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Issue No.3 - The Everyday as a Starting Point

The secret of education is respecting the pupil.   - Ralph Waldo Emerson

On Friday the eleventh of April, 2003, very sad news came through that Guy "Badger" Fairnie had passed away in Ballarat, Victoria. Badger had faced a short battle with cancer. The arts community in Ballarat was deeply affected and many people will remember Badger with great fondness indeed.

I worked with Badger in Brrrr Theatre Group in Ballarat and Badger took on a senior role after Barb and I moved to Tasmania. Badger was a great and fun member of the group. He developed a close relationship with all the participants and I will never forget the fun handshakes he would conduct with Steve and John. These were very strange and comical and it left Steve and John beaming. Whether it was his dance and acting performances at The Awakenings Festival in Horsham, and the fact that his house was very much an open house for the Ballarat arts community, Badger had a unique ability to bring out the best in people. This was very evident at the large funeral service. Badger had made many connections within the community and his life was a celebration of the inclusive nature of community art.

I had great fun in working with Badger in the rock group Brrrr created called RPM45. We played a few gigs and Badger and I were the guitarists. Badger brought his own songs to the group and was very influential in encouraging Steve on drums and making our short lived performing life ‘rock’. I will never forget the irony when we were about to walk on stage at the Awakenings Festival. Badger turned to me and said that his hearing aid battery was flat. He was scrambling in his pocket to see if he could find another. He found the spare and looked at me with a sigh and a mixture of irony. What a moment for it to happen. I also remember a fantastic comedy routine Badger had created about his boarding school life. He also did a wonderful Butoh Dance to Penderecki’s Threnody (52 Stringed Instruments) at Awakenings. Badger also webmastered the Brrrr Website.

Like all memories it is often the small things that we remember and these will continue to echo in my mind. Brrrr Theatre Group, all those involved in the Awakenings Festival, and all your other friends will miss you greatly Badger. It was fun to have you for the ride. Turn your hearing aid up mate; you are in our words and in our thoughts. And keep rocking.


Physicalising Opinion

Exploring How We Communicate

The Chair
and other objects within the room

The Pencil
As a Starting Point

The Window
Creating New Views

The Desk
A Place to Create Ideas

Phoenix Rising
the Ability in disability - Part Two   Part One in Issue #2

Building to the Event

Secret Space
Solitude and Reflection

A Child’s Perspective

Oops I shouldn't have said that - Part Two   Part One in Issue #2

The Room
Exploring Private Space

Howcometh this word?

Introducing Systems Approaches

Romeo and Juliet
Australian Style

New Time/New School
a Commentary on Modern Life, School and Time

September, the First Day of School
Howard Nemerov

Creative Teaching or Creative Training isn’t concerned with models or approaches that systematically define learning. To be creative means that one moves through teaching and learning strategies, exploring, experimenting, and adapting approaches to your needs and to those of your learners.

Education is about being open – as the teacher, as the teacher as learner, as the learner, as the learner as teacher.

Do not copy. Beware of preachers. Go with those faint echoes in your heart.

Maybe we learn best from those who are true to themselves – those whose learning is reflected in their teaching.

Don’t do what I do – please.

Follow that instinctive truth that you know will open learning. Be wary of those who define and judge – especially those who define people. They are only defining what they think is learning – more than not they are telling us, "my learning has stopped." Remain open to the mysteries in education.

Action that is not planned or premeditated, answers that come without reasons, understandings that cannot clearly and quickly be put into words, are stigmatized as essentially second rate. Forms of learning that do not involve articulation, and ways of judging that have no specific criteria, are treated as lazy and inadequate. Instead our professional and educational cultures are preoccupied with planning, deliberation, calculation, measurement, justification and accountability. Everything from development plans to attainment targets must be spelled out and nailed down. Pp 34

from "The Anatomy of Intuition" by Guy Claxton, in The Intuitive Practitioner by Terry Atkinson/Guy Claxton (Open University Press, 2000).

Values: Physicalising Opinion

Here is a strategy that may be of use when exploring values. A good starting point is the recognition, by students, that opinions are not always black and white. They come in degrees of passion or interest.

Let your students create a series of questions that can be answered by degrees: sitting on the fence, agree, disagree, strongly disagree and strongly agree.

"Should schools have stronger connections to the community?"

Simply set up a line across the room. Place ‘yes’ on a piece of paper at one side of the room and ‘no’ at the other. The middle of this scale is a neutral territory in which students do not have a focus either way. Get each student to ask a question and the respondents have to choose a position along the created line or scale.

Students should stand along the line at a point that demonstrates their strength of opinion. It is important to emphasise that students should be honest in this activity and should not be judgmental if a student chooses to stand on his or her own. Students will get to see others opinions, groupings and isolated stances. Patterns will slowly start to emerge.

You could even chart each response on a bar or line graph. You could even compare the results to the same question(s) at the end of a topic to see what changes have occurred once students have seen more complexity in the issue – not simply the black and white responses that can emerge at the beginning of a topic. You could even conduct a secret ballot to see how the responses to questions vary when conducted anonymously.You could use this as a starting point in a discussion about peer pressure.

Remember to give lots of time for students to create their own questions. This is an exercise with lots of learning to be gained about how one frames questions and how responses can vary.

What are values?

What do we value most in life?

Do our values change as we get older?

How do we express our values?

Explore the concept of "balance". How can people show their values in everyday life?

Dreaming in the Shanghai Restaurant

I would like to be that elderly Chinese gentleman.
He wears a gold watch with a gold bracelet,
But a shirt without sleeves or tie.
He has good luck moles on his face, but is not disfigured with fortune.
His wife resembles him, but is still a handsome woman,
She has never bound her feet or her belly.
Some of the party are his children, it seems,
And some his grandchildren;
No generation appears to intimidate another.
He is interested in people, without wanting to convert them or pervert them.
He eats with gusto, but not with lust;
And he drinks, but is not drunk.
He is content with his age, which has always suited him.
When he discusses a dish with the pretty waitress,
It is the dish he discusses, not the waitress.
The table-cloth is not so clean as to show indifference,
Not so dirty as to signify a lack of manners.
He proposes to pay the bill but knows he will not be allowed to.
He walks to the door like a man who doesn't fret about being respected, since he is;
A daughter or granddaughter opens the door for him,
And he thanks her.
It has been a satisfying evening. Tomorrow
Will be a satisfying morning. In between he will sleep satisfactorily.
I guess that for him it is peace in his time.

D J Enright

In memoriam D J Enright   

Guardian obituary


Communications: Exploring How We Communicate

Here are some strategies that can be of use in generating discussions about how we communicate.

Working from a Description

Take any description that is quite technical. You can find descriptions in textbooks, in glossaries or on the web. Remove some words. Give the written descriptions to students – or even teachers to show how hard it can be to learn and remember instructions.

Ask your students to draw e.g. an object or an animal. It could be an object e.g. from a science laboratory or an animal like that listed below. Conduct the task and have a discussion about how difficult it is to follow written instructions. You could then open a discussion on how people felt when doing this task. Is there a better way of giving and receiving instructions?

Draw this animal. What animal is it?

The hide is grey-brown, with a sparse covering of coarse, yellowish hair. The short, stocky body has a high arch in the back and is supported by powerful legs which are covered with dark fur. The four-toed forefeet and five-toed rear feet are equipped with long, claw like nails. The head is long and slender, terminating with a tubular, pig-like nose with numerous white hairs. The ears are large and rabbit-like, tapering to a point at the tips. The strong, muscular tail is kangaroo-like, tapering to a point. The most unique feature (of the ------) is its teeth, which in adults are found only in the back of the jaw. The actual teeth are not anchored in the jaw and grow continuously throughout the animal's lifetime. Instead of being covered with enamel, these teeth have only a layer of cement.


