No.12 - Eyes Wider
Archaic Becomes New
Welcome to edition # 12 of The Creative Teaching Space.
It has been quite a while since I have written in the magazine and so I find myself slightly hesitant – ‘can I find any ideas, do I still have anything to say?’
Well only writing will tell!
Since the last entry my work with the Education Department in Hobart (in 2004) has focused on areas such as conceptual learning, transdisciplinary learning and various forms of assessment. Some of these ideas may find their way into my magazine.
I have also had responses to The Creative Teaching Space from teachers in many countries. This has been really encouraging. It is lovely to get personal responses from afar and it is fantastic to get a sense of a readership: I’m not sitting around waiting for a grant or a publisher’s approval. The Internet is a fantastic way of establishing an audience and getting feedback for what can at times be a lonely task. Be defiant. If you want to develop a readership create your own site. It really is a buzz when you get a sense that people are dipping into your work!
In the last week I have been looking at Weblogs. Does anyone know of really interesting weblogs in which teachers are documenting the day to day nature of their teaching? Are any teachers talking about their teaching practice and their creativity? A Weblog would be a fascinating way of approaching e.g. a Masters in Education – a real shared action learning project.
The site exploring the London Underground is fascinating. It shows the many ways in which one can approach a subject. This could be a great introduction to transdisciplinary learning and potential project work. Just think of the many angles and perspectives that teachers and students, from a range of disciplines, could utilize when approaching a subject such as the railway system.
There is also an admirable photographic site by R. Gardiner. I really admire his/her generosity as well as the skill of the photography. We are not assaulted by advertising. Instead the site is a generous insight into photographic possibility. I love the photo of a man standing in the snow called Snow Hat. If only there were more sites with this level of generosity. It is the generosity that also sells. One can’t help but identify a quality in the art, and a quality in the person. Just think of all the stories that students could write stimulated by these photos.
This must be similar to the experiences of people working in NGOs. We live in an extremely uneven world and to be faced with its realities, its contradictions, its ironies and its injustices, must be extremely disturbing.
Just think of the news that you hear on television. What are the big issues? Is the Sudan ever mentioned? Do we hear of despotic regimes other than Iraq?
I heard a riveting interview recently with the journalist Aidan Hartley. He spoke of his experiences in Rwanda. He witnessed and experienced a country in the midst of terrible trauma. He spoke of his reaction to witnessing such horror. His attempt at therapy is explored in his book The Zanzibar Chest.
I also saw a fascinating documentary called The Spectre of Hope exploring the photography of Sebastiao Salgado. He once worked as an economist. His photography seemed to address a deep desire to document the humanity of people; those often treated as statistics. At one point in an African refugee camp he was followed by children. This was affecting his ability to take photographs. He asked why the children were following him and they said that they wanted their photographs taken. As a result Salgado embarked on the journey of documenting displaced children. The results are extraordinary – a series of photographs that testify to the humanity of the children – as if saying " I am here. I am not a statistic!" These works rival those of photographers like Dorothea Lange.
The sad reality is that these are not children of dustbowled 1930’s America. These photos are contemporary, a tragic revelation that the many faces we associate with images from the dustbowl are worn by people in our so-called modern world. One doesn’t have to look far to see wrought faces. Similar faces I am sure can be found in Australian Refugee Detention Centres.
Salgado also makes a fascinating and rather poetic claim in this documentary. If all the images from his book Migrations were tallied in terms of shutter speed they would add up to about a second. Here in this modern age the moment of a second can capture so much of the larger world. Students could explore this irony. In a world with such a long history sometimes it is the ‘minute’ that can be the most profound. Here we have an opportunity to explore ‘micro time’ – the microspeed of computers, the power of minimalist art, the shock of photographic images, as well as the micro world of science.
How many neurons have fired in the last second of reading this sentence?
Recently in Australia the Anglican church held a conference to explore the ordination of women. Ordination was refused. The church yet again revealed that much of its hierarchy is stuck in the Middle Ages. Upon hearing a lady defend the decision by citing the so called ‘truth’ of the Bible I felt like confronting her with a question of whether she had recently menstruated. What a horror to ask such a question! No more a horror than that cited in the Bible – where men take the decision to banish women based on their natural cycles! Did she realize that men had given themselves this power over women?
This so called literal citing of the Bible is offensive and is usually in the hands of people who are more interested in attacking difference rather than being compassionate. While there is great beauty in the Bible I am always wary of people who quote it.
