No.10 - In Between: neither here,
it’s an immense deep world
the Mind Brings
Welcome to edition # 10 of The Creative Teaching Space.
In this edition we continue our journey of opening new possibilities in teaching and learning.
Keep learning and exploring. One can continue to find new directions to point learners. Make it an adventure, embrace the mystery, support endeavours and create a space for nourishment. Celebrate the joy in learning, its application in the everyday and its connections to much deeper understandings. Hold on to the simple while resisting the simplistic.
Our world is one of patterns and threads – a reality steeped in a past that connects to the present and the future. One of the greatest gifts we can present to the new generation is a recognition of interconnectedness. This is in profound defiance of simplistic views that argue for e.g. violence. Learners increasingly need to embrace an understanding that e.g. trauma simply breeds trauma. There are no clear lines or ends in violence. When one remembers, one also grieves and hates. It is creativity that opens new possibilities. It is creativity that breaks instinctive cycles and celebrates our ability to overcome. The fanatic is just as trapped and as sad as the immovable ideologue. A creative spirit embraces the unknown, the grey and the uncertain – a humility that makes us stop, think, and recognize what is shared and true.
This edition presents a simple theme. We are often going somewhere. Our moment points to a future. What happens when we consider the transit and value the in-between time?
I have recently dipped into Alain de Botton’s book The Art of Travel. It is an interesting read and presents many points. One point that comes to mind is when one is in transit, travelling to one's destination. This is far from a vacant moment. It carries with it the anticipation of the destination (the imagined that can be profoundly different from that experienced later), the memory of the preparation (this may have been very detailed and tiring so that one is finally relieved when sitting in the train or plane) and the immediacy of the transit moment, simply sitting within e.g. the plane (here one is subject to the in-cabin milieu with all its accoutrements let alone the culture of airports). To think that I am using the word 'accoutrements' - perhaps my language has visited France before me.
These moments are laden with perspectives. Far different from the memory and those captured by snapshots. Transit moments are undervalued because one is not there, one is simply on the way. If we wish to broaden perspectives we need to look further into these moments. They are increasingly a reality in our modern day of international travel.
What psychology underpins 5-Star hotels? Why do they, and airport lounges, often feel the same? What does this say about cultures and security? What happens to the body when one travels? Here one can explore bio-rhythms of the body – the science of travel. Why are we shown movies straight after food? Is this the art of settling down? What is going on here? What data underpins the fact of travel – the mathematics of schedules, filling seats, security and time zones? How do we experience the geography of travel? We view from 30, 000 feet. What is the temperature outside the plane? How is the world perceived via the screened map in the plane? How is a reality of place different from the imagined, the advertised, the long remembered?
On any journey the in-between stage carries with it many experiences. The passenger ritualises the journey – sharing moments, movies, games, socialising. How does one’s mood change? What is the inner journey? What elements of design is one surrounded by? The passenger reads a carefully designed safety sheet or opens a carefully designed meal. How is the food prepared? How is luggage loaded? How important are space, volume and weight on planes? To what extent does one carry one’s culture with oneself? Here I am reminded of a story of an Australian farmer who journeyed through the plane engaging with everyone. He came from an isolated location where meetings were very punctuated. This contrasted a German businessman, aloof and distant, weighted in the reality of being surrounded by people. What would it sound like if we could hear the inner or outer conversations of people? Where is one when travelling – what legal jurisdiction is one sitting in?
Consider how the act of transit can be used in learning. People throughout history have made journeys. These have been recorded via journals or photography. How is the record different from the reality? A record denotes a finish. How is the journey different when one doesn’t really know where one is going and what is going to happen? Consider exploring travel writing and how it draws upon many disciplines – the psychological, the cultural, the historic, the geographic, the scientific, etc.
What sorts of cultures are created in transit? The drive movie dissipates into a lost venture – Two Lane Blacktop. The plane journey evokes phobias. The train journey reminds us of innumerable train movies and plots.
Time drags as we lose a sense of time and a sense of place – literally in plane travel. Accents change, new people join the plane, and stopovers provide opportunities of watching major stopping points in the world where in-transit cultures meet. I will never forget wandering around Bangkok airport, dazed by jetlag, witnessing a huge terminal processing many people from the Middle East – a variety of clothes so different to the Australian culture. I can also remember the many conversations struck up on planes – where are you going, where do you come from plus a recognition of the similarities despite our differences. Then we all depart, many to never see each other again.
Here I am reminded of a fellow I once met who was researching the act of being in-transit. Besides writing a thesis he collected airline safety charts. They were accordingly laminated and turned into placemats for his children.
Reflect upon anyone who takes a journey. Regardless of whether it is in literature, science or history, what is really going on? How is being in the journey – in transit – different from the end result or destination?
