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Issue No.14 - Into New Lands

The teacher must orient his work not on yesterday's
development in the child but on tomorrow's.

Lev Vygotsky



The Stage meets Life
When fiction meets reality

An Obituary for a Concept
Creatively exploring concepts

At the Edge of the Event
In the realm of disinterest and distance

Being a Child
A world once lived

A Father’s Hands
Living with ability/disability

The Day Our Son is Due
What happens at shared moments

Who Owns Matilda?
Other sides to songs

A Music Maverick
Confronting sound

Taking Cinema Beyond
Being true to a vision

Subterranean Spaces
A world beneath

In Search of Southern Lights
The effect of a light show

Bring on the Media Manipulators
Who is doing what?

When Old Images Resonate
Using multi-media to create new meanings

An autumn leaf floating
The beauty in teaching

Welcome to Edition # 14 of The Creative Teaching Space.

Once again I pursue an interest in strategies that may open learning possibilities.

I draw ideas from many sources on the Internet, from my travels, and ideas mentioned by other people. Some people may call my role as that of a conduit.

Whatever your response to these strategies continue to explore new possibilities in teaching and learning. The field is endless. Even the simplest of ideas may motivate a student on his or her own path of discovery. Artists, writers, etc, build ideas upon sustained thought. The simplest of ideas may become a beautiful bridge that takes us to a new land of opportunity!

The Stage meets Life

I have recently been reading the lovely poetry of Wislawa Szymborska. This acclaimed winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature, who gave an interesting acceptance speech, writes in Polish and is well translated in a number of editions of collected work. I have Poems New and Collected, Harcourt, 1998.

Wislawa Szymborska’s poetry is often built upon a central concept. Her work would be valuable for teachers and students who wish to investigate how important concepts can be explored through prose.

In a number of poems Wislawa Szymborska writes about a strange connection between theatre and everyday life. In Theatre Impressions she explores the importance of the Act Six of a play, where the actors take the curtain call and bow to the crowd:

The bows in pairs –
rage extends its arms to meekness,
the victim’s eyes smile at the torturer,
the rebel indulgently walks beside the tyrant.
Now enter, single file, the hosts who died earlier on,
In Acts 3 and 4, or between scenes.

And here I am reminded of a similar reference in a song by Laurie Anderson.

One Beautiful Evening

It's like at the end of the play and all the actors come out
And they line up and they look at you.
And horrible things have happened to them during the play
And they stand there while you clap and now what?
What happens next?

What ironies can we find in the junction where the world of fiction meets reality?

An Obituary for a Concept

Increasingly as teaching focuses on concepts so we need to remain sensitive to creative ways of exploring concepts.

Here is an idea that came to me via a joke email. Take note of how joke emails can be used in learning!

A concept such as Common Sense is given an obituary. What other concepts can have an obituary? Ask students to investigate how obituaries are written. Then ask them to take a figurative leap. You can even ask students to dissect the values underpinning each obituary. There are certainly a range of values within the following piece that deserve dissection.

C. Sense (Birth date Unknown)

Today we mourn the passing of a beloved old friend by the name of Common Sense who had been with us for many years. No one knows for sure how old he was since his birth records were long ago lost in bureaucratic red tape.

He will be remembered as having cultivated such value lessons as knowing when to come in out of the rain, why the early bird gets the worm and that life isn't always fair. Common Sense lived by simple, sound financial policies (don't spend more than you earn) and reliable parenting strategies (adults, not kids, are in charge).

His health began to rapidly deteriorate when well intentioned but overbearing regulations were set in place. Reports of a six-year-old boy charged with sexual harassment for kissing a classmate; teens suspended from school for using mouthwash after lunch; and a teacher fired for reprimanding an unruly student, only worsened his condition. It declined even further when schools were required to get parental consent to administer aspirin to a student; but could not inform the parents when a student became pregnant and wanted to have an abortion.

Finally, Common Sense lost the will to live as the Ten Commandments became contraband; churches became businesses; and criminals received better treatment than their victims. Common Sense finally gave up the ghost after a woman failed to realize that a steaming cup of coffee was hot, she spilled a bit in her lap, and was awarded a huge settlement. 

Common Sense was preceded in death by his parents, Truth and Trust, his wife, Discretion; his daughter, Responsibility; and his son, Reason.  He is survived by two stepbrothers; My Rights and Ima Whiner. Not many attended his funeral because so few realized he was gone.

