Building Bigger Boxes

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Building Bigger Boxes

Some of the worst educators I have been unfortunate enough to work with over my undergraduate and graduate years have come up with cliché after cliché in an effort to the sway students into believing that they really are getting an excellent education. One such phrase is the infamous: “We are teaching you to think outside the box.” So, what is their definition of ‘the box‘? Alas, I do not know. They deal in clichés and, by definition, a cliché is a  phrase that both parties (teachers and taught) accept as being meaningful, even though it is often without meaning. It is also a conversation closer, as in ‘it is what it is’. It’s hard to argue with that or to reason your way around it. ‘But it doesn’t have to be!’ rarely cuts the mustard aka mouse-turd.

So, if these teachers are teaching their students how to think outside the box, how are they managing to do so? Why by building bigger boxes inside which each student can be safely taught to think, without asking questions, and without looking for independent answers.

Today’s cartoon has two titles: (1) Brave hearts  escaping, finding meaning outside the bigger boxes and (2) can the true heart escape its coffin in a bigger box? I love the boxes within boxes and the drawers within each boxed segment into which the young, developing mind can be stuffed and crammed. How do we release those hearts? How do we develop those minds? Certainly not by confining them in bigger boxes. In the battle for hearts and minds, how do we set our students free?

It must be done on the student’s terms, each student, one by one, in co-operation with intelligent, meaningful teachers who step away from cliché and commonplace to enter the learner’s world and to themselves learn how to contact each learner at a mental, spiritual, and intellectual level. Only then will teacher and taught be able to speak of true intellectual freedom. Until that happens, be very careful when your child comes home and announces that today, of all days, that child has been taught to think outside the box. “Verily, I say unto you, open the cage door. Let in the sunshine and the light. Set those children free.” But remember, it must be on a  case by case basis, with each individual weighed, assessed, understood, and released to find their own individual way of earning the things they specifically need to know. In true education, one size really doesn’t fit all.

Comment: Another Golden Oldie that suddenly surfaced and, on emerging from the depths, reminded me of another of my callings: that of a teacher of philosophy and a teacher with a philosophy. Retired now, I can no longer help young minds to create and shape themselves. This is doubly true with Covid-19 haunting us, waving at us from the shop-windows, supermarket aisles, and street corners, flapping its wings and trying to fly into our bodies. And remember to distinguish between clichés and things that are not clichés, like ‘Wear a mask’, ‘wash your hands’ (twenty seconds, with soap), and ‘keep a safe social distance’. Do this all the time and hopefully you will avoid thinking inside the bigger box of a six foot pine Covid-19 coffin.

Empty Head

           

Empty Head

I sat in class, head in hands, avoiding eye contact. I hoped the priest wouldn’t point me out, call on me, nominate me with a finger, but to no avail. He called my name.

“You have sixty seconds to speak about,” he paused, then produced the rabbit from the hat. “Matches. Come along, stand up, sixty seconds, starting,” he watched the second hand go round on the classroom clock, then counted down: “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 …” waved his hand, and shouted: “Start now!”

            Images flashed through my head: matches: cricket matches, boxing matches, rugby matches, soccer matches, chess matches, matches to light the burners on the gas stove, the oven, to light the fire in the fireplace … matches, matchsticks, Match Box toys, Dinky toys, toys for little boys, toys for big boys …

            “Fifteen seconds have gone … you have forty-five remaining.”

            “When I think about matches, I think about …”

            … the first spring day in the bungalow, our summer home. The rooms are cold and damp after the winter and nobody has been here since last year. We lay a fire in the grate, but the wood is damp, as is the old newspaper we gather from our last visit. We search for sugar to aid the blaze that we hope to start, but the sugar bowl is empty. We go to the stove. Cold, winter ashes crowd the fire bowl. We scrape them together in a desperate search for charcoal remains …  but we find nothing. We move to the oil-fired lamps and oil stoves. Matches dragged across soggy sandpaper fail to spark …

            “Come along, boy. We haven’t got all day. You’ve got thirty seconds left.”

