No.8 - The
Tree in Man
Man is a Tree
Words or less
Welcome to Issue #8 of The Creative Teaching Space – the end of the first year of publication.
Lots of ideas have been explored and I hope that many new opportunities have been opened for students. As we move into the festive season, snow for our friends in the northern hemisphere and sun for those in southern climes, so we have some time to reflect on the teaching year. For some it will be shorter – a week off for Christmas. For others like myself it will be the annual holiday and a break from the magazine until February 2004.
It has been an interesting year and I really appreciate the feedback from teachers in many countries. I invite even more contributions from teachers and look forward to further building The Creative Teaching Space.
Keep opening pathways and rejoice in that which asserts uniqueness, compassion and the richness of experience. Keep those negative forces at bay.
This edition is called The Tree in Man and opens with a dedication to the metaphoric connection between our humanity and trees: fertile soil, a trunk, many branches and an ecological link to the broader world. This is based on a quote I found when recently looking at the harrowing yet deeply compassionate photographs of Sebastião Selgado. Here trees are men and trees are withered by the force of drought.
We mustn’t forget the many voices of the third world. We talk of the drama in our modern world – suits and concrete – yet too often forget the many cycles of disaster that beset those in robes and sand.
Here is a lovely poem from a good friend John Martin in Warracknabeal, Victoria. It sums up a deep truth in teaching and one found in the irony of distance and reflection. Thanks John.
read poetry at the Landt *
even work better as I sit among children.
more I feel myself a teacher
* Hostel in Warracknabeal for the aged.
What metaphoric connections do we as humans have with trees? Explore the connections. How can the experience of trees be echoed in our bodies? Explore the connotations of words – " limbs", "branches", etc. How can the life of a tree echo that of a person?
Here is an example of a photo from Sebastião Salgado – Gourma-Rharous, Mali, 1985.
What language can we use to describe what this person may be feeling?
What examples can we find in literature – or religious texts – linking man to nature? Find online religious texts and explore how they refer to trees.
How does Shakespeare refer to trees?
Cymbeline: Act 3, Scene 3
O boys, this story
Create a framework for a piece of writing: a story, or description, in one hundred words or less. Compare the results. Create a book of one hundred word stories. Identify sites on the web containing one hundred word or less stories. What is it that makes a short story work? Face this challenge. Take a big idea and break it down into one hundred words or less. This act of translation enables students to quickly grasp the core ideas, or essence of a topic.
Read this short – ambitious? – description detailing the origins of the earth by Eric Schulman in 200 words or less.
David Hyatt has produced a history of the United States in 100 words or less. Can you do this for your organisation, school, town or country?
This website contains many examples of 100 word stories.
See also Flash Fiction.
Most of us would see them every day. A join between our trod world and a subterranean world.
Manholes carry their own designs and many associations across cultures. This has been recognized by literature and film. What do manhole covers connote? Escape, a hidden world, the lair of unknown creatures?
Explore the history of sanitation.
Flickr has an interesting site dedicated to manhole covers.
beauty of manhole covers--what of that?
And there is the scientific truth of exploding manhole covers caused by the build up of subterranean gases. What have those rats been up to?
And have you ever wondered why manhole covers are round? (Thanks Rob)
As documented in the article Ending The Year's Blues here are more detective quizzes to ask students. This is a great way to keep students occcupied at the end of the year.
Set only 50 or 100 questions and respond to questions with either a ‘yes’, a ‘no’, or an ‘irrelevant.’ Give students the opportunity of working in groups to identify the knowledge gained and the types of questions that can be asked. A great lesson in inquiry.
George & Mildred are lying dead on the floor of an apartment. Around them is broken glass, water and an upturned table. What happened? Answer: They are goldfish. Their aquarium was knocked by a blown curtain from an open window on to the floor.
A man lives on the 20th Floor. When it is fine he goes out the door, pushes the ground floor button and goes to work. When he comes home he pushes the 14th floor button and walks up the last six. When it is wet, he goes to work as usual, but upon coming home, he pushes the 20th floor button. Why? Answer: George is short! He can only reach the 14th button. On rainy days he pushes the 20th floor button with his umbrella.
A man goes into a bar and asks for a drink of water. The Barman brings out a gun - and the man goes out smiling? Why? Answer: The man had the hiccoughs and the gun served same purpose, as the water would have.