If you still know him pass this on, if not join the majority and do nothing.

At the Edge of the Event


I recently saw the documentary Meeting People is Easy: A Film by Grant Gee about Radiohead. Radiohead being the English rock group.

As I was viewing Meeting People is Easy I came across a fascinating scene. Radiohead are seen performing their hit song Creep live on stage. Instead of seeing a close up of the band the camera is positioned well outside the space of the stage. It is in the foyer. We see the band silhouetted in the distance and we see people coming and going. Some are perhaps going to the toilet; some may be talking to friends. What is fascinating is the director’s choice to film the performance from a distance.

How often do we see close up band performances and over-excited crowds? The above scene is quite distant and matter of fact. It brought to my attention the idea of being at the edge of an event. There is always that edge of the event: the policeman standing in the wings, the bored audience member or the technician with other priorities.

What happens if we take that step back from an event, to its edges? What do we find? What does this tell us about the event, how we focus on events, and on the diversity of people? We know that Tom Stoppard fore-grounded the two minor characters from Hamlet, Rosencrantz and Guildernstern, in his play Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead.

How could we open learning possibilities by changing focus?

Being a Child

The following song on the tail end of the album The Philosopher’s Stone, by Van Morrison, an album of out-takes, is an evocative spoken word tribute to childhood.

Written by Peter Handke and sung/spoken by, it contains many views of childhood.

Students may wish to explore how the experience of being a child is different from their current experience. What changes? Why? Can these changes be explored creatively in e.g. a similar poem/song?

Song of Being a Child

When the child was a child….

It walked with arms hanging
Wanted the stream to be a river and the river a torrent
And this puddle, the sea
When the child was a child, it didn't know
It was a child
Everything for it was filled with life and all life was one
Saw the horizon without trying to reach it
Couldn't rush itself
And think on command
Was often terribly bored
And couldn't wait
Passed up greeting the moments
And prayed only with its lips
When the child was a child
It didn't have an opinion about a thing
Had no habits
Often sat crossed-legged, took off running
Had a cow lick in its hair
And didn't put on a face when photographed

When the child was a child
It was the time of the following questions
Why am I me and why not you?
Why am I here and why not there?
Why did time begin and where does space end?
Isn't what I see and hear and smell
Just the appearance of the world in front of the world?
Isn't life under the sun just a dream?
Does evil actually exist in people?
Who really are evil?
Why can't it be that I who am
Wasn't before I was
And that sometime I, the I, I am
No longer will be the I, I am?

When the child was a child
It gagged on spinach, on peas, on rice pudding
And on steamed cauliflower
And now eats all of it and not just because it has to
When the child was a child
It woke up once in a strange bed
And now time and time again
Many people seem beautiful to it
And now not so many and now only if it's lucky
It had a precise picture of paradise
And now can only vaguely conceive of it at best
It couldn't imagine nothingness
And today shudders in the face of it
Go for the ball
Which today rolls between its legs
With its I'm here it came
Into the house which now is empty

When the child was a child
It played with enthusiasm
And now only with such former concentration
Where its work is concerned
When the game, task, activity, subject happens to be its work

When the child was a child
It was enough to live on apples and bread
And it's still that way
When the child was a child berries fell
Only like berries into its hand
And still do
The fresh walnuts made its tongue raw
And still do
Atop each mountain it craved
Yet a higher mountain
And in each city it craved
Yet a bigger city
And still does
Reach for the cherries in the treetop
As elated as it still is today
Was shy in front of strangers
And still is
It waited for the first snow
And still waits that way
When the child was a child
It waited restlessly each day for the return of the loved one
And still waits that way
When the child was a child
It hurled a stick like a lance into a tree
And it's still quivering there today

The child, the child was a child
Was a child, was a child, was a child, was a child
Child, child, child
When the child, when the child, when the child
When the child, when the child
The child, child, child, child, child

And on and on and on and on and onward
With a sense of wonder. Upon the highest hill
Upon the highest hill
When the child was a child
Are you there
Shassas, shassas
Up on a highest hill
When the child was a child, was a child, was a child
Was a child, was a child, was a child (Fade to end)

A Father’s Hands

The following story My Father’s Hands by Calvin R. Worthington, is an evocative story detailing one man’s experience of illiteracy. Moving, and tragic, it shows the impact that reading – or its lack – has on a person’s life.