The body is stout, with arched back; the limbs are short and stout, armed with strong, blunt claws: the ears long: the tail thick at the base and tapering gradually. The elongated head is set on a short thick neck, and at the extremity of the snout is a disc in which the nostrils open. The mouth is small and tubular, furnished with a long extensile tongue. A large individual measured 6 feet 8 inches. In colour it is pale sandy or yellow, the hair being scanty and allowing the skin to show.

Hello Ethel. (click to realise the type of animal described)

Here is another example of how a vague description can be generated. Your students may even like to generate their own examples. Others then have to draw and guess the animal.

The (platypus) (Greek (platys), "broad"; (pous) "foot"), also duckbill, is a semiaquatic, egg-laying mammal native to Tasmania and southern and eastern Australia. The animal has a bill that resembles a duck bill but is actually an elongated snout covered with soft, moist, leathery skin and sensitive nerve endings. The body of the (platypus) is 30 to 45 cm (12 to 18 in) long; the flattened tail measures 10 to 15 cm (4 to 6 in) in length. The feet are webbed. The body and tail are covered with a thick, soft, woolly layer of fur, from which long, flat hairs protrude. The most conspicuous feature of the small head is the bill, which is about 6 cm (about 2.5 in) long and 5 cm (2 in) wide and which the animal uses for detecting prey and stirring up mud at the bottom of rivers in order to uncover the insects, worms, and shellfish on which it feeds. The head is joined directly to the body without an apparent neck. The (platypus) eyes are small, and it has no external ears, but it has keen senses of sight and hearing. Young (platypus) have rudimentary teeth; in adults the teeth are replaced by a few plates. Adult males have a hollow, spur on the inner side of the hind leg, from which a toxic fluid is ejected and which may be used as a weapon of defense. The call of the platypus is a low growl.

Putting on a jacket: the shape of assumptions.

Ask a friend to tell you how to put on a jacket. They can’t show you but can only tell. Whenever they say ‘left’ or ‘right’ or ‘up’ or ‘down’ or any named part of the jacket act confused. See what happens. Exaggerate your misunderstanding. What does this tell us about giving and receiving instructions? Make it a fun classroom performance.

How language programs us and carries meaning.

A student at the front of the room is interviewed and must say ‘sausage’ or cannot say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. This is a very difficult exercise that shows us just how controlled we are by our use of language.

Out of context.

Simply show an abstract video without introducing it. Discuss the response. What does this tell us about our emotional response and how we take in information? What does it tell us about not placing information in context? I like to show foreign art house films.

Communicating in Groups.

Carry on a conversation around the circle. The teacher starts by holding onto an end of a ball of wool and throws it to the person who next speaks. The wool is held onto and the ball of wool is passed to every new person who speaks. This will create a communications map. What does this tell us about communications within a group?

Chinese Whispers

We all know this activity yet you can play it a number of ways. Pass a sentence down the line and explore how meaning can change with many carriers. Likewise explore how meaning changes by passing a mimed action down the line. By passing a physical movement down the line you are opening an awareness of how well we read others actions – how we use our senses.

A line In the correct sequence.

Ask students to stand in a line in the correct order of height, then birth dates and then e.g. in the alphabetical order of the football teams they support. Limit the use of speech – no talking. The limiting of speech will show how well we can communicate by using other forms e.g. sign language – discuss these.

Obscure dictionary word (Balderdash)

Get a group of four students to find an obscure dictionary word and convey four meanings – one truthful and three false. What does this show us about how we convey information? You can find obscure words in dictionaries or at Forthright's Phrontistery: Obscure Words and Vocabulary Resources. I love the very old word for a teacher – "Flaybottomist". Also see my article on Ending the Years Blues for other examples of obscure words. I’ll let you in on a secret. I suffer from Polkamania. Please keep me away from accordions and over-excited buskers!

Secret word

Two groups of four students are to face each other. Each group is given a secret word that they have to make the other team say. The term for one team – A – might be ‘bucket’. They then have to ask a question to the other team – B. Team B has to respond without using the word ‘bucket’. Of course, if the question is too direct Team B will realise that they cannot say the word ‘bucket.’ Similarly Team B must ask an alternating question to make Team A say a specific word. A great way to show the calculations and manipulations in everyday language i.e. leading questions.


Build a discussion on how technology has affected how we communicate.

Explore the many positives as well as negatives. Here is a good example from the lecture series "The Future of Work" by Robert Theobald:

Kurt Vonnegut, a prolific and exciting science fiction writer, was asked his feelings about living in an increasingly computerised world.

He replied, "I work at home. If I wanted to, I could have a computer right by the bed, and I'd never have to leave it. But I use a typewriter, and afterward I mark up the pages with a pencil. then I call up this woman called Carol, out of Woodstock, and say, 'Are you still doing typing?' Sure, she is. And her husband is trying to track bluebirds out there, not having much luck. So we chit-chat back and forth, and I say, 'Okay I'll send you the pages'.

"And I go down the step and my wife calls, 'Where are you going?' 'Well', I say, 'I'm going to buy an envelope.' She says, 'You're not a poor man, why don't you buy a thousand envelopes, they'll deliver them, and you can put them in the closet?'

"And I say, 'Hush'. So I go the news stand across the street, where they sell magazines and lottery tickets, and stationery. I have to get in line because there are people buying candy and all that sort of thing, and I talk to them.

"The woman behind the counter has a jewel bit between her eyes, and when it's my turn, I ask her if there have been any big winners lately?

"I get my envelope, and seal it up and go to the postal convenience centre down the block, at the corner of 47th Street and 2nd Avenue, where I'm secretly in love with the woman behind the counter.

"I keep absolutely poker-faced; I never let her know how I feel about her. One time I had my pocket picked in there, and got to meet a cop and tell him about it.

"Anyway I address the envelope to Carol in Woodstock, I stamp the envelope and I mail it in the mail box in front of the post office, and I go home. And I've had a hell of a good time."

The Chair: and other objects within the room

How can you use a chair within the room? I am a great advocate of using objects within the room as stimuli. After all one can't always afford expensive resources and if we want to encourage creativity then we don’t necessarily need the most expensive laptop or text.

Take for example the simple chair. You possibly have two dozen of these within the room. Think about all the possible uses that a chair can be put to.

A simple activity is to put a chair at the front of the room and to ask students to use it in a variety of ways. Others have to guess what the student is doing. A bit like a mime this becomes an even more interesting activity if you get your students to draw out the use of the chair. In an example that I use I approach the chair, eye it, walk around it and grab (mime) what looks like a stick, before I careful make a pool shot. Of course then the students guess that the chair has become a pool table.

There are innumerable uses that a chair can be put to and these are limited only by the imagination of your students. Take for example the idea of turning the chair upside down or sideways. This opens even more opportunities. Your students should at some point begin to realise that the chair could be used in an even wider variety of ways. You could even place two or three chairs together and a series of actions could be performed by students to build a sense of a location. The location could be e.g. a bus stop or a hairdresser.

Chairs could also represent items being studied within your curriculum. How a chair is spoken to can reveal which character it is from the text you are studying. Let students try to guess the character. Again this could be made somewhat obscure and be extended to draw the students in. A chair(s) could be a scientific instrument or represent, by being moved, a chemical reaction. Who has sat in this chair? Follow its history. Where has it been? Where did it come from? Who made it? Interview it. Identify it. Let everyone speak for it.