A dead man is hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room. There is nothing else in the room but a pool of water beneath him. How was he hanged? Answer: He stood on a block of ice.
A husband buys his wife a pair of red shoes. Her boyfriend kills her and the husband is found guilty of the murder. Why? Answer: The boyfriend was a knife-thrower for a circus. The lady was his "target"; the shoes were high heeled, which she didn't usually wear.
This film has had the biggest return of any film when you look at the ratio - initial cost and return on the investment. What is the film? It is the Zapruder film on super 8 that captured the death of JFK - widely available for sale.
A man gets out of bed in the middle of the night, goes down stairs and has a snack. After finishing the snack, he turns off the light, goes upstairs and back to bed. Next morning whilst having breakfast he hears on the radio there has been a major catastrophe overnight and many people died. The man knows he's responsible. What happened? Answer: He was a lighthouse keeper and he turned light off of lighthouse.
A man and his son are driving along the road and are involved in a car accident. The son is taken critically injured to a hospital. Upon seeing the son the doctor says "I cannot operate on him he is my son." How does this make sense? The doctor is his mother. A great example of how words and cultural meanings create their own meanings.
A zookeeper sees a mouse in the corner of his room and knows that his lifetime of work is in ruins. His computer has been stolen - computer mouse.
A man is on the ground dead. He has a piece of straw in his hand. What happened? He has had to draw straws with others to see who had to jump from a balloon.
How can the area that you are studying be seen from a teenage perspective? This will be a particularly challenging task for teenagers, as it will pose the question of how they see the world. This will of course create a lot of discussion – the last thing any teenager wants is to have themselves stereotyped. This is an interesting exercise as it asks any group to consider either how they see the world or how it was viewed as a teenager. Regardless of what you are studying there should be a lot of options.
Take for instance the analysis of a work of literature. Teenagers are experiencing a lot of the complexity of the world for the first time and to see a text from this perspective may allow your students to see it in its complexity. We all know about the romanticism of Romeo and Juliet and how this type of love, at an older age, may be more cool headed and pragmatic.
Explore how teens speak. Create a dictionary of teenage slang. How has this changed over the years?
Explore teenagers' opinions on their lives.
Explore changes within the body at this age – a biological reading. How may this affect the perception of the world?
How would a teenager see natural disaster or have experienced the ravages of world war two – here is an access point for the study of Anne Frank or holocaust survivors. I have always found teenagers' or childrens’ perceptions of war quite fascinating. I guess this provides an alternative perspective to what can often become tiresome and repetitive portrayals.
Here I am reminded of Robert Westall’s The Machine Gunners and the stories of my father who grew up in wartime Britain. To him it was quite fascinating. He would collect shrapnel and marvel at the heroic stories presented in the press. Teenagers were even encouraged to learn about making bombs from household items in case the Germans invaded. No doubt there was great tragedy for teenagers at this time.
An alternative perspective on any event, whether it is a teenager's autobiography, the under-rated serious poetry of Spike Milligan, or the comedy of Dad’s Army, can cause one to connect or re-connect to an area.
One shouldn’t forget that this is one of the great challenges faced by authors and filmmakers. In a world of information, they, like teachers, are looking for those moments that can engage and connect people to the subject. Sometimes it works extraordinarily well, as in such films as King of the Hill (1993) by Steven Soderbergh, which gives a teenager's perspective on the United States depression. You could perhaps explore the film Kes (1969) by Ken Loach, about a working class boy in England who trains kestrels as a way of escaping his demeaning surrounds.
Students may even like to draw up a grid of comparisons between their likes and dislikes – as teenagers – compared to the teenage experiences of interviewed parents or grandparents.
An increasing voice adopted by people in this world is that of the skeptic. This is in reaction to what seems like an increasing abundance of questionable and exclusive belief systems.
To ask students to take a skeptical position is a great opportunity for learning. There is still great place for rational questioning within our world. Here I remember a fantastic book called Hoax, written by Clifford Irving, who was instrumental in creating a fake and supposedly authorized biography of Howard Hughes. He encountered an extraordinary lack of critical thought. The more bizarre he made the stories in the book the more it was accepted by journalists and the market in general. The book was in fact at the printers when the reclusive Howard Hughes made a phone call to a panel of experts to state that the text was a fake.