Students may like to use this story as a starting point to discuss how we learn in life. What impact does a disability have on a person? How do people overcome these disabilities?

My Father’s Hands

Calvin R. Worthington

His hands were rough and exceedingly strong. He could gently prune a fruit tree or firmly wrestle an ornery mule into harness. He could draw and saw a square with quick accuracy. He had been known to peel his knuckles upside a tough jaw. But what I remember most is the special warmth from those hands soaking through my shirt as he would take me by the shoulder and, hunkering down beside my ear, point out the glittering swoop of a blue hawk, or a rabbit asleep in its lair. They were good hands that served him well and failed him in only one thing: they never learned to write.

My father was illiterate. The number of illiterates in our country has steadily declined, but if there were only one I would be saddened, remembering my father and the pain he endured because his hands never learned to write. He started first grade, where the remedy for a wrong answer was ten ruler strokes across a stretched palm. For some reason, shapes, figures, and recitations just didn’t fall into the right pattern inside his six-year-old towhead. Maybe he suffered from some type of learning handicap such as dyslexia. His father took him out of school after several months and set him to a man’s job on the farm.

Years later, his wife, with her fourth-grade education, would try to teach him to read. And still later I would grasp his big fist between my small hands and awkwardly help him trace the letters of his name. He submitted to the ordeal, but soon grew restless. Flexing his fingers and kneading his palms, he would declare that he had had enough and depart for a long, solitary walk.

Finally, one night when he thought no one saw, he slipped away with his son’s second-grade reader and labored over the words, until they became too difficult. He pressed his forehead into the pages and wept. "Jesus—Jesus—not even a child’s book?" Thereafter, no amount of persuading could bring him to sit with pen and paper.

From the farm to road building and later factory work, his hands served him well. His mind was keen, his will to work unsurpassed. During World War II, he was a pipefitter in a shipyard and installed the complicated guts of mighty fighting ships. His enthusiasm and efficiency brought an offer to become line boss—until he was handed the qualification test. His fingers could trace a path across the blueprints while his mind imagined the pipes lacing through the heart of the ship. He could recall every twist and turn of the pipes. But he couldn’t read or write.

After the shipyard closed, he went to the cotton mill, where he labored at night, and stole from his sleeping hours the time required to run the farm. When the mill shut down, he went out each morning looking for work—only to return night after night and say to Mother as she fixed his dinner, "They just don’t want anybody who can’t take their tests."

It had always been hard for him to stand before a man and make an "X" mark for his name, but the hardest moment of all was he placed "his mark" by the name someone else had written for him, and saw another man walk away with the deed to his beloved farm. When it was over, he stood before the window and slowly turned the pen he still held in his hands—gazing, unseeing, down the mountainside. I went to the springhouse that afternoon and wept for a long while.

Eventually, he found another cotton-mill job, and we moved into a millhouse village with a hundred look-alike houses. He never quite adjusted to town life. The blue of his eyes faded; the skin across his cheekbones became a little slack. But his hands kept their strength, and their warmth still soaked through when he would sit me on his lap and ask me to read to him from the Bible. He took great pride in my reading and would listen for hours as I struggled through the awkward phrases.

Once he had heard "a radio preacher" relate that the Bible said, "The man that doesn’t provide for his family is worse than a thief and an infidel and will never enter the kingdom of Heaven." Often he would ask me to read that part to him, but I was never able to find it. Other times, he would sit at the kitchen table leafing through the pages as though by a miracle he might be able to turn to the right page. Then he would sit staring at the Book, and I knew he was wondering if God was going to refuse him entry into heaven because his hands couldn’t write.

When Mother left once for a weekend to visit her sister, Dad went to the store and returned with food for dinner while I was busy building my latest homemade wagon. After the meal he said he had a surprise for dessert, and went out to the kitchen, where I could hear him opening a can. Then everything was quiet. I went to the doorway and saw him standing before the sink with an open can in his hands. "The picture looked just like pears," he mumbled. He walked out and sat on the back steps, and I knew he had been embarrassed before his son. The can read "Whole White Potatoes," but the picture on the label did look a great deal like pears.

I went and sat beside him, and asked if he would point out the stars. He knew where the Big Dipper and all the other stars were located, and we talked about how they got there in the first place. He kept that can on a shelf in the woodshed for a long while, and a few times I saw him turning it in his hands as if the touch of the words would teach his hands to write.

