Archives for the month of: September, 2020

WOLE SOYINKA

THE CHILDREN OF THIS LAND

The children of this land are old.
Their eyes are fixed on maps in place of land.
Their feet must learn to follow
Distant contours traced by alien minds.
Their present sense has faded into past.
The children of this land are proud
But only seeming so. They tread on air but—
Note—the land it was that first withdrew
From touch of love their bare feet offered. Once,
It was the earth of their belonging.
Their pointed chins are aimed,
Proud seeming, at horizons filled with crows.
The clouds are swarms of locusts.
The children of this land grow the largest eyes
Within head sockets. Their heads are crowns
On neat fish spines, whose meat has passed
Through swing doors to the chill of conversation
And chilled wine. But the eyes stare dead.
They pierce beyond the present through dim passages
Across the world of living.
These are the offspring of the dispossessed,
The hope and land deprived. Contempt replaces
Filial bonds. The children of this land
Are castaways in holed crafts, all tortoise skin
And scales—the callus of their afterbirth.
Their hands are clawed for rooting, their tongues
Propagate new social codes, and laws.
A new race will supersede the present—
Where love is banished stranger, lonely
Wanderer in forests prowled by lust
On feral pads of power,
Where love is a hidden, ancient ruin, crushed
By memory, in this present
Robbed of presence.
But the children of this land embrace the void
As lovers. The spores of their conjunction move
To people once human spaces, stepping nimbly
Over ghosts of parenthood. The children of this land
Are robed as judges, their gaze rejects
All measures of the past. A gleam
Invades their dead eyes briefly, lacerates the air
But with one sole demand:
Who sold our youth?

It all began with rambles where we studied things as we came upon them.

When Elwyn S. Richardson first came to New Zealand’s Oruaiti School he stopped to examine the green clays in the neighboring creek beds. One day he and his students found a seam of grey clay that they thought looked promising so they dug and carried several loads back to an outdoor patio area. They watered it, chopped it and worked it with hands and feet and finally got it into a workable consistency.

Next came a series of clay samples brought from home on a regular basis for testing and selecting. One day a boy named Rex wheeled his mother’s wheelbarrow one mile up the valley to the school loaded with bricks to make a kiln.

“The clay we used in the first months was not good. So we used the scientific method to solve the problem. We dried some pieces rapidly in the stove and these all cracked badly. Those that were sun-dried also cracked but those which were placed in the dark of the store room cupboard and dried slowly did not crack at all. We found that bottoms cracked unless we turned the pots early in the process of drying.”

The children at this school were real people to their teacher and to each other. Coronavirus could not distance nor defeat them because the vaccine against infectious anomie was their creative community. They were not reduced to social security numbers or login ID’s. Together everyone opened up to the immediate world, examining and uncovering it as if they had recently arrived from some other dimension. And maybe they had. Fresh eyes that fell in love with the work undertaken.

There was a romance involving GRASS and here is how Clifton-10 years expressed it. “I saw the clip of the grass gently move. the long dry wind, bending ticklish grass. The sticky heat of the paspallum walk. The mown grass breath of the wind. The sharp needle of the prickly gorse sticking into grass tops. They sat and watched the blinking sheep and the long bent grass waves. The long silent grass blows over the hill. On the top of the hill is the grass bending over like me bowing.“

The blue heron stands in the early world,
Looking like a freezing blue cloud in the morning.
Irene

George Joseph Cons was a dreamer. He was a man who said NO to combat during WWI. As you might imagine, that did not go over well and he was sent to prison for awhile, a farm prison where he grew food for the war effort. When it was all over he was not the favorite candidate for a teaching job in many districts but he made his way through the patriotic pettiness and ended up at Goldsmiths College University of London.

Postman As Curriculum


There he went into neighborhood schools where the children of working people were enrolled and brought the immediate community into classrooms. Students met their parents and their neighbors in an entirely heightened light. Suddenly the postman, a dustman, a sewer man or a fireman became the subject for intense and respected study. No one was ashamed to say, “My Mum is a washerwoman.” That mother was standing at the front of the class delivering a lecture and fielding questions on the business of send out laundry.

G.J. Cons and Catherine Fletcher wrote a book about their educational experiment and entitled it, ACTUALITY IN SCHOOL. A favorite section is the Q&A session with Mr. W. the local postman. It went something like this.

Please sir, when you’re going up the street and can’t see the numbers, what do you do? We have a little electric lamp which we switch on when we need to.

There is a man who lives in Palestine, who’s a great friend of my father and my father sends him letters. How would he get them? They would be sorted at the office and put into the “foreign section” of the General Post Office. There, there are sorting boxes for all parts of the world. Your father’s letter is put in the Palestine division.

Not only did this classroom meet with their postman, they also visited the sorting office where he worked. At age 9 and 10 they stayed in that area for over one hour, curious about and interested in all that transpired. On two different Thursday afternoons these youth boarded the city tram and arrived at the G.P.O. St. Martin Lee Grand for a proper look-see. As many of us have experienced as center city teachers, these kids had no idea that the big river running right before their eyes was a tributary known as The Thames. A free tram opened their lives up to an entirely new waterway subject of study which they could share with their impoverished families on a weekend jaunt.

Cons got hold of some documentary films to further expand post office investigations. One of his favorites was entitled “Night Mail”. Porters at Crewe are seen slinging giant mailbags into the train. The train steams through the Midlands, past factories and across the lowlands of Scotland, finally arriving in the misty morning at Edinburgh filled with letters and parcels of all description. Very visual.

But Mr. Cons and Ms. Fletcher were after something much more important than a deep, cognitive understanding of the postal system. As a man who said NO to war, he was a lover of peace, community, prosperity and sympathy. Yes, sympathy or empathy or whatever else one might call it. He wanted the children and their teacher to see that the postman lived a life of drama, holding his breath until a parcel recipient made it to the front door in time for a hand-off. Dashing into the shelter of a building, a tree or a storefront just as a drenching rain broke out. Losing a registered letter full of money and having to solve the mystery of where it went and how to retrieve it. This postman was a man of intelligence and energy and bravery and as a result of this big group inquiry, the world was once again endowed with delight, value and significance.

This is what real teachers do. They use curriculum to develop civic consciousness. They broaden individual worlds so people feel alive and excited in their place of existence. No one sleep walks through life or bounces about in a cocoon, careening off others, believing they are the only ones in the universe. No caste system is erected or maintained in which postmen and trash men and sewer men or washerwoman or lunchroom woman don’t count as citizens or as intellects. What we do matters and other human beings matter and we are the better for it, all thanks to a real teacher.

We do not stand back and watch a monster walk into the White House, claiming it as his own simply because he feels the need for power. We do not permit tyranny to run rampant like a contagious infection through a populace, filling them with fear and frustration. We need smart, active citizenship and this is how George Joseph Cons envisioned it happening in schools.

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