In a relatively recent text – Intellectual Impostures – Sokal and Bricmont take a knife to the writings of many famous French intellectual writers. Many of these writers are praised worldwide. Sokal and Bricmont look at the writing, analyze it, and show that while including mathematical and physics propositions, it has little anchoring in scientific fact.
Another great read Round in Circles by Jim Schnabel takes a long hard look at the crop circle phenomenon in Great Britain. This is a hilarious read, debunking many propositions and showing just how far people go in trying to explain phenomena – many of the circles were revealed to be well crafted hoaxes with the perpetrators enjoying the subsequent circus.
Skeptics' websites – The Skeptic's Dictionary and James Randi Educational Foundation – can give your students a good grasp of how they can approach phenomena. Your students might like to do a skeptical review of a text i.e. a ghost story.
A debate can be conducted in which certain phenomena, i.e. flying saucers, are debated by both sides. Many students may not like taking a skeptical position. It is important to explore this perspective. Discuss it afterwards. I believe that essentially we want magic and myth in life and many beliefs give us this experience. Some people are happy to find their magic in fiction – others in obscure phenomena. You have a wide range of topics and issues you can cover in a skeptical position. This should add a lot of flavor and stimulus to the classroom.
One of my favorite hoaxes was called the Doctor Fox Effect. In this little-reported psychological experiment an actor was hired to speak to medical students across the United States in a series of lectures. The more he included obscure diagrams and graphs, as well as animated his style, the more he was believed to be an authority. All the while he was spouting junk. What does this tell us about style and authority?
How can you and your students use the alphabet within the classroom?
Here is an example of an alphabet script from Curtis and Wesley at Glen Waverley Primary School – they were in grade three at the time.
you going to school?
Students could construct an alphabet like a child’s book – the A-Z of animals using terms form your area of study. They could even construct an A-Z alphabet discussion between two major figures that relates to i.e. a famous discovery.
Ask your students to take on an optimistic persona where they address the area of study. This type of approach has been formalized under the De Bono Six Hats approach.
Similarly you can conduct it within a class by simply asking your students to view the topic through optimistic eyes. This means that they should always look for a positive light. It will require considerable student creativity to make even the most dire of circumstances into something positive.
A positive outlook is always valuable as it offsets the negative effects of depression. The Russian writer Solzhenitsyn was a great testimony to this. So are the many instances in which captives find positive pursuits to offset the negative effect of despair. It is interesting that development agencies produce manuals that give advice on being held hostage. These emphasize the value of thinking positively – there is a reality that every day in captivity increases ones odds of release. Potential hostages are also advised to perform lots of mental gymnastics and games i.e. remembering and reciting poems as a means of creating a positive mental structure.
Optimism is a powerful tool. Even with the direst of information e.g. historical incidents, explore the positive outcomes. What positive outcomes can be found after recent terrorist events? What value does optimism have in our modern world?
Here I am reminded of a recent television series and book that showed how dissent can be highly creative, non-violent – and can lead to very positive outcomes even if not apparent in the short term.
Investigate the World Future Society predictions.
Imagine your students seeing the world from a futurist perspective. I can recall working with a group of secondary students in Ballarat in which I got a number of maps of the town and we constructed, on butcher’s paper placed on the ground, a map of Ballarat in 2020. We explored what the town would be like in the future. We explored issues such as a fast rail track to Melbourne, its implications, and environmental problems.
Ask your students to project themselves into the future. What will home entertainment be like in 50 years time? What will be the new advances in science or medicine? What new words may enter the lexicon? Here you have a similar case to A Clockwork Orange in which Anthony Burgess imagined the reality of a future Britain.
What will schools be like? Choose the subject area that you are studying and look through its frame.
You may even like to get your students to project themselves forward to a date – let's say 2050. A new order of peace exists in the word. Get your students to act as historians who then look back and report how this peace – or other events – may have come about.
An auction can be a really interesting method that you can use within a classroom. Objects can take on a value and your students can conduct a mock auction in which those objects are sold. Students could create and auction objects used in films – a decorated pair of red shoes from a charity shop that become Dorothy’s shoes from The Wizard of Oz or a broom that is a Quidditch broom from Harry Potter.
Students could be allocated a budget and as a result they have a limit to what they can buy in the auction, particularly if they are after a number of items. The real skill is in the selling. How can the objects be given greater value in the blurb and in the selling itself? This may require the students doing considerable research into The Wizard of Oz and Judy Garland’s career. Time can increase the value of the object as can a range of other factors that can be brought in. "These shoes – Dorothy’s – also graced the front cover of a top selling ELO album."