I would also question the ability of many churches to comment on anything sexual: if churches can’t recognize the need for the equality of women they have little right to comment on the real world!
The following emailed letter is a great satire on those who take the Bible literally. The article at the Urban Legends site places it within a context.
This letter is an interesting example of how we can find and express contradictions in arguments. Literalisms can be extremely dangerous and are usually wielded by people who have a fair degree of nastiness. No document is solid and an exercise in challenging literalisms can be a fantastic way for students to understand the fluidity of language.
Encourage students to creatively explore ways of tackling bigotry. Creativity can be an excellent tool. Michael Moore has succeeded so well in expressing political ideas to the masses because of his ability to use creative hard-hitting scenes – e.g. taking throat cancer victims to sing Christmas carols to tobacco executives. This gives his work a different slant to traditional political documentaries. Even the film The Corporation is really funny at times. It uses the template of a diagnostic psychiatric report to analyse international corporations. If corporations legally structure themselves as people then why not analyse them as if they are people?
The Oxford English Dictionary is full of many obscure words that are now considered archaic. These tend to be cited in word collections and dropped on the odd occasion for a bit of humour. Rarely do words make a comeback.
In this example a medieval word has been reappropriated by the computer industry. It has returned with a new meaning, but one also with strange echoes of the former. Do people in the industry know the cruel origins of the word?
defenestration - 1620, "the action of throwing out of a window," from L. fenestra "window." A word invented for one incident: the "Defenestration of Prague," May 21, 1618, when two Catholic deputies to the Bohemian national assembly and a secretary were tossed out the window (into a moat) of the castle of Hradshin by Protestant radicals. It marked the start of the Thirty Years War. Some linguists link fenestra with Gk. verb phainein "to show;" others see in it an Etruscan borrowing, based on the suffix -(s)tra, as in L. loan-words aplustre "the carved stern of a ship with its ornaments," genista "the plant broom," lanista "trainer of gladiators."
Nowadays "defenestration is a line of code that causes the program to exit the Windows operating system."
Can your students identify any other ancient words that have been resurrected? Investigate archaic words and explore how some can be reappropriated to our time.
I had the great privilege of seeing in the space of a week, a year or so ago, a performance by Ani Di Franco and another by Laurie Anderson.
These were fantastic performances and confirmed the extraordinary artistry of both these talents. In the Melbourne performance Ani performed the song Self Evident. It is a highly evocative monologue. Any Dylan fan would see the similarity to the power of The Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie and the reference to Subterranean Homesick Blues.
Ani Di Franco is an extraordinarily vibrant and passionate performer – she was supporting Dylan on the night that I saw her – and her work is highly independent even to the point of having her own recording company. I was also stuck on the night by her extraordinary following. Here is a female who obviously speaks deeply to many women – a great thing to see in what often seems to be a male and sex driven industry.
A week later I saw an extraordinary performance by Laurie Anderson. Cited as the Happiness tour, she used her inimitable style of spoken narrative, poetry, song, synthesizer and violin to give her personal stance on the modern world. It was like no performance I have seen before.
Deeply compassionate and poetic, Laurie Anderson simply confirmed her place as one of the great modern artists. She wove many images into the performance and left one with a deeply poetic vision of a post September the 11th world. I happen to have a CD of her performance in New York only a week after this attack. The audience is very quite and thoughtful. They recognize the poignancy in the song Oh Superman, first recorded back in the early 1980’s, when she sings:
is the hand, the hand that takes.
Anderson rightly dismisses the so-called prophecy within this song. This takes away from the fantastic range of material she has recorded and performed. Her work has consistently been at the cutting edge of multi-media and performance art – even if her website seems to be somewhat lacking.
The landscape in Australia can be savagely as well as delicately marked by fire.
Fire destroys habitat, regenerates it, and can be a frightening force. Fire also leaves its trace in blackened bark, ash layers in the soil, and ash traces in the rings of trees.
Fire can be a highly evocative force with many shapes and patterns. Students may like to investigate the imagery and meanings we associate with fires. What has fire meant for different cultures? What does fire look like? Do we ever stop to take a look at its patterns?
Stories abound about designers who have placed adult material into childrens’ stories. Help me! I can’t find anything about the insignia on the bottom of the bunnykins plates and mugs. There is a long held rumour that it shows two rabbits mating.
The Captain Pugwash story has circulated for years and here is an interesting article debunking the myth that it contained rude character names.
Why do these stories evolve? Why is there a need to play games with innocence? Can students find examples of childrens’ material containing more adult content?