Years later, when Mom died, I tried to get him to come live with my family, but he insisted on staying in his small frame house on the edge of town with a few farm animals and a garden plot. His health was failing, and he was in and out of the hospital with several mild heart attacks. Old Doc Green saw him weekly and gave him medications, including nitroglycerin tablets to put under his tongue should he feel an attack coming on.

My last fond memory of Dad was watching as he walked across the brow of a hillside meadow, with those big, warm hands—now gnarled with age—resting on the shoulders of my two children. He stopped to point out, confidentially, a pond where he and I had swum and fished years before. That night, my family and I flew to a new job and new home, overseas. Three weeks later, he was dead of a heart attack.

I returned alone for the funeral. Doc Green told me how sorry he was. In fact, he was bothered a bit, because he had written Dad a new nitroglycerin prescription, and the druggist had filled it. Yet the bottle of pills had not been found on Dad’s person. Doc Green felt that a pill might have kept him alive long enough to summon help.

An hour before the chapel service, I found myself standing near the edge of Dad’s garden, where a neighbor had found him. In grief, I stopped to trace my fingers in the earth where a great man had reached the end of his life. My hand came to rest on a half-buried brick, which I aimlessly lifted and tossed aside, before noticing underneath it the twisted and battered, yet unbroken, soft plastic bottle that had been beaten into the soft earth.

As I held the bottle of nitroglycerin pills, the scene of Dad struggling to remove the cap and in desperation trying to break the bottle with the brick flashed painfully before my eyes. With deep anguish I knew why those big warm hands had lost in their struggle with death. For there, imprinted on the bottle cap, were the words, "Child-Proof Cap—Push Down and Twist to Unlock." The druggist later confirmed that he had just started using the new safety bottle.

I knew it was not a purely rational act, but I went right downtown and bought a leather-bound pocket dictionary and a gold pen set. I bade Dad good-bye by placing them in those big old hands, once so warm, which had lived so well, but had never learned to write.

Another story of the same name, by Paul M. Clements, details a father’s life told through the character of his hands. Can students write similar biographies by choosing a particular focus e.g. hands, a face, arms?

The Day Our Son is Due

The poem, Redknots, emphasises that important moments can be linked to other significant events.

Imagine a scene. What other events are happening in the world? What connections can be made between events? Do these events connect? Do they need to connect?

Encourage students to explore how we can connect phenomena and in doing so create new types of meaning.

Who Owns Matilda?

In Australia our most significant song is probably Waltzing Matilda. It would certainly be the most internationally recognized Australian song. Yet how many people know its history and the fact that when it was played at the Sydney Olympics the payment for its use went to an American copyright holder?

The following site, set up by Roger Clarke, Copyright in 'Waltzing Matilda', explores the story of this song.

Songs have their own history, their own cultural value, and their economic value e.g. legal rights. The song Waltzing Matilda, as does Happy Birthday, reveals that songs are much more than words.

Consider the possibility of exploring a song from a transdisciplinary perspective – investigating it e.g. economically/mathematically, culturally, historically, musically, etc.

Explore how teachers can work together to reveal how a range of disciplinary approaches surround even the simplest of songs. This could be a wonderful chance to explore the breadth of the music industry. Students may even like to choose a song and capture its essence, through research, or imaginative interpretation.

A Music Maverick

The American composer Harry Partch was well ahead of his time when he designed and created musical landscapes, often with his own created instruments, well before this became fashionable in the 1960s or currently within our digital era.

Partch’s work is very eccentric. One even has the opportunity of digitally playing his instruments at this site.

Whenever we see or play odd instruments at e.g. music festivals, one should be reminded of people like Partch who chose to confront the rules of music. What are these rules? Can they be broken? Were there other people like Partch in other cultures? Didn’t every first instrument builder have to confront a tradition? What is currently happening in music that can be confronting?

Perhaps students can create their own soundscapes, including their own instruments.

Every sense has its own tradition. Sound is not a fixed entity. We all hear slightly differently. Sound has changed through the ages and is currently changing. Encourage students to investigate the culture of sound by starting with people like Harry Partch.

Taking Cinema Beyond

The great Taiwanese filmmaker Hou Hsiao-hsien is quoted in the following article: In Search of New Genres and Directions for Asian Cinema.

It is a beautiful quote that challenges the often static perception of cinema – one created by some funding bodies and popular culture.

Films, like any art form, can encourage the uniqueness of the individual.