In auctions there is usually a base price for sale as well as a base price at which the potential buyer will not exceed. There is a lot of learning that can be achieved in the practice of a simulated auction. This includes sales pitches and an opportunity to understand and explore market value. At one time, for example, ashtrays were dumped into the rubbish. Increasingly they are becoming collectible as the paraphernalia surrounding the culture of smoking disappears. I have a really interesting example of a photo that must have some value at home. It is a 1960s magazine in which the French philosopher and writer Jean Cocteau is advertising of all things televisions. For one aware of his cultural and intellectual fame this is quite an odd advertisement.
I can recall one excellent class in which a grade five primary school teacher auctioned tickets on the choice of two trips – a trip microscopically through the body or through outer space. The students spent a number of weeks creating their travel packages by researching the topics in depth. Finally these were auctioned. Which of these two choices most interested the other students? Only a certain number if tickets were available.
There are no doubt many other ways in which auctions can be used within a classroom. Have a look at eBay to explore the values of items and how they are advertised for auction. This could be an interesting activity as students get to guess and follow the real price at which something sells.
How can your students use a dice in learning? If you can get hold of a big dice then simply throw it around a circle as a way of choosing groups. Whatever number faces a student decides the group number.
How about throwing a dice to explore probability. What number will come up the most? Do the numbers start evening out? Assign tasks with a number. You can even have aspects of a character or events and situations. Throw above three and it is male. One is at home, two is at school, etc. Create a grid that assists students in the creation of stories – stories thrown open to chance.
Students can even throw two dice. Here they can play sport. When I was younger I did this with Australian Rules football. The first dice indicated goals, the next points. After four quarters I had an aggregate score. Teams played each other – the highest score winning. The maximum score was of course 24.24. This is possible yet probability would deal us very low odds in rolling eight sixes in a row.
Teams played each other. I conducted rounds. I made up ladders and recorded record scores. There is no reason why students couldn’t conduct a whole season of games with ladders, percentages and an eventual final series – a good way of introducing students to a range of mathematical methods.
Satire can be a great strategy that your students can employ. Satire has been around for many years and is a means of exaggeration that can highlight personalities and viewpoints.
See Jonathon Swift's 'A Modest Appeal to Relieve the Famine in Ireland'. This includes such exaggerated statements as : "a young healthy child, well nursed, is at a year old a most delicate, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled."
Satire – Monty Python is always worth a look – will give students an opportunity of viewing an area of study in a new light. A mock scientist can analyse a volcano, a man can talk about his genetically engineered cows, a real estate agent can sell a rainforest. Encourage students to explore an issue and exaggerate viewpoints through satire.
On paper satire can look fairly stale. Throw it over to your students. Get them to come up with their own skits. They should have a good grasp of how satire works from television e.g South Park. A simple starting point is to take a well-known advert or a well-known personality and to put them in a different context. All the time one should be sending up something – questioning the values of our society and how we tend to swallow things uncritically. There was a quite extraordinary moment in the Michael Moore show The Awful Truth in which a group of ex-smokers – each who had had their voice boxes removed and replaced by an electronic voice box – were taken to sing Christmas carols inside the lobby of a tobacco company. This was very poignant, moving and a bitter comment on tobacco company policy.
The Galaxy Song by the Monty Python team manages to satirize cabaret by presenting lyrics that are highly scientific rather than soppily romantic.
remember that you're standing on a planet that's evolving
galaxy itself contains a hundred billion stars.
universe itself keeps on expanding and expanding
What is carried in a suitcase? What would Hitler have carried in his suitcase? Explore the possibilities of what items one would place in a suitcase – thoughtfully or in a hurry?
Suitcases are very evocative. They carry objects and clothing and also memories. Let your students explore all possibilities. What does a suitcase signify? What does an unclaimed suitcase signify? Old suitcases are stored in sheds or in the back of a cupboard. What do they contain? Explore the journey of a suitcase handed down from one generation to the next.
Place a suitcase at the front of the room. Let students, one at a time, open it to reveal items. How can they react? What does this tell us about surprise and mystery?
If a suitcase could feel, explore its journey from a home to a far distant location. A suitcase turns up mysteriously on your doorstep. What would you do? How many things can one fit into a suitcase? What does this tell us about space and packaging? Explore the conversation between two suitcases. Explore the history of cases – chests to hard modern cases. What could a magical suitcase do?