I particularly like the possibilities of how you can place chairs in relation to each other. Get two chairs and have them facing each other. This can represent communication. Turn one to face the other way and this can represent ‘not listening’. Chairs can be arranged in many ways to represent a feeling of how people may be communicating – I have seen up to a dozen shapes. You can arrange the chairs to represent even the relationships between characters at different stages in a play or a novel.

Another very interesting technique is that of arranging several chairs in relation to each other to represent either a specific feeling or just to create a shape with its own feel. I have seen this done when a group of students arranged chairs and the rest of the class re-entered the room. Almost like an art installation this can be explored for literal or abstract meanings. You can even get the students to add other objects for meaning, or you can limit the installation to a series of objects. I have always been amazed what by what students can create when left to their fertile imaginations.

Whenever you explore anything abstract it is always worthwhile to ask students not what they think but how they feel when they see the sculpture. I can remember an instance in which a friend and a couple of other actors were taking a group of students through an art gallery. They were acting as colours within the paintings.

At one point the students were asked to look closely at one painting. One troublesome student, who rarely participated, was asked how he felt when he looked at the painting. Because he could not be wrong, and because his opinion was being valued within a trusting context, this student was won over. He participated from then on. The absence of the ‘what’ which implies a correct or incorrect answer had been replaced with an open how. This was an important insight – too often we construct contexts of right or wrong in schools without realising that feeling is an important value that can be introduced at all points in learning.

Another activity is one in which you get the students to sell the chair according to the particular area of study. The chair can then become something useful in digestion – an antacid tablet, the mouth or a chemical in the stomach. Students can hold up the chair or react to it as if it is the important digestive aid. I can remember when conducting a workshop with a group of teachers how the chair had to be sold as if it pertained to the area of secondary teaching. To the art teachers it became an art installation, to the physical education teachers it was explored for its ergonomic capacity, the maths teachers talked about its angles while the science teachers spoke about the forces at work. The representation I most remember was the humanities teachers representing history. While sitting on the chair he swiveled and spoke about revolutions. As it was moved up and down he spoke about the rise and fall of empires.

There is no limit to what you can do within a classroom with simple objects such as a chair. Even the most basic of objects, when freed from their traditional role, can take on a variety of meanings limited only by your students’ imaginations and the framework of the curriculum. At the base of a chair your students may even find the gum that Einstein was chewing when he first envisaged the E equals MC squared formula. Your students could then conduct a mock auction of this chewing gum having empowered the gum with the story behind the discovery.

Van Gogh's chair

Explore the word "chair." Divide into groups, or as a whole, and list as many words as possible that contain the word "chair". Discuss the many meanings raised. List and discuss the many uses for a chair within daily life. In groups list "101 uses for a chair." Reward extra points for the most outlandish uses.

Explore how chairs can represent a special place, whether they are situated within a house or at a table.

Explore the significance of an empty chair. Who sat in it? What emotions can it create? Van Gogh has painted an empty chair.

Let students explore the painting of chairs within artwork. Even surrealists have created installations using chairs.

Write a story or a poem exploring the life of a chair.

The Pencil

Ask a student to take on the role of a pen or a pencil. Interview him or her. How does the pen or the pencil describe itself? Where has it come from? Who has used it in the past? How was it made? What has it drawn? What has it written? Follow the journey of this pen or pencil. There are many objects within a room. Explore how these can be used as stimuli for learning. Even the most insignificant object has a history. It has been crafted and has a journey that can be followed.

Write a story describing a pen or pencil’s journey.

Now let us not lose our precious bit of lead while we prepare the wood. Here’s the tree! This particular pine! It is cut down. Only the trunk is used, stripped of its bark. We hear the whine of a newly invented power saw, we see logs being dried and planed. Here’s the board that will yield the integument of the pencil in the shallow drawer (still not closed). We recognized the log is the tree in the forest and the forest in the world that Jack built.

- Vladimir Nabokov, Transparent Things.

Check out The Pencil Pages!, exploring many facts about pencils: ‘The typical pencil can draw a line 35 miles long!’

A pencil under an electron Microscope.

The Window

Can one have a room without windows? Why do we have windows? What sorts of windows do we have? What can a window symbolise? What e.g. does a window represent to a man in prison?

Students should find a window and describe in detail what they see through the window. What does the frame reveal or conceal? What can one see by looking in windows? What does this say about how we view privacy? Write a story about what a person sees from his or her window. Write a story about what a person sees by looking into windows. This was very much the premise of the Hitchcock film Rear Window.

A window is broken. How?

Tree At My Window

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.
Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.
But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.
That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.

Robert Frost

Morning at the Window

THEY are rattling breakfast plates in basement kitchens,
And along the trampled edges of the street
I am aware of the damp souls of housemaids
Sprouting despondently at area gates.

The brown waves of fog toss up to me
Twisted faces from the bottom of the street,
And tear from a passer-by with muddy skirts
An aimless smile that hovers in the air
And vanishes along the level of the roofs

T. S. Eliot

What is this window sill dreaming about?

The Desk

The Desk Lid

I looked at the desk lid in wonder;
Thinking of all the kids who had sat there,
Thinking of all the pens that had touched there,
Wondering what weather had passed there,
Even thinking of teachers that had taught them,
I wonder what lesson the person was having
When he had written ‘I am me’.

Fay Lawrenson aged 11, Family and School, David Jackson, Penguin Education, 1974.

Explore how we can use desks. What can they tell us about the people who use them? Interview the desk upon which a famous text was written. Explore the history of a desk following its journey from being made to the end of its life.

"Inspiration is the act of drawing up a chair to the writing desk." - Anonymous

Phoenix Rising: the Ability in disability Part Two

Barb Olsen is a Drama/Disabilities specialist living and working out of Hobart, Tasmania. I first came across Barb in her outstanding work with Brrrr Theatre Group and ‘Acting Up’ in Ballarat, Victoria. Barb has a unique and deeply human way of working with people with a disability. Her approaches work directly with the spirit and the strength of individuals. Her ideas easily translate into other teaching areas.


GAMES: These are an excellent tool in teaching acting and stage discipline. At the beginning of every drama session, use a gentle warm-up comprising stretching exercises to alert the body into action and then use games to alert the brain as to the meaning of the session. A person with an intellectual disability will often only move within their own "safety zone" and the games will encourage them to move away from that area.

Before you start spatial exercises, it is imperative that you establish a control factor. I encourage students to respond to the word "freeze" and when I feel that all students have a total grasp of the command, only then do I move onto other exercises. Most students are familiar with the command "1, 2, 3, Go". Use this familiarity in starting exercises – "At the count of 3, I want you to walk around the space – 1, 2, 3" (stress the 3). Make sure that all the students are comfortable with this before proceeding further.

Make the games as much fun as possible. Try Funny Walks: Ask the students to walk around the space in all directions. Encourage them not to go in circles as the circle is usually within their safety zone as they follow the person in front of them. Make sure they are not bumping into each other. Keep the pace even and safe. Spatial awareness will grow. When they are moving around comfortably, "Freeze" them then suggest, "At the count of 3, I want you to move around like an elephant, 1, 2, 3." Until all the students are moving around safely, keep the suggested animals/birds to an upright creature as crawling introduces another dynamic that can be addressed later.