Hou Hsiao-hsien knows this and the beauty of his vision is revealed in his films.

We may need to remind ourselves of such quotes/visions in a world that too often pushes a sameness.

You have to find the right way to approach the right subject for yourself. No one can do that for you. You may not be aware of your great potentiality. You do not need to make films that we think are proper, or feel compelled to make certain kinds of films because they have been praised or recognised. Never let yourself be tied up by these thoughts. Be creative and unpredictable for every film you make. That’s best. This is all I want to say.

And sometimes that is all that is needed to be said!

Subterranean Spaces

I can remember that when I lived in Ballarat, in Victoria, there was sometimes the sense of a subterranean world. Ballarat had been a large gold mining town in the middle of the nineteenth century and it was littered with mine shafts.

Besides its mining shafts Ballarat also seemed to contain many vaults. After all, the gold had to be stored somewhere. Many buildings had basements or vaults. There was even a story that a local pub had a shaft, created by miners, used to evade mining tax collectors, in the mid 1800s.

All cities have their vaults, their basements, and their utility structures such as pipes, channels or even subways. The following sites allow us to investigate the subterranean world of Paris, and U.K. cities.

Ask students to investigate the world beneath their city or town. Perspectives can be as varied as those of town planning to imagined traditions – the sewer in the horror/war movie.

What is evoked by the ‘underground’? How is it experienced by people? Imagine speaking to a miner, a railway maintenance worker, or a creative writer about the experience of being under a city.

In Search of Southern Lights

It took three years for me to see the Southern Aurora, or the Southern Lights, above Hobart. On a perfect night with just the right amount of mist in the air I was treated to a dazzling light show across Mt Wellington. This included a shimmering effect of blue and green light, and rays of green light shooting across the sky. It was very beautiful and mesmerizing. It made me think about its beauty as well as its scientific basis.

What effect do such events have on people? How are such events viewed today? How were they viewed in the past? Auroras, like lightning storms, can be surrealistic as revealed in photos.

Here we may have a lovely opportunity for students to combine scientific fact – meteorological truth – with artistic viewpoints. How could an artist experience an aurora? How could one be experienced by a meteorologist? What is shared? What is different?

Bring on the Media Manipulators


Bring on the media manipulators. Let’s highlight who is doing what with images and for what effect!

The following site shows what media outlets do to change images. Photographs have been manipulated for years. Now, though, it is even easier with digital technology.

When Old Images Resonate

Old photographs can have a strange resonance. The work of Ross Gibson and Kate Richards in the CD-Rom Life After Wartime uses old police crime photographs, music, and the random building of images, to create a disturbing sense of place. Yes, these were crime scenes, something happened, yet we are never quite sure – many of the initials police records identifying the scene and location are now missing. As a result the exercise takes on a poetic quality.

A recent exhibition by Ross at ACMI in Melbourne – Street X-Rays – uses photographs of old crime scenes and juxtaposes them with video footage of those scenes in the present day. This is very interesting. The current places take on an ambience – these places look very innocent in their real time, yet carry their own history.

Images and locations resonate with meaning. How can we use technology to highlight this power? Ross Gibson’s work, like many other media artists, show us how new meanings can be created by the interaction of media technology. How might students address old images, or locations, through the use of multimedia?

The website Time Tales is dedicated to found images, those dislocated from their original owners, yet ones that still carry a certain resonance.

Does, as quoted on this site "a picture need memories to be an image?"

What is a dislocated picture without its story or history?

An autumn leaf floating

The following article entitled Perfect Day: A Meditation About Teaching (PDF document) is a good point at which to end this edition of The Creative Teaching Space.

It is a beautiful story about teaching. Written by an American teacher Gilbert Valadez it records the point where personal experience and professional role meet in the classroom; in this case a time when a grieving teacher finds solace in the creativity and honesty of children, and is moved in unexpected ways.

What this story reminds us is that the best teaching has a naturally spiritual element – not an imposed spirituality. The best teachers invest their classrooms with a soulfulness that is as rich and rewarding for themselves, as it is their students.

Learning is deeply human. At times there will be strength, at other times vulnerability. The best teachers are strong but are also able to show their vulnerability. The measure of a healthy teaching environment is one where the teacher cares, and the teacher is cared for.

Learning is about being moved. If we don’t allow the opportunity for ourselves, as teachers, to be moved, then we are denying the very essence of what makes teaching a communicative and two-way act.

Darron Davies

© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009


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