Have you ever met anyone famous? What was it like? What would have occurred if Einstein had met the famous cricketer Sir Donald Bradman? Explore what would happen if famous people met each other. What would they talk about? Take people from different periods of history and explore their possible conversation – a bit like the strategy Phone (below).
There are many examples in which famous people from different backgrounds have met each other – see Letters (next item) that covers the conversations between T.S.Eliot and Groucho Marx.
The writer Nabokov believed that he saw the writer Kafka on a tram.
Write letters between characters. How do they build over time? This can show a character's development and understanding. I can recall a book of letters between Auguste and Louis Lumiere discussing the immediate and very practical early days of cinema. Explore letters between different characters across different places and times. The text "Groucho Letters" has fascinating correspondence between him and T.S.Eliot. What can two very different characters discuss?
Who is writing the letter? To whom? Is it angry? What is its purpose? Explore the options that exist between writer and reader. Is it a letter to an editor? If it is apologetic what is it trying to say? Imagine a Nagasaki survivor writing to Oppenheimer at Project Manhattan. What could be said? Letters can also be very loaded. Create letters that reveal both sides of an issue.
What subtleties can be revealed in the correspondence between two characters in a novel? A series of letters are written from prison. Like Marsden’s text "Letters from the Inside" there may be an element of mystery to the letters that has to be broken over time. A letter may be introducing a person in regards to work. This can help the student to establish what are the true characteristics of a person being studied. How would a celebrity reply to a letter? How would a translated letter from another culture read?
Ask the students to develop a series of letters collaboratively. Each group creates a short paragraph and these are built into and develop into a series of letters.
Explore the inner world of a character, a person in history, an author or the thoughts of a minor player – a man watching land being cleared, a Jew watching German tanks rolling into Amsterdam. The thoughts can be written. Ask the group to pretend they are the thoughts and feelings of a person. Walk around a circle and tap students on the shoulder, or walk along a line of students. As you tap or pass them they speak the inner thoughts or feelings. Get the thoughts into a list on butcher’s paper through group work. Put a student up front as if they are a person at a particular time or place. The rest of the students speak his or her thoughts. The students become neurons: brainstorm thoughts of the character as everyone speaks. Capture the random inner thoughts in the time between conception and speech – a great license for many disparate ideas. Interview the character. The rest of the students interview the character. A student speaks the ‘public speak’ of the character, another the inner thoughts hidden behind what is spoken.
Explore the public and private face of a celebrity or politician. People can be trapped by duty – practice and inner feelings do not always match. Explore the intimate world of artists or scientists at the edge of discovery. What if many other ideas are now going to become obsolete? You have just shattered the work of many. You may be ostracized.
Explore the thoughts or feelings of a minor character. Create a random mass of inner thoughts that may have been felt at a particular time or place. Then put them together to form a character or series of characters. Show how one's inner world changes: as a child, as an adolescent, as an adult, as someone nearing the end of life.
How can you utilize the strategy of rumours with your students? Imagine the rumours that could be built within a community based on a character from a novel or famous person in history. Script or enact this series of rumours. How do they change? Explore how a rumour can be spread and changed.
You may even like to conduct a game of Chinese Whispers with your students to show how information changes when transferred through many sources.
Write a gossip column based on rumours. Get students to imagine that they are gossip columnists. One interviews another on a radio show. Explore famous rumours in history e.g. the death of Paul McCartney in the days of the Beatles.
Imagine if your students could map a rumour from its source to its conclusion – the United States to Australia. I am sure that there are texts that follow this phenomenon. An Urban Legend is a popular myth that is established within the community following a spate of rumours. This website explores the truth behind many of these legends. Your students may know of their own – they also may like to discuss their experiences with rumour in daily life. These myths are increasingly having greater reach because of emails.
What is that gossip we are hearing? What might people be saying about that character? So that person is thought to be homosexual. It is a small town. Map the journey of the gossip: who through, whom to, what is said. Reveal the prejudices that exist surrounding particular issues. Map the consequences of gossip or rumour. Show how it changes: play a simple game of Chinese whispers where students stand in a line and pass along a sentence. See how it changes. Do this with a phrase, a mimed action or a drawing.