Observe the students. If you note anyone with a difficulty in gauging the difference between heavy and light, you might like to consider the helpers that I have used to establish this concept. I drew two characters, which displayed the differences. One was a chicken which was running and flapping its wings, and the other a large dog with droopy ears, eyes and wearing a hat with a droopy feather. I caricatured the drawings to make them more interesting and memorable. I then got the students to name them. We discussed how we thought the two might move until we decided that "Droopy Dog" would move slow and heavy and that "Quickly Kate" would move quick and light. When we were then developing movements of animals/birds/human characters, I was able to refer the students to the drawings to assist them in understanding how the elephant/mouse/old or young person might move. Try it – it works!

More on spatial and bodily awareness next time…..Barb.

Awakenings: Building to the Event

Awakenings .... Betty Hart
(Awakenings 96, 97, 98, 99, 2000)


Awakenings to me
Is a time
Of friendship
Of love

It's a time of giving
Of doing
Being part of

A time when
We meet
Give of our talent
Forget handicaps

Join together
Be happy
Sing, laugh
Enjoy being

A time of renewing
Making new friends
Encouraging others

Showing what we can do
Forgetting what we can't
A time of trying
Taking part with others

Together we make
Music, song, dance
Acting, poetry
Together we are Awakenings

(Extract from text Essence of the Experience.)

Secret Space: Solitude and Reflection

We should set aside a room, just for ourselves, at the back of the shop, keeping it entirely free and establishing there our true liberty, our principal solitude and asylum. Within it our normal conversation should be of ourselves, with ourselves, so privy that no commerce or communication with the outside world should find a place there: there we should talk and laugh as though we had no wife or children, no possessions, no followers, no manservants, so that when the occasion arises that we must lose them it should not be a new experience to do without them. We have a soul able to turn in on herself; she can keep herself company; she has the wherewithal to attack, to defend, to receive and to give.

- Montaigne "On Solitude" Digital Montaigne.

Who didn’t as a child has some secret place in which they hid things? I had a box in a cupboard and secret spots under drawers. I would even remove the plastic covers of doorstops. Here you could place money or notes. I sometimes wonder if I went back to the home of my childhood whether some objects would still be in these places.

What secret places have your students had? What was kept in them? What does a secret place mean? Literature is full of examples like The Secret Garden. Bridge to Terabithia is a lovely and sensitive novel that covers this issue.

What secret places do we have as we get older. What do they mean for us? Men often talk of lofts or sheds and their opportunities for seclusion. The English writer Roald Dahl would set himself up in a shed in an armchair with a writing board on his knee. This was the space in which he wrote most of his work – a ritualistic pattern that probably had as much of a mental as well as physical relocation. What special places do women have? How may these differ from men?

Churchill in his special room

Secrecy implies the hidden. It also implies privacy. How do we view secrecy and privacy in our society? Do we live in a world that demands exposure? These and many issues can be explored within this strategy. Secrecy can also imply eccentricity. I can recall visiting Snowshill Manor in England, an amazing mansion owned by the collector Charles Wade. Besides a room of samurai armour, and a room with many bicycles suspended from the ceiling, he had lots of secret panels in walls and floorboard. Each had little creatures or objects in them – a magical and mysterious place.

What secret places do you think famous people have? Your students may like to narrate a story in which we hear the thoughts of a famous person in their secret place. Winston Churchill in the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall had a broom closet that was in fact a hot line to the President of the United States.

Imagine the thoughts of a person – Einstein quietly in his study deliberating over the fact that his ideas have contributed to the development of the atomic bomb. How may this have affected his conscience?

A very famous hiding place is that of Anne Frank. How would your students feel if they went into hiding? Why are they hiding? What would they do? Where would they hide? Perhaps your students can be inspired by the story of Anne Frank, or others throughout history, who have had to go into hiding to escape authorities or even the media. Write a story to explore what would be done. Utilise the story of Anne Frank as an entry point.

Into the taxi that was taking us to the docks went my brand new tuck-box, and both had R.Dahl painted on them in black. A tuck-box is a small pinewood trunk which is very strongly made, and no boy has ever gone to as a boarder to an English Prep School without one. It is his own secret store-house, as secret as a lady’s handbag, and there is an unwritten law that no other boy, no teacher, not even the Headmaster himself has the right to pry into the contents of your tuck-box. The owner has the key in his pocket and there it stays.

"Boy", Roald Dahl.


Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.

- Plato

Another perspective is that of asking your students to take on a childlike perspective. There is probably no better way into this than reading children’s books. Young children’s books often capture the curiosity and innocence of childhood. What can seem ordinary to us – a fire or a leaking tap – can be quite extraordinary to a child. They can take on almost lifelike qualities: a dancing fire creature or the water that builds to create its own shapes and movements. Experience can dull perceptions. Childrens’ literature can be a very good starting point.

2B or not 2B

When I was small and five
I found a pencil sharpener alive!
He lay in lonely grasses
Looking for work.
I bought a pencil for him
He ate and ate until all that was
Left was a pile of wood dust.
It was the happiest pencil sharpener
I ever had.

Spike Milligan Hidden Words Penguin 1993 (A beautiful book containing many of Spike’s much under-recognised serious poetry.)

An alternative is of course talking about childhood misperceptions and funny incidents. Your students should have lots of stories that happened to them as children. An alternative is observing children, whether younger brothers or sisters, or the option of visiting a kindergarten or crèche.

I can remember a story told by a friend. He was at a house where the child seemed to be thoroughly bored. He can remember putting his hand near to a light and making shadow puppets on the wall. The child was amazed and sat there transfixed. From that point on the child would always spark up whenever he visited.

Children’s television can capture an essence of childhood in particular pre-school programs. You may even like to dip into poetry – Seamus Heaney and Dylan Thomas refer to childhood in quite delightful ways.

If your area of study was that of plant structures imagine what these would look like to a child looking through a microscope for the first time – a new microscopic world is revealed full of wonder. This may be an interesting way into the topic. After all many scientists’ autobiographies are full of these moments of wonder whether it was looking at the stars or seeing the energy within an ants' nest.

Once the childlike perspective has been explored look for answers and use the childlike perspective to generate naive questions. Ask "why, why, why?" like so many young children do.

I would sometimes beg my mother to take out her engagement ring and show me the diamond in it. It flashed like nothing I had ever seen, almost as if it gave out more light than it took in. She would show me how easily it would scratch glass, and then tell me to put it to her lips. It was strangely, startlingly cold; metals felt cool to touch, but the diamond was icy. That was because it conducted heat so well, she said – better than any metal- so it drew the heat away from ones lips when they touched it. This was a feeling I was never to forget.

I badgered my parents constantly with questions. Where did colour come from? Why did my mother use the platinum loop that hung from the stove to cause the gas burner to catch fire? What happened to the sugar when one stirred it in the tea? Where did it go? Why did water bubble when it boiled?

Uncle Tungsten, Oliver Sacks, Picador 2001.

You may have seen photos through an electron microscope or powerful telescopes that capture the wonders of our universe.

Here is a beautiful extract from a speech by Seamus Heaney. Here we move into an understanding that childhood is not always romantic and that there can be differences between the world of imagination and play. Discuss this with your students.

My own story in this regard, however, is more a story about a false start, although it is indeed a story about the importance of getting started from that first base of your being, the place of ultimate suffering and ultimate decisions in each of you, the last ditch and the first launching pad. When I was in primary school, I was once asked to do a composition entitled "a day at the seaside" – a common, indeed a predictable subject in a country school in Northern Ireland years ago. So, I wrote about the sunlit sand, of the yachts in the bay, of the perfect sand castles and of diving in the pool, even though the weather was usually rainy and it was a coal boat rather than a yacht in the bay and I was a farmer's son who couldn't have passed through the University of Carolina because I couldn't in fact swim at all, never mind diving into a pool.

