No.13 - Embracing the Mystery
the Mirror Means
Changing of a Place
with a Car
End and the Beginning
Welcome to edition # 13 of The Creative Teaching Space.
The teaching year is drawing to a close, here in Australia, and so this time of the year sees teachers finalizing reports, sorting out next year’s curriculum and meeting the demands of somewhat tiring students.
The time is also one leading to reflection; reflection on the teaching year as well as possibilities for 2005. So, I hope that this edition of my magazine supports teachers in preparation for next year. Also, I hope that teachers take the opportunity to look at previous editions. Many ideas can be found in back issues and who knows what possibilities can evolve.
As the year (2004) closes I am given the increased opportunity to reflect on what I have experienced during the course of the year. I am currently writing a unit of work, and teacher workshop, on transdisciplinary learning for the Tasmanian Education Department. I am exploring how transdisiplinary learning differs from integrated learning.
Similarly I continue to explore areas such as new forms of assessment, conceptual learning and project work. Many advances have been taking place in Tasmania in the implementation of its "Essential Learnings" curriculum and it has been very interesting sharing ideas, learning from others, as well as exploring new ways of teaching.
During the last week I have written a short outline on the history of western curriculum (I am no scholar) and it has been interesting to see how curriculum has changed over the years. It has also been interesting to see how much of traditional education has remained anchored to the traditional "five windows of the soul" model of subjects proposed in the United States in the mid 1890s.
I am certainly becoming more aware of how curriculum is simply a construct, and how education must encourage in-depth questioning as well as the ability for students to move through and across disciplines. True learning, I believe, is motivated by deep interest and the need to find answers and new possibilities. The best schools focus, I believe, on learning rather than ‘what is taught.’ Just because a school offers a range of subjects, and exams on those subjects, doesn’t mean that deep learning is taking place. The most interesting learning often takes place in the moment, during the journey, and is as individualistic as the person who is experiencing it.
As I have emphasized on a number of occasions – an idea well stated by Guy Claxton – we only know half of what there is to know about the riches of learning. Don’t be fooled into believing that ‘learning’ can be ultimately captured. I find the mystery of learning very interesting and love the fact that so much of what I learn is unpredicted.
As Van Morrison so eloquently sings on his album Poetic Champions Compose:
go into the mystery
To close off have a look at this fascinating image. Here reality takes on a mysterious face. The photo, Man standing behind tank of glowing liquid, is very much like the imagery of artists like Chris Van Allsburg.
Perhaps students can explore the mysterious photographs of Olivier Mériel. What imagined stories underpin these images? The photo entitled Interieur de Eglise, Conches is a fascinating image! The work of Alexey Titarenko is also ghostly and obscure. I love abstraction in photography. Michael Kenna’s photography is also delightful. I love the mystery that can be found in the supposed ‘realist’ medium of photography.
The British poet Brian Patten is most famous for his involvement in the Merseyside or Liverpool poetry movement of the 1960’s. Besides being an acclaimed children’s writer Brian Patten has written very beautiful and revealing poetry.
The poem The Minister for Exams shows great insight into education.
Do we ever stop to consider how narrow and destructive testing can be? Are we really measuring learning or just providing an administrative framework for moving people from place to place, from category to category?
Brian Patten’s book Armada is a profound collection of poems. The poem Armada equally deserves to be read and needs no qualification by me.
I have always found the statement "there won’t be songs like these anymore" quite intriguing. One only has to listen to old recordings of blues and folk songs and one discovers depths rarely touched in contemporary music. One discovers songs written from multiple perspectives, from e.g. beyond the grave, in varied tones and in subtleties that are highly realistic and/or metaphoric. One discovers a variety of poetic styles. Songs become a journey into worlds that are rich and multifarious. In many cases songs broach topics and issues that modern songwriting wouldn’t dare.