            Silence fills the room. It is broken by the childhood sniggers and chuckles of long-forgotten classmates who never became friends My cheeks grow red. I start, stammer, and stop.

            … we leave the bungalow. Go next door to where our neighbours winter over. We knock on the door. “Can you lend us a match?” we ask, holding out our hands. Mrs. Williams beams at us. “A match,” she says. “First time in after the winter?” We nod. “I thought so. Saw you arriving. Wondered why you hadn’t come earlier. The weather’s been nice. Here: I can do much better than a match.”  She moves over to the fireplace, picks up the little coal shovel, scoops up a generous portion of her fire, heaps on another lump, then two, of fresh coal, and “Here you are,” she says. “Just put it in the fireplace and add some wood and coal. This can be your first fire. Here, you’d better have some matches too.” “Thank you, Mrs. Williams,” we say. “No problem,” she replies. “It’s good to see you back. It’s been lonely here this winter without you.”

            “Time’s up,” the priest says. “That’s sixty seconds of silence and you can hardly find a word to say on a simple subject. Are you stupid or what?

            My face turns red and I suffer the hot, burning cheeks of childhood shame.

Comment:

This is a theme to which I have returned on many occasions. Click on the link to see the original post. https://rogermoorepoet.com/2016/05/page/2/

Lamplighter

Avila 2008 207

Gas Lamps

When I was very young, a long time ago, in Swansea, many of our streets still had gas lamps.  The lamp-lighter would appear in winter around three or three-thirty to light those lamps. I remember him walking up the street with his long pole over his shoulder, moving from lamp to lamp. We had one outside our front door. He would turn on the gas, then light the lamp from the lighted wick at the end of his pole.  Sometimes he carried a ladder with him. Then, every so often, when the lamp needed tending, he would climb the ladder and adjust the wick. These gas lights were not very bright but they stood out like light houses between stretches of darkness and we would walk from pool to glowing pool, as if they were stepping stones leading us up the hill to home. We all knew the lamplighter and he would often wave to us as we sat in the front room window to watch him walk by. We rarely saw him in the mornings when he came back to turn off the lamps. We were all tucked safely into our beds. I remember that I wanted to be lamplighter. Later I realized that there are many ways to light a lamp and spread brightness through the world. When I grew up, I became teacher, a coach, a faculty adviser, a mentor, a creator, and those roles allowed me to establish myself as a lighter of a very different set of lamps.

 

 

Why?

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Why?

“Where are you going?” I ask again. “To see a man about a dog,” my father replies.  “Why?” I ask. “Hair of the dog,” his voice ghosts through the rapidly closing crack as the front door shuts behind him. “Why?” I cry out.

I recall the mud nest jammed tight against our garage roof. Tiny yellow beaks flap ceaselessly open. Parent birds sit on a vantage point of electric cable, their beaks moving in silent encouragement. A sudden rush, a clamour of wing and claw, a small body thudding down a ladder of air to crash beak first on the concrete.

“Why?” I ask.

The age-old answer comes back to me. “Wye is a river. It flows through Ross-on-Wye and marks the boundary between England and Wales.” The swallows perch on the rafters watching their fledgling as it struggles on the floor, the weakening wing flaps, the last slow kicks of the twitching legs.

“Why?” I ask.”

Y is a crooked letter invented by the Green Man of Wye,” my grandfather says.

“Why?” I repeat. “I want to know why.” Silence hangs a question mark over the unsatisfied spaces of my questing mind.

Comment: A golden oldie. We would all like to know why. But there are no answers. Just riddles cast, like two trunk-less legs of stone, on the sands of time. Nothing beside remains. Yet still we ask the age old question? Why? And still we get the age old answer from the ageing masters who rule our childhood lives and teach us everything they know: “Because.”

Writing a Poem Video

 

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Writing a Poem

The KIRA artists (Roger Moore, June, 2017) were invited to make a video on the ways in which they worked. Here is my KIRA video. This is the first time I have ever made a video of myself. I am not into selfies (wrong generation) and had to be ‘persuaded’ to do this. The instructions were simple: something easy that anyone could do under lock down or in a home-schooling situation. I hope you enjoy the show!