But my chief lyrical effort was reserved for the description of the bucket and the spade I said I had used at the beach. The sky-blue enamelled inside of the bucket, as bright as a graduating class at the University of North Carolina, and the technicolor outside, all its little canary yellows and greenfinch greens. And then I also praised the little spade for being so trimly shafted, so youngster friendly, so small and scaled down. And so I got my grade for making up a fantasy and delivering the conventional goods, pictures I had seen on postcards of other people's days at the seaside. But years later what came back to me was the thing I did not describe, the truth I had suppressed about a day which had actually been a day of bittersweet disappointment. An account of what had actually happened would have been far more convincing as a piece of writing than the conventional account I had rendered up, far truer to life altogether.

I have to say this even it is on Mother’s Day, but when my mother was out for the day – indeed especially when she was out for the day -- she was a frugal woman, far too self-denying and far too much in thrall to the idea of keeping going to indulge her self or her children in the luxury of catchpennies that she would see like buckets and spades. After all, we were only out for the day; next morning we'd be back on the land, up in the morning for our porridge, out to the field to bring the cows to the byre and after that to deliver the milk to our neighbours. But still, in her mother's heart, she desperately wanted to do something for us, so off she went to a hardware store and bought not the conventional seaside gear that we desired but a consignment of down-to-earth farm equipment which she could utilize when she went home: instead of bucket and spade, she brought us a plain tin milk can and a couple of wooden spoons, durable items indeed, useful enough in their own way, but wooden spoons for Gods sake, totally destructive of all glamour and all magic. I hope it will be obvious why I tell you this: I want to avoid preaching at you but I do want to convince you that the true and durable path into and through experience involves being true to the actual givens of your lives. True to your own solitude, true to your own secret knowledge. Because oddly enough, it is that intimate, deeply personal knowledge that links us most vitally and keeps us most reliably connected to one another. Calling a spade a spade may be a bit reductive but calling a wooden spoon a wooden spoon is the beginning of wisdom. And you will be sure to keep going in life on a far steadier keel and with far more radiant individuality if you navigate by that principle.

Excerpt ‘Commencement Ceremony at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, May 12, 1996.’

Had it been only stories that didn’t measure up to the world it wouldn’t have been so bad. But it wasn’t only fiction that was fiction. Fact too was fiction, as textbooks seemed to bear no more relation to the real world than did the story-books. At school or in my Boy’s Book of the Universe I read of the minor wonders of nature – the sticklebacks that haunted the most ordinary pond, the newts and toads said to lurch under every stone, and the dragonflies that flitted over the dappled surface. Not, so far as I could see, in Leeds. There were owls in hollow trees, so the nature books said, but I saw no owls – the hollow trees were in pretty short supply too. The only department where nature actually lined up with the text was frog-spawn. Even in Leeds there was that, jam jars of which I duly fetched home to stand beside great wilting bunches of bluebells on the backyard window-sill. But the tadpoles never seemed to graduate to the full-blown frogs the literature predicted, invariably giving up the ghost as soon as they reached the two-legged stage when, unbeknownst to Mam, they would be flushed secretly down the lav.

It was the same when we went on holiday. If the books were to be believed, every seashore was littered with starfish and delicately whorled shells, seahorses in every rockpool and crabs the like of which I had seen only in Macfisheries’ window. Certainly I have never come across them at Morecombe, nor of the any other advertised treasures of the seashore. There was only a vast, untenanted stretch of mud and somewhere beyond it the sea, invisible, unpaddleable and strewn with rolls of barb wire to discourage the parachutist undiscerning enough to choose to land there.

- Alan Bennett, "Past and Present", Writing Home, Faber and Faber 1994.

What does being a child mean? Discuss this with your students. How has the attitude to children changed throughout the ages? Explore the role of children in the labour force, and, the British Acts of Parliament, the Factories Act and Mines Act and how they were influential in creating new conditions for children leading to compulsory schooling.

Explore the typical life of a chimneysweep or other children in Mayhew’s writings. Or explore the photos of Lewis Hine documenting child labour. Write a story about a photograph.

Of course we mustn’t forget that child labour is still present in many countries.

For anyone who doubts the strange and mystifying logic of childhood here is an example that happened to me a few weeks ago.


I was walking the dog along a track and a father and a son were approaching. The boy, who was about five had a Superman t-shirt on. I said, "Oh look, don't worry about my dog. He won't hurt you - anyway you're Superman."

The boy looked at me, stopped and said, "No, its only a t-shirt. But I can fly."


Bloopers Continued

Here is a lovely blooper example from Karen, a cousin in the U.K.

We were having a maths lesson from a teacher who was rather eccentric. He found it very hard to control the class, especially the boys. Anyway, he started one particular lesson by taking about circles. He told us it had once been said that if you could draw a perfect circle freehand, it proves that you are indeed mad!  He proceeded to draw a large circle on the blackboard. The whole class started laughing and as he stood back to admire his work, he realised that he had drawn a circle that did look perfect. His answer to this was to get the blackboard rubber, erase part of the circle and re-draw that part of the circle therefore creating an imperfect circle. Needless to say, the class laughed even louder!

Here is another example from my father’s schooldays.

Imagine a 1940s North Yorkshire school. The formal Headmaster is addressing the assembly. Much to his chagrin he keeps on hearing a ‘whooo, whooo’ as he continues his speech. The students find this hilarious. No one can locate where the noise is coming from. It certainly isn’t coming from the students in the hall.

Unbeknownst to the headmaster a friend of my Dad’s, Headley, had climbed into a wooden horse (vaulting box) on the stage prior to the assembly. Headley was making the noises to the side of the stage.

The most bizarre fact was that Headley soon got bored. So he lit a cigarette. Hundreds of students, and eventually the teachers, saw smoke drifting from the side handles on the wooden horse. Naturally Headley was caught but it must have been an incredible sight gag.

Strangely enough my father was in North Yorkshire several years ago and he walked past his old school. It was being demolished. He came back the following day and prized a brass door handle from the front door of the school. It was the handle he and many others had opened hundreds of times. This handle is now polished and pride of place at his home in Melbourne, Australia.

The Room

I once conducted a class in which a group of year four students introduced their bedroom to the rest of the class. The presenter was asked to walk us through his or her bedroom. We then had the option of asking questions for more detail.

This is a very interesting method. It has room for great depth and is rarely a challenge for students – after all they know their room only too well and are likely to be able to present it in detail as they live in it so much of the time. In fact it is quite extraordinary what detail students can come up with. I have even had instances of students remembering every compact disc in their rack and the order of books in their bookshelves.

I start this activity by drawing the dimensions of a rectangular room and by asking the observing students to sit on chairs around the edges of the wall. When the student introduces his or her room they are asked to show and enter from the door and to reveal everything from memory i.e. location of desks, wardrobes and the bed. When asking questions the other students can ask about posters on walls or what is in the desk.

In the activity with the grade four class I asked a girl to mime what she did within the room when she usually listened to music. I asked her what her favourite CD was and having a computer and internet access within the room I went to the cdnow site and programmed this CD into play. We were able to listen to a thirty second sample of her favourite song as she walked around the room, combed her hair and sorted objects. I then asked the class to explain what had been done.

This activity was taken even further in one case when a boy showed us his room and also what he did at specified times. As in all cases discretion was taken in the questions being asked and I emphasised that respect had to be shown, as the bedroom is a private space. In some cases students shared their rooms with brothers or sisters or had unusual items or pets. All this revealed a lot about the students. To physicalise this activity is far more interesting than just getting students to draw their room. They can even cover other rooms in the house or the room they feel most comfortable in – e.g. at their grandmothers.