A few short paragraphs here do not do justice to a complex, deep and ongoing tradition. In the future I intend to dip more into the scholarship of blues and folk songwriting – writers and researchers such as Alan Lomax and Paul Oliver are well recognized. Digital archives such as Mudcat are a good starting point. One could start by listening to online examples of Lucille Bogan or watching tremendous documentaries such as Desperate Man Blues, In Search of Robert Johnson or Crumb. The following site, Hoodoo Blues, raises interesting ideas about blues culture. And here Robert Crumb has his personal say – I presume that this is authentic.
The song, If You See Kay popularised by Memphis Slim, was one of the first examples that I came across of a song that has a double meaning . Think phonetically!
Recipes can tell us a lot about a culture. One only has to look at old cook books, and their pictures, to gain an insight into a culture – its attitudes towards women, attitudes towards food, aesthetics, etc.
Recipes speak to us about the socio-economics of a culture e.g. the use of meat products such as tripe during wartime, and how cuisine is influenced by factors such as migration.
One can also play with recipes. The following website The Unbearable Sadness of Vegetables is a creative response to old magazines. Students could look at old magazines, including recipes, as a form of cultural analysis. Other students could play with the designs and reinterpret texts by adding commentary. Billy Collins has written a beautiful poem about old magazines: Victoria’s Secret.
This site also includes reference to Ghost ads. This is a fascinating area. Explore the use of posters and how multiple bill posting becomes strangely artistic. What interesting design accidents can you find in city streets?
Richard Misrach has artistically captured this interesting reference to Ray Charles. Perhaps artists like Rosenquist and others, loosely categorized as the pop movement, were well ahead of their time in recognizing how our culture offers us multiple imagery. Of course this ability to work with multiple images is expanded even further today by access to digital capture and digital manipulation.
The following art installation, Listening Post, by Mark Hansen and Ben Rubin, collects text from chat room discussions on the Internet and converts the text into spoken form. Words are rebroadcast and rearranged. The installation takes on a poetic form. Artistry combines with the modern practice of the Internet to comment on our society as well as reveal new forms of artistic expression.
It is interesting to note how technology can extend the possibilities of artworks. How can students, from varying disciplines, work together to produce engaging art installations?
The power of e.g. internet networks has enabled found things to be collated and built into a magazine and website.
Note how found objects can take on new meanings. I have found, in second hand books, a 1950’s postcard from a famous Melbourne restaurant, Pellegrini’s, and a doctor’s note on how to insert a suppository. I must admit I thought twice about handling this second book.
What can students find? How can they present this information?
Vermeer Music Lesson (detail) c. 1662-1665
I am thinking of the mirror and what it could mean. A reflection of how the world sees us? A reflection of how we want the world to see us? A reminder of oneself in shops, bathrooms and on unexpected occasions. Something that breaks. A bringer of bad luck. Mirrors surrounded by images: postcards, stickers, notes and condiments supporting our looks: soap, shavers, make-up, etc.
What were the first mirrors? Still ponds? Why were mirrors constructed? How are they made? Why do so many mirrors appear in paintings?
Watch carefully: a young girl is going to step through a mirror. The mirror reflects a mirror and a new sense of space is achieved. Look how that mirror allowed the cameraman to achieve a special effect. Step in and out of view – watch how your shape changes in this house of mirrors.
That mirror is showing a world of reflections: the now reversed yet corrected ambulance sign in a rear vision mirror. You are watching the children in the back seat, trusting the mirror with its truth as you make that turn. But look one’s image is really in reverse. Look how our eyes meet our eyes as we look into the mirror. Why?
She has taken all the mirrors from her house. He has placed a huge mirror on the wall to create a sense of space. Watch the lift open – notice how she is preening herself in the lift’s mirror. She has been noticed. Embarrassment. He is posing before the mirror, muscles growing? He looks closely. He is too fat. The mirror is telling him a story he doesn’t want to hear. Is the mirror telling him a fiction of his own creation?
We reflect. We think. How come the word ‘reflection’ shares a meaning with thought and with a mirror?