Of course The Simpsons can speak on many levels and I am sure there are many viewers have picked up the double entendres as they have grown older.
Here is a reference to a disputed episode of the UK childrens’ series Rainbow . Some believe it may have been an end of year cast/crew joke episode. I think that this is the case. I can’t imagine this section having gone to air.
We often limit the meanings of objects. They are seen purely for their function not for what they mean within a society. Sometimes it takes the creativity of a writer to show what an object can truly mean.
Below is an example from Ockham's Razor on the ABC (Australia) website in which the light bulb is given new meaning:
In his short story Preamble To The Instructions On How To Wind a Watch from his short story collection Cronopios and Famas (1969), the Latin American writer Julio Cortázar (1914 – 1984) gives us a new spin on the watch.
What new spins can your students create? Encourage students to explore the meanings beneath simple everyday objects. Encourage creativity and the ability to move across disciplne perspectives: scientific, mathematic, historical, cultural, perspectives, etc. My gut feelings suggest that many Latin American short stories may be good motivators for creative student writing.
Every art, or music movement, usually has a number of lesser-known participants who have touched that movement in slighter ways. I first came across the work of Gustave Caillebotte in reference to his support of the Impressionists. I now know, having looked at his works, that his name needs to be alongside the likes of Monet and Renoir.
Likewise music movements have their figures at the edge of the famous. I came across this really interesting tribute to the almost unknown singer called Jackson C. Frank. He mixed within the British folk scene of the late sixties and this tribute is as much about the driftings of human nature as about any heights achieved. It is a sad story and reminds us that we must never forget those at the edge of movements. Often they did not have the lucky breaks, or they were burdened by personal problems.
Perhaps your students can invent the life of a person at the edge of a movement – a creative way of interpreting that movement; an assessment task using reminiscence.
How can mathematics and literature merge? How can mathematics and English teachers work together on projects?
Here are a number of references to mathematics in literature:
This site explores a connection between mathematics and The Simpsons.
The Mathematical Fiction site explores links between literature and mathematics.
The text After the Ruins by Hugh Clout is an academic book that explores a quite fascinating perspective of war. What happens after the battles have been completed?
Most history books explore the climax of war and rarely go into the effects on the landscape. I read this book because I have always been fascinated with what happened at the end of World War One. Belgium and France were quite devastated. Land was in ruins. Farmers returned to the land. Someone had to reclaim the land and remove the machinery and restore the towns.
This text investigates the administrative structure put in place to enable areas to become efficient again. It looks at the hired workers – including Chinese coolies and German prisoners – set the task of cleaning up the battlefields. It shows how towns were restored, some too ruined to rebuild. The text also covers the continuing exploding of ordinance. Farmers are still being killed annually when tractors hit unexploded bombs. The book also tackles this little recognized fact – we think that battlefields host soldiers and that town inhabitants have vanished. For much of World War One there was a delicate interplay between local inhabitants and soldiers as land continued to be worked, abandoned, as well as captured by opposing sides.
Rarely do we think of the consequences of war upon the environment. What chemicals are still in European soil? What happened to the bird life and animals? Did these vanish? When did the wildlife return? Was the ecology of certain regions changed forever?
War is a profoundly tragic event that affects people as well as wildlife. Anyone who has seen Werner Herzog’s film Lessons of Darkness will have seen the consequences of oil sabotage upon the Kuwaiti landscape. What about the continuing effects of depleted uranium bombs on the Iraqi people? What about the continuing effects of agent Orange? How is Hiroshima still affected by its nuclear explosion?
The haunting photographs of Robert Polidori bear witness to how humans transform their landscape. We break our hearts as well as break the land that feeds us!
Loudon and Rufus
Some artists choose to combine their art with the experience of having a family. Art is practiced at home. It is not separated from everyday experiences.
Whether it is Loudon
Wainwright the third singing about his children, or Dylan singing Sara,
some artists have spent considerable time exploring the experience of
family life. Emmet
Gowin spent his early career building a reputation on intimate photographs
of his family. Stan
Brakhage the experimental filmmaker explored everyday experience in
his at times mesmerizing films. The photographer Richard
Billingham has taken quite revealing photographs of his family.
Ask students to identify how everyday experience can be captured via art. Watch the documentary Capturing the Friedmans. What does this tell us about this family? Why was this family’s life captured on video?
What differing ways can we choose to capture the experience of family life?
John Milisenda has an interesting site exploring his family.
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009