You can even do this with the rooms of characters in a novel or from history. These can even further be brought to life by students actually making mock ups of rooms, or parts of rooms, like museum exhibits – if limited for space or time then just do the designs. It is interesting how some exhibits of rooms are very lifelike – I can imagine this happening increasingly with fiction such as Harry Potter’s room at a theme park. Similarly there is the interesting case of Captain Cook’s cottage having been brought out from North Yorkshire in England to the Fitzroy Gardens in Melbourne. Looking completely out of place this building is a complete mock up of Cook’s day. Of course usually in these mock-ups the desk is a sacrosanct area as if the person’s spirit is there and could return again. I can imagine the same scenario for famous Artists’ studios.



Just think of how the following words have changed in meaning and have been re-appropriated by the world of computers. Explore when these words first came into use. The word ‘mouse’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary was first used as early as 1965. I guess that this was the first recorded written use – in a computing manual.

Explore these words: Spam, Surfing, Ram, Bytes.

This website gives a very comprehensive overview of the history of the use of the word SPAM. I always thought that it was an acronym. I never realized that it evolved from Monty Python. So we can add this to the other word "pythonesque" that has entered the lexicon. Do you know of any other Monty Python words, or comedian’s words in general, that have entered the language?


Origin of the term "spam" to mean net abuse:

Much to the chagrin of Hormel Foods, maker of the canned "Shoulder Pork and hAM"/"SPiced hAM" luncheon meat, the term "spam" has today come to mean network abuse, particularly junk email and massive junk postings to USENET.

How did the term get this meaning? I went on a mission of etymological research. In this article you'll learn how the term, born of canned ham, moved into BBSs and MUDS and then was applied to USENET postings and email. I've put in a short history of the earliest big spams, including a special page about the first email spam from 1978. (You'll be astounded to see which net celebrity defends the spam. But we were all younger then.)

(This is an interesting time for spammiversaries. March 31st, 2003 marks the 10th anniversary of the term Spam being applied to a USENET post, and May 3rd marks the 25th anniversary of the earliest documented email spam.)

Most people have some vague awareness that it came from at first from the spam skit by Monty Python's Flying Circus. In the sketch, a restaurant serves all its food with lots of spam, and the waitress repeats the word several times in describing how much spam is in the items. When she does this, a group of Vikings (don't ask) in the corner start a song:

"Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam! Wonderful spam!"

Until told to shut up.

Thus the meaning of the term at least: something that keeps repeating and repeating to great annoyance. How did the two get connected?

Canter and Siegel: The term got really popular in April of 1994, when two lawyers from Phoenix named Canter and Siegel posted a message advertising their fairly useless services in an upcoming U.S. "green card" lottery. They had posted their message a few times before, but on April 12, they hired an mercenary programmer to write a simple script to post their ad to every single newsgroup (message board) on USENET, the world's largest online conferencing system. There were several thousand such newsgroups, and each one got the ad.

Quickly people called it a "spam" and the word caught on


The Spam Sketch from the second series of "Monty Python's Flying Circus" and

"Monty Python's Previous Record"

(Spam = Spiced Pork And Ham, a sort of cheap luncheon meat)

Scene: A cafe. One table is occupied by a group of Vikings with horned helmets on. A man and his wife enter.

Man (Eric Idle): You sit here, dear.

Wife (Graham Chapman in drag): All right.

Man (to Waitress): Morning!

Waitress (Terry Jones, in drag as a bit of a rat-bag): Morning!

Man: Well, what've you got?

Waitress: Well, there's egg and bacon; egg sausage and bacon; egg and spam; egg bacon and spam; egg bacon sausage and spam; spam bacon sausage and spam; spam egg spam spam bacon and spam; spam sausage spam spam bacon spam tomato and spam;

Vikings (starting to chant): Spam spam spam spam...

Waitress: ...spam spam spam egg and spam; spam spam spam spam spam spam baked beans spam spam spam...

Vikings (singing): Spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam!

Waitress: ...or Lobster Thermidor a Crevette with a mornay sauce served in a Provencale manner with shallots and aubergines garnished with truffle pate, brandy and with a fried egg on top and spam.

Wife: Have you got anything without spam?

Waitress: Well, there's spam egg sausage and spam, that's not got much spam in it.

Wife: I don't want ANY spam!

Man: Why can't she have egg bacon spam and sausage?

Wife: THAT'S got spam in it!

Man: Hasn't got as much spam in it as spam egg sausage and spam, has it?

Vikings: Spam spam spam spam (crescendo through next few lines)

Wife: Could you do the egg bacon spam and sausage without the spam then?

Waitress: Urgghh!

Wife: What do you mean 'Urgghh'? I don't like spam!

Vikings: Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!

Waitress: Shut up!

Vikings: Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!

Waitress: Shut up! (Vikings stop) Bloody Vikings! You can't have egg bacon spam and sausage without the spam.

Wife (shrieks): I don't like spam!

Man: Sshh, dear, don't cause a fuss. I'll have your spam. I love it. I'm having spam spam spam spam spam spam spam beaked beans spam spam spam and spam!

Vikings (singing): Spam spam spam spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam!

Waitress: Shut up!! Baked beans are off.

Man: Well could I have her spam instead of the baked beans then?

Waitress: You mean spam spam spam spam spam spam... (but it is too late and the Vikings drown her words)

Vikings (singing elaborately): Spam spam spam spam. Lovely spam! Wonderful spam! Spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam spa-a-a-a-a-am spam. Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Lovely spam! Spam spam spam spam!

And so again we return to aardvarks. I can never think of an Aardvark without thinking of that famous Monty Python sketch called The Bookshop.

Here it is in its entirety. You may like to get your students to write their own skits where a person goes into a store and cannot buy what they want. He or she is offered all sorts of strange items.

The Bookshop Sketch from "Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl"

Customer: (entering the bookshop) Good morning.

Proprietor (John Cleese): Good morning, sir. Can I help you?

C: Er, yes. Do you have a copy of "Thirty Days in the Samarkind Desert with the Duchess of Kent" by A. E. J. Eliott, O.B.E.?

P: Ah, well, I don't know the book, sir....

C: Er, never mind, never mind. How about "A Hundred and One Ways to Start a Fight"?

P: ...By?

C: An Irish gentleman whose name eludes me for the moment.

P: Ah, no, well we haven't got it in stock, sir....

C: Oh, well, not to worry, not to worry. Can you help me with "David Coperfield"?

P: Ah, yes, Dickens.

C: No....

P: (pause) I beg your pardon?

C: No, Edmund Wells.

P: I... *think* you'll find Charles Dickens wrote "David Copperfield", sir....

C: No, no, Dickens wrote "David Copperfield" with *two* Ps. This is "David Coperfield" with *one* P by Edmund Wells.

P: "David Coperfield" with one P?

C: Yes, I should have said.

P: Yes, well in that case we don't have it.

C: (peering over counter) Funny, you've got a lot of books here....

P: (slightly perturbed) Yes, we do, but we don't have "David Coperfield" with one P by Edmund Wells.

C: Pity, it's more thorough than the Dickens.


C: Yes...I wonder if it might be worth a look through all your "David Copperfield"s...

P: No, sir, all our "David Copperfield"s have two P's.

C: Are you quite sure?

P: Quite.

C: Not worth just looking?

P: Definitely not.

C: 'bout "Grate Expectations"?

P: Yes, well we have that....

C: That's "G-R-A-T-E Expectations," also by Edmund Wells.

P: (pause) Yes, well in that case we don't have it. We don't have anything by Edmund Wells, actually: he's not very popular.