 

 

Learning Disabled Learning Troubled

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Learning Disabled Learning Troubled
by
Victor Hendricken
 

Like separate lives, they flow through our weekly meets.

The many speakers, special to their cause,

Marking trails with wise words and images

That surely we can follow through dense forest,

Where new growth, vibrant, verdant,

Fertilized by wisdoms, fed by lore,

Shines and sparkles to ever light our way.

They tell us who they are,

And hint at what we may become.

Guided by their telling,

Senses stir, touched by feelings

Long lost or never known

And yet we ask for more.

No stopping here, no rest from task.

Reflection does make wealth of all the learning,

So the last day is the first,

While still we reach, unending in our thirst.

 

Expectations of discovery:

Telling stories in old age,

Hoping to discover who we are,

Or who we might have been

Had we not been ourselves as we are now.

More than mental beings, physical too.

Bodies wracked by desire, not for human flesh,

But something sinister, demanding, unclean almost,

Liquid in form or hazy blue and drifting,

Wild in its ability to bring ecstacy

To crazed senses and convulsed parts.

We talk, confused by dialect

Long lost or perhaps newly made

That speaks of different times,

When different rivers ran and winds were not so cold.

And yet we tremble to recapture words

That tell our passing and the greatness that we might have been

But for our special needs.

 

Readers we are not, but thinkers and doers,

Now there shines a bright star.

But wild it is, yet tamed with nectar of the gods

In white coats with sealed bottles at their will,

And small round pebbles of human kindness to dispense.

Lethargic no; sleepless yes!

And still our thirst, never satisfied,

Coyly beckons to the spring.

Until at last, letters dancing

Like eggs, scrambled, with dots of pepper laced.

We close our eyes and listen

And hear the world conform, at last.

Though weary, we who hear so well,

Cannot raise the glass, or read the words

So simply carved upon our epitaph of stone.

 

Many have come calling,

None remained, none returned.

Yet through it all one stayed;

A beacon, to light the way through confusion,

Bringing us home through the darkness

Of our ignorance and of our bliss,

Where vision, too often blurred by regularity,

Sees not the forms that cast the shadows,

Nor the minds that hold the forms.

For we too are human, with needs,

Unique, special, and starving to be met.

 

How can we say without saying,

Do without doing?

What magic cleverly spins its charm

To turn the chore from task to deep desire,

So that, without seeming to accede,

Demands are met, and institutions no longer risk.

Answers are oft found in their own questions.

But questions must be disassembled,

Stripped, laid bare to each their naked parts;

Abundant clues that lead to hidden corridors of knowing

Reveal, upon examination, answers that flow

From the tips of fingers to places inside,

Where decisions are dreamed and voiced.

There, nestled in the gut, close by the heart,

Feelings are born, expressions lived.

 

Look to the question,

And, in the very asking find the answer.

Who educates?  Evaluates?  Decides?

Is it how well I did, or how good I am?

Did I get to play a part and why not?

Choosing is as real on the inside, as it is on the out.

Comment: I am posting some poems and texts by friends. This poem is the first on the list, written by my good friend Victor Hendricken. Congratulations, Victor: You’re #1 on the hit parade!

Self-Isolation Day 22 / Ducks

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Self-Isolation Day 22
22 =Ducks, Patos in Spanish.

Ducks, because the 2 and the 2 seem to float together like a pair of ducks or a pair of Swans. How did Swansea get it’s name? Some say it was because handsome white swans used to swim on the salt waters of the bay: Swan+sea. Other’s say that  was on account of a battle where a man called Swain lost his eye: Swain’s Eye = Swansea. Oh dear, it’s so much easier in Welsh: Abertawe, the mouth of the river Tawe.

