Friday, 12 February 2010
Ladies and gentlemen, my first guest blogger.
This posting is from my first ever guest blogger, my brother Ron. I could embarrass him by saying what a nice man he is but I’ll let you judge him on his posting. He’s very funny and writes great short stories, lyrics and speeches. I asked him if he’d be prepared to blog on anything he liked and here’s the result.
Reading Bill’s account of his Goldilocks spin-off got me thinking about his ‘audience’, the grandchildren, and by extension, children in general and the way they deal with the ‘messages’ we –writers, grandparents, mentors, teachers- are conveying to them.
Let me illustrate. I am a retired teacher and one of my roles as a year leader in my middle school was to visit our feeder primary schools towards the end of the summer term and tell them what wonderful experiences were waiting for them when they joined us in September. My spiel was designed to inform them, reassure them, excite them, send them home to comfort their mothers about the upcoming transition. Thus, I would describe our school’s on-site swimming pool, the three football pitches, science labs, IT suites, all-weather playground surface, drama studio…
The pupils in this particular school were sitting at my feet and – partly because of the huge build up the class teacher had given me – were completely rapt by my twenty minutes of inspired salesmanship. Shock and awe weren’t in it; they were gagging for the middle school extravaganza. Finishing with ‘any questions?’ I was comforted in one sense by the initial lack of response: my performance had clearly stunned them, their jaws were dropped in either amazement or adenoidal boredom, except for one small boy who reached up to tap my knee and asked, not the anticipated,
“How many pottery studios did you say you had?” or,
“Is there really a keyboard each in the music suite?”
“Can you touch the ceiling?”
And when I reached up and showed that I could, the whole group fractured into gasps and shared their wonder at the giant from the big school. Until that moment I hadn’t realised that the staff around me in this primary school – mainly women – were below average height, and barely capable of reaching their coat pegs. The headmaster was notably short in fact. My six feet three made me the one-eyed-man in the land of the blind. I sensed that the children might go on to conclude that, as they graduated through the different levels of education, the pedagogues got bigger:
“Maybe that’s why they have those raked banks of seats in university lecture theatres, so the students don’t have to crane their necks looking up at the nine-foot professors.”
Returning to my school I had a fresh awareness of the potential for this kind of failure to connect and began to notice examples in my working day. Our deputy head was giving (or taking) an assembly on a familiar theme. It was about the dizzying pace of technological change and how pupils should pause and reflect on how fortunate they were, etc. They’d heard it all before and were dumbly counting the wall bars to keep them awake until the sports results were announced.
Then the deputy said, “I expect most of you have a TV in your bedrooms as well as a huge flat screen surround sound system in the lounge. Well, when I was young “ (how many wall bars was that?) “all my family had to watch was a twelve inch Bush in the corner of the living room.”
They were too sleepy to react but I can imagine them in the corridors afterwards:
“Did he really say that?”
“The whole family watching a bush?”
“Yeah, like, ‘Can we watch the other side mum, it’s greener.’”
“Or mum says, ‘Stop moaning you two, you can have a bonsai in your room when you’re thirteen.’”
What children – if we let them – keep telling us is that there is a parallel universe, although it’s not a remote, inaccessible quantum thing but a handy little resource they can, and must, use in their admirable quest to make sense of the rubbish we sometimes talk. What we can do in response is stop trying to impose order on the resulting chaos and join them in the way Bill demonstrated. When they see we’re not pretending, that we’re in the flux too, maybe we can start to make the connections we crave.