C: Not "Knickerless Knickleby"? That's K-N-I-C-K-E-R-L-E-S-S.

P: (taciturn) No.

C: "Khristmas Karol" with a K?

P: (really quite perturbed) No....

C: Er, how about "A Sale of Two Titties"?


C: (moving towards door) Sorry to trouble you....

P: Not at all....

C: Good morning.

P: Good morning.

C: (turning around) Oh!

P: (deep breath) Yesss?

C: I wonder if you might have a copy of "Rarnaby Budge"?

P: No, as I say, we're right out of Edmund Wells!

C: No, not Edmund Wells - Charles Dikkens.

P: (pause - eagerly) Charles Dickens??

C: Yes.

P: (excitedly) You mean "Barnaby Rudge"!

C: No, "Rarnaby Budge" by Charles Dikkens. That's Dikkens with two Ks, the well-known Dutch author.

P: (slight pause) No, well we don't have "Rarnaby Budge" by Charles Dikkens with two Ks, the well-known Dutch author, and perhaps to save time I should add that we don't have "Karnaby Fudge" by Darles Chickens, or "Farmer of Sludge" by Marles Pickens, or even "Stickwick Stapers" by Farles Wickens with four M's and a silent Q!!!!! Why don't you try W. H. Smith's?

C: Ah did, They sent me here.

P: DID they.

C: Oh, I wonder...

P: Oh, do go on, please.

C: Yes...I wonder if you might have "The Amazing Adventures of Captain Gladys Stoutpamphlet and her Intrepid Spaniel Stig Amongst the Giant Pygmies of Beckles"...volume eight.

P: (after a pause for recovery) No, we don't have that...funny, we've got a lot of books here...well, I musn't keep you standing here...thank you,--

C: Oh, well do, do you have..

P: No, we haven't. No, we haven't.

C: B-b-b-but--

P: Sorry, no, it's one o'clock now, we're closing for lunch--

C: Ah, I--I saw it---(loud arguments)

P: I'm sorry…

C: I saw it over there! I saw it...

P: What? What? WHAT?!?

C: I saw it over there: "Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds".

P: (pause; trying to stay calm) "Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds"?

C: Yes...

P: O-L-S-E-N?

C: Yes....

P: B-I-R-D-S??

C: Yes.....

P: (beat) Yes, well, we do have that, as a matter of fact....

C: The expurgated version....

P: (pause; politely) I'm sorry, I didn't quite catch that...?

C: The expurgated version.

P: (exploding) The EXPURGATED version of "Olsen's Standard Book of British Birds"?

C: (desperately) The one without the gannet!

P: The one without the gannet-!!! They've ALL got the gannet!! It's a Standard British Bird, the gannet, it's in all the books!!!

C: (insistent) Well, I don't like them...they wet their nests.

P: (furious) All right! I'll remove it!! (rrrip!) Any other birds you don't like?!

C: I don't like the robin...

P: (screaming) The robin! Right! The robin! (rrrip!) There you are, any others you don't like, any others?

C: The nuthatch?

P: Right! (flipping through the book) The nuthatch, the nuthatch, the nuthatch, 'ere we are! (rrriiip!) There you are! NO gannets, NO robins, NO nuthatches, THERE's your book!

C: (indignant) I can't buy that! It's torn!

P: (incoherent noise)

C: Ah, I wonder if you have—

P: God, ask me anything!! We got lots of books here, you know, it's a bookshop!!

C: Er, how 'bout "Biggles Combs his Hair"?

P: No, no, we don't have that one, funny!

C: "The Gospel According to Charley Drake"?

P: No, no, no, try me again!

C: Ah...oh, I know! "Ethel the Aardvark goes Quantity Surveying".

P: No, no, no, no, no,...What? WHAT??????

C: "Ethel the Aardvark goes Quantity Surveying".

P: "Ethel the Aa--" YES!!!YES!!! WE'VE GOT IT!! (throwing books wildly about) I-I've seen it somewhere!!! I know it!!! Hee hee hee hee hee!!! Ha ha hoo ho---WAIT!! WAIT!! Is it?? Is it??? (triumphant) YES!!!!!! Here we are, "Ethel the Aardvark goes Quantity Surveying"!!!!! There's your book!! (throwing it down) Now, BUY IT!!!

C: (quickly) I don't have enough money.

P: (desperate) I'll take a deposit!

C: I don't have ANY money!

P: I'll take a check!!

C: I don't have a cheque book!

P: I've got a blank one!!

C: I don't have a bank account!!

P: RIGHT!!!! I'll buy it FOR you! (ring) There we are, there's your change, there's some money for a taxi on the way home, there's your book, now, now..

C: Wait, wait, wait!

P: What? What?!? WHAT?!? WHAT???!!

C: I can't read!!!

P: (staggeringly long pause; very quietly) You can' (pause) RIGHT!!! Sit down!! Sit down!! Sit!! Sit!! Are you sitting comfortably??? Right!!! (opens book) "Ethel the Aardvark was hopping down the river valley one lovely morning, trottety-trottety-trottety, when she met a nice little quantity surveyor..." (fade out)


Look at an issue or a subject from a much broader perspective. How does it relate to our planet? Think of the possible connections even if you are dealing with maths, science or characters in a novel. Surely there must be an impact on their surrounding world. Perhaps other characters are disturbed. How will this affect others? An angry person can cause all types of ripples within a family spreading into the outside world. We tend to carry our anxieties with us. What connections can be found to the surrounding environment?

Think of the world as a system. If all things are connected then there are lots of connections to explore. This will move the students from perceptions that isolate people and events. Even something two generations ago can have a ripple effect through a family or a community. Think of how events from hundreds of years ago are still being played out.

Ecological footprint – use this site as an introduction to systems theory as well as an insight into environmental issues.

Romeo and Juliet: Australian Style

A great way to initiate learning is to get students to translate a story into another form, or even to another audience. Here is a great example from the Australian Poet C.J. Dennis.

It is ‘Romeo and Juliet’ explained in a particular Australian way. Perhaps your students can rewrite information via the use of slang. When I lived and worked at a school in England I read this piece. I came across the occasional odd remark that it was unusual for an Australian to be teaching Shakespeare. This was a good response. Mind you I can’t forget the story a friend told about the Australian fellow who jumped up at a Philosophy conference and asked the most incisive question. He was wearing a t-shirt and board shorts at the time. A little confronting for the rather dapper dressed fellows in the room.

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Songs of a Sentimental Bloke

by C.J. Dennis

V. The Play

"Wots in a name?" she sez...An' then she sighs,
An' clasps 'er little 'ands, an' rolls 'er eyes.
"A rose," she sez, "be any other name
Would smell the same.
Oh, w'erefore art you Romeo, young sir?
Chuck yer ole pot, an' change yer moniker!"

Doreen an' me, we bin to see a show--
The swell two-dollar touch. Bong tong, yeh know.
A chair apiece wiv velvit on the seat;
A slap-up treat.
The drarmer's writ be Shakespeare, years ago,
About a barmy goat called Romeo.

"Lady, be yonder moon I swear!" sez 'e.
An' then 'e climbs up on the balkiney;
An' there they smooge a treat, wiv pretty words
Like two love-birds.
I nudge Doreen. She whispers, "Ain't it grand!"
'Er eyes is shinin'; an' I squeeze 'er 'and.

"Wot's in a name?" she sez. 'Struth, I dunno.
Billo is just as good as Romeo.
She may be Juli-er or Juli-et--
'E loves 'er yet.
If she's the tart 'e wants, then she's 'is queen,
Names never count...But ar, I like "Doreen!"