Speaking of Welsh, this is the 290th consecutive day that I have done my Welsh lessons. I guess the pandemic has helped over the last few weeks. Nowhere to go, nothing to do, and all those Welsh memories bringing a fresh light to enlighten the darkness that is Corona Virus aka Covidis-19.

Language Teaching: never easy. And I should know after 43 years of teaching Spanish in Canadian universities (1966-2009). Relevance and irrelevance: how do we teach meaningful things? Good question. Dw i eisiau prynu’r crwban ddu fach / I want to buy the little black tortoise. Very useful. I bet they use that phrase on the streets of Llanelli and Abertawe every day of the week. How about Mae’r ddraig coch yn callu smwddio bob wythnos / The red dragon is able to do the ironing every week. Well, well: I suppose I did remember these two wonderful phrases. I am sure I will use them the next time I go to Cardiff.

I much prefer the Welsh of St. David: Gwnewch y pethau bychain mewn bywyd / Do ye the little things in life or Byddwch lawen a chadwch eich ffyd a’ch credd / Be joyful and keep your faith and creed. These two quotes from the patron saint of Wales are full of meaning, especially at this oh-so-difficult juncture in all our lives. Funny really: I laugh at the first two, the dragon and the tortoise, but without them, I would probably never have arrived at the Original Welsh of St. David / Dewi Sant.

Languages: they say that to learn another language is to gain another soul and another set of eyes through which to view the world. We view the world through our languages. Limit the language and we limit the world. Reduce the language, any language, to its lowest common denominator, and we reduce and diminish the world around us. Sparrows, juncos, chickadees, Cedar Waxwings, robins, mourning doves, crows, hawks (Cooper’s Hawk, Sharp-Shinned Hawk, Marsh Hawk) are all reduced to birds. Mountain Ash (Russian or European), Birch, Hackmatack, Tamarack, Spruce … all these are reduced to trees, nothing more and nothing less than trees.

Think about language. Savor language. Roll it round your mouth. Taste it on your tongue. Use the correct names for things. Expand your vocabulary. Do not be satisfied with Grade 9 English. Learn. Advance. Develop. Carry a dictionary (Y geiriadur Gymraeg newydd) and look up words, learn their meanings, learn how to spell them. Never give up. Do not be satisfied, ever, with the lowest level of existence. Flower, flourish, rise up and fight for your own self-education, for your own language, for your own destiny, for your own rights!

Madness & Method

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Madness & Method
(1729 & 1955-1962 AD)

his voice woke the wilderness
shook bread from heaven
he cast it on wild waters

scything and tithing
Frocester’s old barn
Gloucester a stomping ground
walking and biking
whenever he can

dry dusty parchments
old faded leaves
talking together
among the wheat sheaves
Hebrew Greek Latin
vernacular spaces
falling like rain
between words on a page

dearly beloved
moved into sundry places
a town mice stirred into open fields
harvesting blackberries and apples
gleaning like a country mouse
house tumbling wind-blown down

marooned now and listless
an old hermit crab
basking on a sun-dried beach
quilts and crisp  sheets
mermaid-hair pillowed
claws click and comb
fresh footprints laundered
warm summer sands

Thinking Outside the Box

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Clichés, I love them.  Take one of our current Canadian educational clichés, for example: “We teach you to think outside the box.” I have met many teachers at various levels of education who tell this to me, and to their students.  Yet most of these teachers cannot themselves ‘think outside the box’. What they usually do, when teaching, is shut off the student’s original box by teach them to build a slightly larger one around it. They must now learn to think inside this new box in the way the teacher wants. Hence the cartoon above: We build bigger boxes and Building bigger boxes.

The central motif is, of course, the original ‘tiny’ box outside which the student must be ‘taught‘ to think. For ‘taught‘ substitute one of the following: persuaded, bullied, pressured, beaten, shamed, starved, embarrassed, … depending on the time and place, all of these words are sadly suitable and yes, in my learning career, I suffered at one time or another at the hands of teachers who used each of these methods, and others equally (or more) brutal, sometimes more than one at once.