Explore how a person’s life can be made miserable by rumour. Think of cases in which people mythologize themselves and become larger than life – what does this reveal about our culture? Take an issue and explore all sides and the rumours that some may create to de-stabilize the other side. Brings us to politics and the ways in which people undermine others – mud does stick! Why do people start rumours? Why are they continued? Can they be stopped?
Think of rumours surrounding groups of people i.e. Masons. How are groups typecast? Is this fair? How has this typecasting been done through history? Think of witchcraft and the effect of rumour. As with the ‘Crucible’ how do ancient events connect with modern events i.e. McCarthy era? This decimated many Hollywood careers. How can heroes be brought down? What are the positive effects of rumour? Certainly there must be many positives to communications and in-jokes. Explore the positives.
Set up a telephone exchange in which characters in a novel, people in a town or historical location, communicate with each other. Don’t worry if that place didn’t have such technology. Get them talking. Mediate the discussions through an exchange: hello operator can I speak with the executioner please. Speak. Have a reason for speaking. Move around the room. Executioner may then ask operator to speak to priest or prisoner. Build the themes and issues into the discussion.
Use a real phone. Place it at front table. Student to go and talk to certain person. Does not have to be a response. Build a monologue like Bob Newhart. Everyone watches and listens to discover what is being explored.
Write a transcript of a telephone conversation between two characters in history. Bob Newhart has a fascinating one in which Sir Walter Raleigh explains smoking and tobacco. Chase up a Bob Newhart CD. It will be a great introduction to scripts that can be based on the telephone. Who can forget, once heard, the janitor on the phone to his supervisor the day King Kong climbs the Empire State Building?
A message or series of messages have been left on an answering machine. What do they reveal about the character? What message would Archimedes have left his wife?
A mobile phone has been stolen. Who by? Why? What conversations are recorded? What do phone taps reveal about a particular character? What is said when Edison is using the phone for the first time? You might even like to chase up the song OGM by Loudon Wainwright III. He has structured a number of songs around the phone.
Meetings can be very informative or tiresome affairs. Who is involved in meetings? Why? What is the agenda? What is said?
Let your students explore what happens in meetings. Sit in on a meeting, record observations or read minutes. Students can even role-play a meeting e.g. two sides in a union management battle.
I was once involved in a group in which we role-played a meeting between the children’s singing group the ‘Wiggles’ and corporate management at Warner Brothers over a recording deal. This really showed the corporate side to children’s’ entertainment. See Adult in Issue #7 of The Creative Teaching Space.
A meeting may have to reach a compromise. What is the issue? Who are the key players? How is conflict handled? Record the minutes of the meeting. Map the main ideas. What action is going to be taken?
There are innumerable meeting formats that your students can explore. What roles are taken in a meeting? How does communication work? How can one stop a meeting from getting bogged down?
Imagine a meeting between famous people: The Beatles discussing a recording contract, a meeting to discuss the ending of a war, a meeting to discuss the distribution of food aid to a region in famine. Your students may even be able to find transcripts of famous meetings on the Internet.
Let your students imagine that they are marooned on an island like Robinson Crusoe – or the more recognized case of the Tom Hanks' film Castaway – how would your students survive? Take specific instances and explore how knowledge from your area of study can be applied: maths, the laws of physics or even an artistic sense to offset psychological despair. Students could write a diary and explore the subtleties and realities of such a predicament. Watch Castaway or read sections from the online etext of Robinson Crusoe.
Where would the person be marooned? What would the climate be like? What types of plants and animals would be encountered? Use this as a way of studying geographical locations.
For those interested in the works of Daniel Defoe your students may like to explore parts of Journal of the Plague Year.
This text, written like a journal, is a work of fiction that tries to capture what it may have felt like in a society with impending plague. It is an interesting piece of historical writing presented in the present tense.
Your students may even like to explore the stories of the Japanese soldiers who were marooned by their own psyches after the end of the second world’s war. A number of soldiers afraid to surrender and skeptical of suggestions that the war had ended – leaflets dropped from planes – remained on isolated islands until even the late sixties and early seventies. These were most harrowing stories of misunderstanding, loyalty and survival.
By far the most famous account is that in the text No Surrender: My Thirty Year War. This fascinating account explores how Hiroo Onada managed to adapt on the island – physically and mentally – eluding capture as locals had suspicions of his presence for many years. It is an extraordinary account of how one man was able to survive. Onada become a folk hero in Japan and lived out his quiet final years in Brazil.