I have entered the land of no mirrors. In another land they have chosen to ban mirrors. He reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small mirror handing it to the tribesman. As the sun increases its warmth he shifts the mirror in his hand hoping to attract the attention of the nearby plane.
How many cultural references can be found? Webster’s online.
A young Mother Teresa
I saw an image recently, a snapshot from 1955, of a group of people crowded around Elvis Presley. In the back of the frame is a young yet-to-be-discovered Buddy Holly.
In this large crowd at Munich 1914 one can see a young Hitler. It is many years before he becomes infamous.
What do people look like before they become famous? What do they look like after? What strange power do pre-fame images hold for us? As if we can read the future in an image, or just the fact that that person, at that stage, was just like you and me? Is that a look of innocence? Is that a look of cunning, passion, focus?
Look how the collectors barter for these images, how the photographers sell them online, how specialists look towards the photos to find clues. The biographer looks through early photographs for an insight into why he became that way. The photograph locates him at a particular time and place. He has no idea of what is about to come. Look at the school photo and see how inconsequential he is. Other faces are brighter and more alluring. He is so indistinct, no sign of the intensity that is later to emerge.
Paris Street, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre, 1839.
How do places change? Rarely do we have the opportunity to see how a landscape has changed overtime. This is left to the imagination of illustrators such as Jeannie Baker – or this excellent series by the illustrator Robert Crumb: The History of America. Students could draw how a landscape has changed, write about its changes, imagine what was here before: this land was once sea, this sea was once ice, this place was once volcanic.
How does time write its passages on a landscape? How do people experience the changing of landscape e.g. the flooding/damming of regions in India or China? How do people feel as they get older? My secondary school was once a bustling suburban school, it is now a new housing estate with little sign of its past.
What gets destroyed? What is desecrated? What is built in its place?
Billy Edd Wheeler
that our mountain is growing with people hungry for wealth
Kathryn Lomer is a novelist, poet and short story writer living in Hobart, Tasmania. Kathryn has produced a range of work in recent years including a novel The God in the Ink, a poetry collection Extraction of Arrows, film scripts, short stories and a recent young adult’s novel The Spare Room, exploring the journeys of a Japanese exchange student between his and Tasmanian/Australian culture.
Kathryn has won a number of awards and examples of her work can be read on the web including her short story, Class of 73, My Brother Jack Short Story Award Winner 2004, extracts from her poetry collection and at least one poem that delicately interprets and explores a painted work.
Students may also like to consider exploring cross cultural misunderstandings. The famous Australian text They’re a Weird Mob is echoed by Kathryn in her young adult text The Spare Room. Like Nino Culotta in They’re a Weird Mob, Akira – in this extract – struggles with Australian cuisine and mannerisms:
While Lewis Carroll’s most famous poem, Jabberwocky, from Through the Looking Glass, is a great introduction to the theme of nonsense – see The Creative Teaching Space # 9 – it is also a great starting point for parody. The original poem can be easily parodied and students could substitute words pertaining to an area of study.
Here is a copy of the original followed by a car lover’s version:
Here is a website of Parodies. Perhaps students could make up their own. This could even include a longer parody of Through the Looking Glass. Students could even take the current text being studied in English and run it through a cross subject analysis and parody: Harry Potter and the Volcanologist’s find.
Creative and humorous works could be included as a culminating performance – end of unit assessment task. The skills required in creating a parody are quite extensive, particularly if one has to engage an audience at the same time as expressing key information. I have never doubted the intelligence of the Monty Python team. Underlying their work is a sharp satirical eye and knowledge of literature and other cultural forms.
Where on earth did the following eerie poem come from? I first came across this poem in a poetry collection and it has always intrigued me.
muvver was barfin' 'er biby one night,
Biby’s Epitaph seems to be an old rhyme and I have images of it being recited as part of bawdy folklore e.g.18th century Britain. But even then, in an age when infant mortality was high, one wonders whether the poem is too black. Who would have recited this? To whom? Or, perhaps, it is relatively modern?