What was inside that original box? Of course the contents vary with each individual, but creativity is in there, challenging authority is in there, self-belief is in there, a desire to ask endless questions, a childish wisdom to see the world as it is, not as the grown-ups say it is. I ask you, have they really ever grown up, have they ever escaped from their own hand-built boxes? Education: locking down the walls of that original box. Do away with creativity [not that way, this way!], free thinking [you mustn’t say things like that!], challenging  authority [cheeky, disobedient child!], asking questions [little children should be seen and not heard …. silence! … silence in class!] and finally, do away with self-belief and make the child dependent on the teacher [please, Sister Mary … please, Mother Theresa … please Father Maguire …] …

As the walls of the bigger boxes grow thicker and stronger, so it becomes more difficult to once again think as a child. Questions are answered by authority figures or on the internet with answers to FAQs and pre-packaged concepts. How do we regain our creativity? I assure you, we have never lost it. Where is it? Where is it hidden? In this world of folly and rush, of hustle, muscle, and busy bustle, so few of us have the time or can afford to take the time to sit and think, to undo those false walls that surround us, to find again the child-loving pleasure of thinking for ourselves, of discovering for ourselves, of being creative in the ways that we were so very, very long ago. Remember what Picasso said of his later paintings: ‘it took me a long time to relearn how to see the world as a child.’

Creativity: it is always with us. We must rediscover it. We must unwrap it from the tarpaulins that the system placed around it. We must dig it out from under the walls, the ruinous walls, with which the system surrounded us. It is still there, waiting for us to rediscover it. Believe. Roll up your sleeves. Dig deep inside yourself. And think for yourself. Then, when you have found that original box, open it, find exactly what is in it (the universal gifts to the new born), and become creative yet again. Only then will you have taught yourself (yourself, because others won’t teach you) to truly think outside the box, the multiple boxes, that the system and society designed to trap your creative spirit. Open the cage door: , release your creative spirit and let it soar to the skies.

Writing at KIRA

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BOUTIQUE WRITING RETREAT
SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 30 – SATURDAY OCTOBER 6

This KIRA Boutique Retreat invites former KIRA Resident Artists (Roger Moore (June, 2017) and Jeremy Gilmer (July, 2018) to blend their knowledge and skills with those of the Kingsbrae Artistic Director, Geoff Slater, in a unique Artistic Retreat, tailored to the needs of each participant.

KIRA Boutique Retreats offer a series of one-on-one and small group encounters within the glorious surroundings of the KIRA Residence.

The KIRA Boutique experience includes scheduled one-on-one interviews with each of three instructors, Blue Pencil Cafés, small group workshops (according to demand), lively meal time discussions, and evening readings and talks by facilitators and participants.

The secret of these unique KIRA Boutique Retreats is the unbeatable ratio of participants to facilitators within a small, welcoming artistic community.

Your KIRA Boutique Experience may also include the wonders of whale-watching, the award-winning gardens at Kingsbrae, special events at the Kingsbrae Gardens, the beauties of the resort town of St. Andrews, and the outstanding gourmet food of the  Kingsbrae Garden Café.

As a participant, you can enjoy the solitude of your 20’ x 20’ artistic studio or you can join in the artistic discussions launched by our expert facilitators.

RETREAT FEES:

The KIRA Boutique Experience costs $750 for a six night residency.

This includes:

1. 6 nights accommodation in the beautiful KIRA residence.
2. 2 meals a day.
3. Tailor-made writing workshops (on demand).
4. Blue Pencil Cafés, one-on-one interviews with the facilitators.
5. Round-table artistic discussions at meal times.
6. Evening talks and / or open reading sessions.

Facilitators:

Geoff Slater, Artistic Director, Kingsbrae Garden / KIRA.

Roger Moore, award winning poet and short story writer, KIRA (June, 2017).

​Jeremy Gilmer, CBC finalist (short story), KIRA (July, 2018).

Please contact Mary Jones to sign up.

Phone 506-529-8281

PLEASE FEEL FREE TO SHARE THIS EVENT

Click here for the direct link to  KIRA and Kingsbrae.