He looks at the beautiful billowing clouds. It must be 50 degrees below out there. He must be travelling near to a thousand kilometres per hour. All he hears is a faint drone of the engines, slight bumps due to turbulence, and muffled conversations. He looks at a growing gap between the clouds. The receding vapour trail of the plane is reflected as a clear line on the water. It appears calm down there. Islands come into view. He takes another drink of coffee and places the biscuit into the cardboard container. The biscuit tastes like cardboard. All this extraordinary technology – and yet preservatives have won the day – tasteless food that conveniently lasts. He looks at the movie choice – Jim Carrey? Classic hits or classical through the headphones? He dreams of the biscuits and food he will have when he gets there. He remembers the poignant goodbyes at the exit gate. He dreams of home and imagines the patterns. Those at home sleep, those nearby are waking. All is receding like the vapour tail and the taste of a preservative-laced biscuit.
Road Ode: Loudon Wainwright III
(Parody of Willie Nelson from the great live album Career Moves)
the road again
you walk into the room
up the drawer
on the road, out on the road
on the road, out on the road
We all hear of footprints left by animals, those of dinosaurs discovered across a fossilized riverbed. This is the eminence of rock.
Tar or mud or other viscous substances record impressions and lock them into land over eons. Soil erodes and suddenly impressions are revealed – an impression of a child running across a mudflat, the deep impressions of a mother’s feet, was she carrying a child at the time?
Fossilized remains can be fascinating. They can also be very moving. I can recall a recent documentary in which researchers were uncovering and recording the footprints of an ancient people across an English mudflat. The tide had revealed the find. As the upper layers of mud were removed so we discovered the pattern of footprints. Yet this was a losing battle. At the same time as the tide withdrew it was guaranteed to return. Footprints started to slowly erode. After only a few days the snapshot of ancient movements would be removed. The earth reveals yet also takes away. A tantalizing insight into an archaic story, no different to those of our prints left in the soil. Who will uncover these if our footprints are preserved? What stories will they tell future generations?
Human footprints tell many stories. Archaeologists read and construct an ancient novel. Detectives piece together clues to create their own thriller. Aboriginal trackers look for incredibly subtle signs in the landscape – a language as rare as many of their own. The foot tells about the rest of the body – direction, weight, what may have been carried. The mundane steps into science as the orthopedic nature of the foot meets the elements of soil and time.
Yet think of all those images of footprints. A lonely beach with footprints merging into the distance. Images of loneliness and a story only echoed. Think of the parables –
night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord.
(Note how the concept of copyright ironically also leaves its own footprints. See the above website)
See Biographical Twists (down the page) for another poem on Footprints in the Sand.
We idolise people. We place them on pedestals. We isolate celebrities in the vacuum of their own talent – unique, legendary, inimitable.
How often do we stop and simply recognise the threads? Creativity doesn’t evolve from nowhere. It comes at a time and a place.
The voices of the past speak through the present. The ghosts of literature, poetry, theatre, song, etc, are moving through the present generation.
Listen to the past generation and you hear the first flowing of the springs. Follow it further and it becomes deeper and wider – a nourishing source with ever deeper pools to explore.
These sobering words from Bob Dylan tell us how creative exploration and learning should never end:
Think of all those times teachers have called a roll, or in some countries, a register. How can this be done more creatively? Can it be collated quietly? Can it be allocated as a responsibility to students? Can it be done in such a way that the information received is built into the learning?
When you answer the roll can you please tell us your favourite place?
A roll call or teacher’s address is synonymous with the English public school system – or the military. It carries authoritarian tones and is superbly satirized by many comedians.
Just how differently can a roll call be conducted? How can one alter its use in teaching or training to provide feedback, break the ice and further bond a group? How can one satirize the institutions of learning and in doing so give us a new sense of what learning can be?
Maybe do this within the training room or classroom. Hold a mirror up to learning. If you aren’t doing this, and you are operating within an authoritarian system, then I can ensure you that your students are doing it in the privacy of their conversations.
One only has to experience the fantastic send ups by Monty Python, or the insights of Dickens, to appreciate how learning can be so easily strangled by meaningless and authoritarian conventions. How we should despair at the power games. Mis-applied learning comes to haunt us in the form of satire.
Think of all those times when an image or story presents a striking contrast. Black is on white. White is on black. A person, or their actions, stand out from the background. Sometimes an image can be presented in such a way that it is striking. Here I am reminded of the fantastic photo of a nanny and child captured by Robert Frank: Charleston, South Carolina, 1955. See my article Where Photos Lead.
The following website covering the German occupation of the Channel Islands during World War Two shows a fascinating film of an English Bobby opening a car door for a German officer. Here propaganda understands contrast only too well – a frightening image designed to scare an already fraught British population. A striking image designed to spread fear through the clashing of disparate elements.
What other images are there that present such contrast. Why are they used? Think of advertising. Think of the power of photography or film. I am reminded here of the advertising image of a parachuting elephant from the Disney film Operation Dumbo Drop . Does the game of contrast play with our expectations and our knowledge of physical properties? What happens if students play with the expectations of an audience? Take a range of elements within a curriculum and contrast them – place them against each other in differing ways. Shakespeare is talking to a modern day footballer, a man in a deep sea diving suit is standing in the centre of Times Square, an impoverished refugee is standing in the center of an up-market jewellery store. What happens when we put such elements together? What meanings emerge? Perhaps Rene Magritte was far ahead of his time in realising that images can be manipulated and contrasted. This can be done with great ease in our day of digital manipulation.