A sweeter, dearer sound I never 'eard;
Ther's music 'angs around that little word,
Doreen!...But wot was this I starts to say
About the play?
I'm off me beat. But when a bloke's in love
'Is thorts turns 'er way, like a 'omin' dove.

This Romeo 'e's lurkin' wiv a crew--
A dead tough crowd o' crooks--called Montague.
'Is cliner's push--wot's nicknamed Capulet--
They 'as 'em set.
Fair narks they are, jist like them back-street clicks,
Ixcep' they fights wiv skewers 'stid o' bricks.

Wot's in a name? Wot's in a string o' words?
They scraps in ole Verona with the'r swords,
An' never give a bloke a stray dog's chance,
An' that's Romance.
But when they deals it out wiv bricks an' boots
In Little Lon., they're low, degraded broots.

Wot's jist plain stoush wiv us, right 'ere to-day,
Is "valler" if yer fur enough away.
Some time, some writer bloke will do the trick
Wiv Ginger Mick,
Of Spadger's Lane. 'E'LL be a Romeo,
When 'e's bin dead five 'undred years or so.

Fair Juli-et, she gives 'er boy the tip.
Sez she: "Don't sling that crowd o' mine no lip;
An' if you run agin a Capulet,
Jist do a get."
'E swears 'e's done wiv lash; 'e'll chuck it clean.
(Same as I done when I first met Doreen.)

They smooge some more at that. Ar, strike me blue!
It gimme Joes to sit an' watch them two!
'E'd break away an' start to say good-bye,
An' then she'd sigh
"Ow, Ro-me-o!" an' git a strangle-holt,
An' 'ang around 'im like she feared 'e'd bolt.

Nex' day 'e words a gorspil cove about
A secret wedding; 'an they plan it out.
'E spouts a piece about 'ow 'e's bewitched:
Then they git 'itched.
Now, 'ere's the place where I fair git the pip!
She's 'is ofr keeps, an' yet 'e lets 'er slip!

Ar! but'e makes me sick! A fair gazob!
'E's jist the glarsey on the soulful sob,
'E'll sigh and spruik, an' 'owl a love-sick vow--
(The silly cow!)
But when 'e's got 'er, spliced an' on the straight
'E crools the pitch, an' tries to kid it's Fate.

Aw! Fate me foot! Instid of slopin' soon
As 'e was wed, off on 'is 'oneymoon,
'Im an' 'is cobber, called Mick Curio,
They 'ave to go
An' mix it wiv that push o' Capulets.
They look fer trouble; an' it's wot they gets.

A tug named Tyball (cousin to the skirt)
Sprags 'em an' makes a start to sling off dirt.
Nex' minnit there's a reel ole ding-dong go--
'Arf round or so.
Mick Curio, 'e gets it in the neck,
"Ar rats!" 'e sez, an' passes in 'is check.

Quite natchril, Romeo gits wet as 'ell.
"It's me or you!" 'e 'owls, an' wiv a yell,
Plunks Tyball through the gizzard wiv 'is sword,
'Ow I ongcored!
"Put in the boot!" I sez. "Put in the boot!"
"'Ush!" sez Doreen..."Shame!" sez some silly coot.

Then Romeo, 'e dunno wot to do.
The cops gits busy, like they allwiz do,
An' nose around until 'e gits blue funk
An' does a bunk.
They wants 'is tart to wed some other guy.
"Ah, strike!" she sez. "I wish that I could die!"

Now, this 'ere gorspil bloke's a fair shrewd 'ead.
Sez 'e "I'll dope yeh, so they'll THINK yer dead."
(I tips 'e was a cunnin' sort, wot knoo
A thing or two.)
She takes 'is knock-out drops, up in 'er room:
They think she's snuffed, an' plant 'er in 'er tomb.

Then things gits mixed a treat an' starts to whirl.
'Ere's Romeo comes back an' finds 'is girl
Tucked in 'er little coffing, cold an' stiff,
An' in a jiff,
'E swallows lysol, throws a fancy fit,
'Ead over turkey, an' 'is soul 'as flit.

Then Juli-et wakes up an' sees 'im there,
Turns on the water-works an' tears 'er 'air,
"Dear love," she sez, "I cannot live alone!"
An' wiv a moan,
She grabs 'is pockit knife, an' ends 'er cares...
_"Peanuts or lollies!_" sez a boy upstairs.

New Time/New School: a Commentary on Modern Life, School and Time.

Here is an extract, and a link, to a current overview of time by the Australian commentator Barry Jones. It raises many questions worth exploring.

Education must encourage development and redefinition of a new sense of ‘time-use value’. Individual time management should be liberating, but in practice many feel a psychological inhibition because of self-doubt about judgment. Even more feel uneasy about the passage of time and have a desperate need to desensitise it.

In the 19th and early 20th Centuries, after the introduction of mass education (at least to Primary level) State Schools were models of industrial era process work, with rule by the clock, uniform delivery, pupils as raw material, teachers as process workers, and schools looking like factories (occasionally, like prisons). Pupils sat in rows, eyes to the front, with teachers expecting a uniform response, with penalties for arriving late or failing to finish on time.

Now the cultural and information agenda is set electronically for young people by television and radio, film, DVDs, CDs, mobile telephony, computers and computer games, reinforced by enhanced peer group pressure. The impact of school has reduced to perhaps 10 to 15% of the total. Books, newspapers and magazines have a declining share of the action.

In the traditional model, lessons began or ended on the dot, with the bell or siren and it didn't matter if the pupil was about to discover the value of pi
or understand e=mc2, or the meaning of life. When the lesson ended there was an arbitrary (but inevitable) transition to the next subject, the next teacher, the next room, the next imposition of external authority. We now have the technical capacity to move away from the centralised, Benthamite factory model in which one size fits all.

The computer room, cafeteria, library, workshop, gymnasium, music room, rehearsal hall may become far more valuable than the traditional classroom in which pupils are able to determine their own pathway at their own pace.

We overvalue security and order and undervalue freedom and experience…

September, the First Day of School: Howard Nemerov


My child and I hold hands on the way to school,
And when I leave him at the first-grade door
He cries a little but is brave; he does
Let go. My selfish tears remind me how
I cried before that door a life ago.
I may have had a hard time letting go.
Each fall the children must endure together
What every child also endures alone:
Leaning the alphabet, the integers,
Three dozen bits and pieces of a stuff
So arbitrary, so peremptory,
That worlds invisible and visible
Bow down before it, as in Joseph’s dream
The sheaves bowed down and then the stars bowed down
Before the dreaming of a little boy.
That dream got him such hatred of his brothers
As cost the greater part of life to mend,
And yet great kindness came of it in the end.


A school is where they grind the grain of thought,
And grind the children who must mind the thought.
It may be those two grindings are but one,
As from the alphabet come Shakespeare’s Plays,
As from the integers comes Euler’s Law,
As from the whole, inseparably, the lives,
The shrunken lives that have not been set free
By law or by poetic phastasy.
But may they be. My child has disappeared
Behind the schoolroom door. And should I live
To see his coming forth, a life away,
I know my hope, but do not know its form
Nor hope to know it. May the father he finds
Among his teachers have a care of him
More than his father could. How that will look
I do not know, I do not need to know.
Even our tears belong to ritual.
But may great kindness come of it in the end.

Let us not forget what it is like to learn what we now take for granted.

All happiness is a masterpiece: the slightest mistake throws it off, the slightest hesitation corrupts it, the slightest heaviness mars it, the slightest foolishness makes it dull.   - Marguerite Yourcenar

Darron Davies

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