Springfield in 2011, and since then, each journey has been a life lesson. We travel the gritty back roads, far from any ivory towers. But what we see prods us to talk about history, topography, Shakespeare, the environment, urban planning, idiosyncrasies of local culture, highs and lows of local history, nationalism and ideologies of race, family life and parenting. We survey the city’s uneven development, vanishing industries, and boarded-up neighborhood stores that remind us of once-flourishing communities. We find community waiting to be rediscovered (I quickly learned that Peter can’t pass a stranger without striking up a conversation). We remind ourselves what it means to be educators, and why education is essential to our students’ lives.
Our rides continue—although they grow less frequent once the school year starts. Instead, I apply what I have learned by taking my students along as we explore our world, discuss its nature, and seek out knowledge in order to engage it with compassion and understanding. We set out together on our own extreme journey of education.