And the official follow up – in the library – The Complete Stories of Isaac Asimov, Collins, 1995, ISBN: 0006480160.
This image is by Wim Wenders: see also this site.
A photograph of a hotel lounge. A discovery on one of Wim Wenders’ field trips – scouting for locations for one of his films? Wenders is a much under-rated photographer. His images are quite fascinating, speaking of exotic places in remote desert towns, rooms, etc. I saw many of his photographs in an exhibition in Wellington, New Zealand, last Christmas.
A room can become quite exotic, a place that attracts us, begs questions, radiates with the presence of former guests. The ordinary can become strangely luminous. Wenders has this eye – think of many of his films – a perspective shared by many European directors who see the United States with a new and sometimes off-beat eye.
Can students capture this essence by recording the ordinary? A room is bare. All that is left behind are condiments. Who was there? What stories does this room speak? Look at the design of any room. What does it tell us about the original designer? Have many hands altered this room? Are many elements clashing? Is this a room with many stories, owners and passer-bys?
We don’t have to have people in pictures or photographs for the picture to speak to us. A range of fittings can speak a thousand words. Just consider how spaces can find their own voice and words.
Blurbs on the backs of books are usually deadly serious. Rarely are they tongue-in-cheek.
The following are two fantastic blurbs by the English poet Matthew Harvey. And I also include one of his poems.
Imagine if characters, authors, poets, painters – or for that matter anyone famous – referred to themselves in a tongue-in-cheek way. What would they say? Now that’s a good exercise for students. Too often we take the publisher’s blurb as gospel without getting the flavour or personality of the author. What would students write if they had to write about themselves in a similar manner? Compare the results!
See Matthew’s website for further information. And book him if you live in the U.K. – or China. Matthew likes to travel and his favorite colour is …..?
searched for metric meanings
dug for deeper answers
I boned up on history
I’d seek to know the essence
the seedbed of my questions
I remember all the faces
the sea’s here to remind us
footprints in the sand, it’s said,
pay ourselves such complements
Matthew Harvey from Songs Sung Sideways.
Recently there were a number of tributes following Alastair Cooke’s retirement. These sadly were followed by obituaries as he died a number of weeks later.
In a number of tributes the following story was cited. Cooke so often the commentator – after the fact – found himself eerily in the same room where Bobby Kennedy’s body was dragged after his assassination. Cooke was at the centre of the action.
In the following story he refers to the numbness of being at this tragic event. A kind of muteness took over. Just because one is a commentator doesn’t mean that one can always find words. Perhaps one needs hindsight and distance to truly capture an event.
Consider these possibilities if your students are covering an event. How do they feel? How easy was it to capture what was happening? Consider what it would be like to be placed in history and to capture historic moments. What would one say? What would one face?
Read examples of the written coverage of historic events at the following site: EyeWitness to History.
What does the mind bring to learning? With so much emphasis on correctness here is a quote that poses a number of questions:
How active is the mind during perception? Do we underestimate the workings of the mind? Should we emphasis the way we perceive even more in learning? If we are able to interpret so well then how can we put these skills to even more use in learning?
The mind is rich. It is also quite unfathomable. Should we be celebrating the mind more in learning rather than focusing on correctness? I am sure that being correct has its time and place. This is a given. Does the process have qualities that we can focus on rather than always focusing on ‘the correct’ or ‘the end results’?
How important is the above Cambridge quote? Is it quasi-science being used for quasi purposes? Ooops! Check out the history of the citation at the following excellent website.
Things come in numbers – often sevens, often tens. What lists do your students know?
At the same time consider how you can present important insights through interesting lists – in this case – a list of myths. This of course presupposes that one can also present the truths opposing the myths.
The following poster presents ten myths about World Hunger.
Myths are powerful forces. They naturalise themselves as truths and masquerade as the norm. It sometimes takes a careful approach to uncover what forces are at work.
A great strategy is to find the myths surrounding a topic and to present the alternative. Why do we believe in myths? Why do they take hold? How can one fight myths and spread the truth?
The above artwork by Christian Boltanski asks us to consider what is not there. Europe has been largely rebuilt since World War Two. This was often a result of bombings that caused great destruction across cities – an occurrence being replicated in Afghanistan and across the Middle East.
Sometimes it takes an artwork to make us stop in our tracks and consider the truth. We stop. We slow down. We ponder. Yes a house is missing. People lived here once. Where are those people now? Were they killed? What stories could this house have told?
Many European cities are very modern. I have spent some time in Cologne, Germany. Its modern architecture is punctuated by small memorials and relics left as reminders of the war. Here simple buildings become memorials surrounded by redevelopment. This is the case of the Atomic Bomb Dome, ruin of the Industrial Promotion Hall in Hiroshima at the Memorial Peace Park.
Pause for a moment and consider what was here before: your house, your school, the buildings you see everyday. Find vacant areas and consider what may have been in what is now an empty space.
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009