Get your students imagining if a character that you are studying mysteriously survived. He or she may have gone to live elsewhere. What would they have done? This is of course similar to those many myths on the supposed survival of Hitler. It even occurs in supposed sightings of Elvis.
See What If? (below) for other suggestions.
This odd word is a reasonably recent coinage for the writing of historical events – documentary – in terms of prose. The writer tries to capture, through prose, an essence that may be hard to capture by conventional biographical style. Here fiction tries to fill in missing pieces as if presenting the story from a personal or immediate perspective. This style of writing has been adopted by many feature journalists and novelists. Famous examples are Norman Mailer’s Executioner’s Song, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood and Peter Carey’s True History of the Kelly Gang – all are personalized accounts of murderers. They fly in the face of conventional biography by using narrative conventions. This has deep and lasting effects on the reader at the same time as upsetting many historical purists. Perhaps your students could take your area of study and present it in this style – bringing events to life through the immediacy of fiction i.e. dialogue, dates and present tense.
Encourage students to explore how we talk about time. What if our measurement of time changes? Write stories, poems, etc, in which time is very different.
The revolutionary French established the Republican Calendar in 1793, including decimal time. The day was divided into 10 decimal hours, each divided into 100 decimal minutes of 100 decimal seconds each, and 10 days made a week, or "décade". Clocks were constructed with decimal faces, some of them displaying times in both systems. Time was reckoned from the meridian of Paris, which is about nine minutes, twenty-one seconds ahead of GMT. Although time divisions were decimal, they did not use the standard metric prefixes, e.g. deci-, centi-, milli-, micro-, etc., so they were not entirely consistent with other metric units. They also used 1 as their origins, instead of 0, so midnight was ten o'clock, instead of zero o'clock, and days of the week were numbered 1 to 10. However, decimal time was abandoned after only two years, although the ten-day décade survived until the 1805, when it was repealed by Emperor Napoleon.
Lee Harvey Oswald ... what if ...?
Let your students observe history from another angle. What would have happened if the Nazis had won the war? What would have happened if Boudin, near Botany Bay at the same time as Cook, had proposed and initiated the French settlement of Australia?
Any event or time can be seen from a new perspective. What would have happened if the atomic bomb had not been discovered, if a cure for penicillin had not been found, if television had not been invented?
See the film Fatherland for an example of a film that takes a what if? perspective. Apply this concept to your curriculum and see what your students come up with.
Here is an example from a website that tackles history from new angles.
It can be very moving going through the personal effects of a loved one who has died. This can involve sorting and cleaning up a room – going through a lifetime of possessions that evoke a different era as well as triggering memories in surviving family. Let your students imagine that they are going through this process with a famous person that they are studying, a character from a novel or a character that has been created. What will be found? What does it tell us about the person? What effect may it have on the sorter? Remember that students always have the option of personalizing players within a drama. By personalizing the sorter they create a much wider range of possibilities. What will the sorter do with the valuables? We all know the saga of Picasso's will and how it and his estate even to this day causes great controversy.
I was once very moved by a 1960s documentary that explored the studio of the photographer Dorothea Lange shortly after her death. It carried a real emotion of discovery, and privilege, as the filmmakers sorted through her studio and personal effects. It left one with a real sense of her character.
A most unusual estate that I came across was in the Victorian town of Maryborough. For many years an intellectually disabled man, Wallace Richards, had been riding his bike to weddings – sometimes forty kilometers – to photograph the bride and groom. He was a well known and tolerated local. People posed for him, knowing that he was harmless. He had an old box brownie camera and often pointed the camera on an angle. Many people thought that he had no film in his camera. After his death it became apparent to the locals that he had in fact photographed hundreds of weddings. To make matters even more interesting he had captured a totally different impression of these weddings. It was quite extraordinary to see thousands of photos, from his estate, laid out in the town hall. Locals looked enthusiastically at the recorded history.
One never knows what one can find in an estate – obsessions, hobbies, deeply personal writings. I am sure that many families and valuers have quite extraordinary stories.
Encourage students to explore the evocative power of personal effects. What do they tell us about the person?
The singer/songwriter Loudon Wainwright III has recorded a moving tribute to his father. It shows only too well the poignant power in possessions left behind.
(Loudon Wainwright III Album: History)
I forget that you have gone
© Copyright In Clued - Ed 2009