Baby, baby, naughty baby,
Baby, baby, he's a giant,
Baby, baby, if he hears you
And he'll beat you, beat you, beat you,
From the Annotated Mother Goose
baby, on the tree top!
But even then I am reminded, yet again, of modern parodies such as Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. And I have also been thinking about their wonderful songs. Surely there must be a Westend musical in these somewhere down the line? We may even be lucky and see some of them at work again!
On the other hand, just to complement the above poem, the poem Mid Term Break, by Seamus Heaney, is a very moving account of the death of a child. What happens when we put satire together with seriousness?
There is the diminutive hand of a black, starving child, in the hand of a white aid worker, remembered from Life magazine. There is Michelangelo's Adam reaching for the hand of God in the Sistine Chapel. There are the mysterious hands in Lee Miller’s photographs – Exploding Hand and Untitled.
There are monuments signaling healing or protection from abuse – the hand as cultural symbol, icon of the welfare industry.
Stitch in Time
We generally speak or write in metaphors, yet here metaphors, and other figures of speech, are expressed visually. Students may like to draw, paint or use drama to express figures of speech.
Some childrens’ illustrators have constructed entire books expressing figures of speech. What happens if the process is reversed? Can people guess the figure of speech by the illustration?
There is a certain art in being literal. We so often use slang and other figures of speech in daily speech. Just imagine an illustration of the following comment I once made to a perplexed friend in England: "I think I’ll duck down the street in a mini and I’ll be back in a tic."
Students may even like to explore how literalisms can be very funny. Literal interpretations can occur whenever language is abbreviated e.g. in advertising, graffiti, or newspaper headlines .Only Recently an ABC reader, in Hobart, had to read a headline pertaining to scuba equipment. He said, "Divers are warned of using second-hand hookers." A 'hooker' is an oxygen pump. I must admit that you could see the newsreader slightly squirm. Invite students to create their own humour!
Our lives are surrounded by numbers. We count the minutes, the hours, count the coins, are surprised by loss or gain. Numbers evoke innumerable feelings; or maybe these feelings can be counted. This poem explores a small part of our relationship to numbers. Just how far do numbers impact upon our actions and our feelings? We count the pages, are aware of the first or second time that we have done something. We are very aware of the last time, the minus, the loss. The growth and multiplication of the new restores us. We move on from the half completed and revel in the whole. Imagine keeping a numbers diary documenting our many experiences with numbers.
Yes one can be a whole part funny but if it is only a part then the opposite applies: "he is a bit funny."
Our eyes are a frame. So is the window. We frame with our perception, our memories, our desires. Why do we refer to ‘frames’? What is the origin of the word? Artists often create a frame and that becomes a central part of their art. Rosalie Gascoigne reveled in cut up signs, the Tasmanian artist Matt Calvert creates collages from car parts found at the side of roads. Here the interesting photographer Raghubir Singh uses the windows and shape of the Ambassador car to create a new view of India. How many other frames can we draw upon to give an insight into the world around us?
Who are you? Where are you sitting? Are you reading from a laptop, at home, on holiday, are you in an Internet café browsing the web, sipping a cappuccino, about to step into a European Museum? Perhaps these words have been printed. You are carrying them on the train, home, glancing at them between adverts on the television. Who are you? What do you want from me? How do you picture me? What relationship have we entered into? Is it a type of conversation? What have I just told you? What are you feeling?
In the following poem, From an Atlas of the Difficult World, Adrienne Rich states with an ironic certainty who she thinks you are. Billy Collins, in Dear Reader, confronts your anonymity. On this site of online streamed lectures Billy Collins reads the delightful poem, You Reader, at the 7.30 mark.
Dear Reader I must now depart. If you are reading this now – can there be any other time – perhaps it is wise to wish you a Happy Xmas, a wonderful January, a fun February, a…..
As the war in Iraq continues – at the time of writing this – I now allude to a suspended heading: the final chapter. Following on from last edition’s After the Ruins – Beyond the climax is a section worthy of a poem, no words and no image: dear reader you just need to click on the heading.
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009