Tuesday, April 23, 2013

School on the hill, fog in the hollow

They should have taught us birds and trees
in school, they should have taught us beauty
and weaving bees and had a class
on listening and standing alone --

The first few lines of a poem by the Kentuckian Maurice Manning, who might be called the poet laureate of Appalachia. You can find the entire poem here. It is also contained in Manning's newly published volume, The Gone and the Going Away., which is where I found it. It's a lovely poem, and espouses a philosophy of education that cultivates awareness. If a child is aware, everything else will follow.

Which reminds me of a wonderful book that was published in America in 1964, as I began my own teaching career: Elwyn Richardson's In the Early World. Richardson taught in a country school on the North Island of New Zealand, with mixed classes of Maori and Caucasian children. The book describes and illustrates the way of teaching that he developed, which focused on awareness and the unique creative potential of each child. Language skills, mathematics, social studies, science: All followed from a creative engagement with the world.

Awareness. "The children should have studied light/ reflected from a spider web," says Manning. From that small observation might spring questions of mathematics and physics, chemistry and natural history, poetry and art.

As a young teacher, I was blown away by Richardson's book, by the richness of the childrens' arts and crafts. Teaching science at the college level was of course something very different, but the book certainly influenced the direction of my career. Its spirit can, I trust, be sensed in my posts here.

I owned several copies of the book over the years, but gave them all away to students who were going into primary teaching. If you know a young person about to begin a teaching career, track down a copy and give it as a gift. They will not, of course, have the freedom in any American school system to follow Richardson's path, but they will have a glancing awareness of awareness.

The title of the book, by the way, comes from a poem by one of Richardson's students, Irene:
The blue heron stands in the early world
Looking like a freezing blue cloud in the morning.