Finding Foxfire in the Kalihari

Bird Droppings June 26, 2010
Finding Foxfire in the Kalahari

I was walking about the yard and along the side of our nearby dirt road taking pictures of wildflowers and grasshoppers among other things I found a few days ago. I spent several minutes trying to photograph a seed from a broom sage plant floating along in the afternoon breeze to no avail. It was a bit of down just going where the breeze would take it. Very hard to focus on a moving piece of down and as I pondered much like walking into a class room and trying to teach kids who really do not want to be there. Sadly their thoughts and ideas floating about wandering where ever the breeze of today is blowing. I was listening as earlier today when I stuck my head out into the darkness and wetness of the morning and I drew near the back field and the sound of crickets and frogs was near deafening. An author I found in the educational journey of my later years, Laurens Von der Post came to mind as I imagined the sounds and images before me.

“Not only the present but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness. Both these processes are profoundly and mysteriously interdependent and doomed to failure without a continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation.” Laurens Van der Post,

Remembering a childhood event Von der Post was witness to the last days of man, at least of the Bushmen. It has been several months maybe even a year since I last picked up a Von der post book. Somehow in an email last evening and thinking about my dissertation topic I went looking for this author and a prolific author he was. As I researched last night and went to sixty one pages of his books and variations along with edited versions and translation are available. He died in 1996 at the age of 90. He had been everywhere and done everything during the years of his life. He was Prince William’s of Great Britain’s God father, the only non-royal ever to be so honored. He had been knighted by Queen Elizabeth many years ago. His writings while many covered his travels worldwide, however he is best known for his stories of the African bush. A Far Away Place was made into a family movie of children and their trek in the African wilds. But permeating all his writing a fascination with a nearly lost people, the African Bushman, or the Sans as they call themselves.

“The depth of darkness to which you can descend and still live is an exact measure of the height to which you can aspire to reach.” Laurens Von der Post

“Painful as it may be, a significant emotional event can be the catalyst for choosing a direction that serves us–and those around us — more effectively. Look for the learning.” Eric Allemburgh

Yesterday reflecting at a Foxfire course in Mountain City with fellow teachers and educators I was thinking in several directions, on one hand I was discussing current educational trends in the US and pros and cons of public education somehow came into that discussion. I interjected a comment about indigenous peoples of South America and how Amazonian Native peoples will often want to not experience civilization withdrawing into the jungles. I mentioned a unique program in Brazil as well, of protecting indigenous peoples from civilization where land is kept in tact and rain forest left alone when a new tribe is found, literally keeping civilization out. Signs are posted and the land is out of bounds for anyone to enter.
In that course of thought I went the direction of the Bushman and Von der Post. Last night I stood in the dark a bit longer than I usually do when I take the dog out. The sky was streaked with clouds after a violent storm front had passed through and a nearly full moon was making an attempt at peeking through. I was standing on the porch listening to the night, almost silent. I went back out another time a bit later into the morning and by now all the clouds were gone and stars permeating the entire sky. My head and sinuses have been bothering me and I laid back down putting my writing off till a bit later in the morning.
Today was to be different as many Saturdays I will put of writing and be lazy but today several thoughts kept rolling about. I have in the course of a few days solidified my dissertation topic. A several year journey pondering and reflecting over the direction I wanted to go. So often in my days since coming back to teaching and in daily jotting my thoughts down in the rambling form of Bird Droppings a student who has an issue, a friend or another teacher will find a Bird Dropping and then a series of events, I often use the term coincidence and it will have been just what they needed that day. For me this was my epipahany as I woke up I need to jot some ideas down. My dissertation has taken an autobiographical bend as I look at how I have journeyed in education and refound Foxfire. More specifically it was in understanding the Foxfire core principles. So I begin a new trek in my life’s journey. A teachers search for soul in education; using the Foxfire Core principles as a framework.

“When you come to a roadblock, take a detour.” Mary Kay Ash

“It’s easier to go down a hill than up it but the view is much better at the top.” Arnold Bennet

Several days ago I received an email from a person to be added to my morning meanderings. I added this person to my list and yesterday received another email here in my rushing to get a Bird Droppings out I had written exactly what this person needed. When calling my son at work his boss admitted she never reads my meanderings and that day she had been searching and by chance opened my daily thought and again it was what she needed.

“It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.” Taylor Benson

“Adversity draws men together and produces beauty and harmony in life’s relationships, just as the cold of winter produces ice-flowers on the window-panes, which vanish with the warmth.” Soren Kierkegaard

As I sit thinking about the drawing together of thoughts the past few days and ideas I come back to my involvement in the Foxfire teaching approach and more specifically the Foxfire Core Practices which is the basis for my dissertation. As I thought while reading several passages this morning, in a Von der Post’s book, The Lost world of the Kalahari. There is a comment about witnessing the last of the Bushmen painters. It seems there was a point in time when the Bushmen stopped their primitive art painted on the rocks of the Kalahari. The last painter was killed in an attack literally of genocide and no one knew how to take over the art.
As I looked at students walking the halls at my school and the discussions we have had over the past months on the internet it really dawned on me I was where I was to be, and doing what I was to do, offering at least a little piece of more than what is normally available. That could be hope, or it could be wisdom, It could be that talking about a bushmen ostrich egg with red neck kids in Georgia and interestingly enough preserving pieces of old Georgia in essays and photos and PowerPoint projects as we go. It could be simply the learning community formed when working together teacher and students in a more osmotic relationship that that of a parasitic one so many teachers choose. You are students and I will teach to you period. Von der Post in his book went in search of the last of the Bushman and found himself perhaps my journey will help me find myself as I go.

“Coincidences have never been idle for me, instinctively, but as meaningful as I was to find they were to Jung. I have always had a hunch that they are a manifestation of a law of life of which we are inadequately aware and which in terms of our short life are unfortunately incapable of total definition, and yet however partial the meaning we can extract from them, we ignore it, I believe, at our peril. For as well as promoting some cosmic law, coincidences, I suspect, are some sort of indication to what extent the evolution of our lives is obedient or not obedient to the symmetry of the universe.” Laurens van der Post reflecting on Carl Jung’s work

For many years now I have read and pondered Jung’s words and ideas. Back ten or so years ago an author James Redfield, wrote about coincidence in a fictional story of a lost manuscript The Celestine Prophecy. Redfield was trying to explain what he saw happening in his own life. Carl Jung in the early 1900’s coined the word synchronicity. I simplify and say I am at the right place at the right moment. What is amazing is when you look at life that way and you begin to see events unfold before you rather than just seeing through hindsight.

“A continuous search after self-knowledge, since we and our awareness are inevitably the main instruments of the interpretation” Laurens Von der Post

On internet, to borrow from the Foxfire website the following:

“In the Foxfire Approach, learning environments are characterized by student involvement and action, by thoughtful reflection and rigorous assessment, by imagination and problem solving, by applications beyond the classroom for what is learned, and by meaningful connections to the community. In these classrooms, students build the ability to work collaboratively and assume responsibility for their own learning processes.” Foxfire

Where and how does the Kalahari Desert and Bushmen and Foxfire and coincidence all tie in. An easy explanation can be seen borrowing from a core practice in the Foxfire teaching process

“Reflection is an essential activity that takes place at key points throughout the work. Teachers and learners engage in conscious and thoughtful consideration of the work and the process. It is this reflective activity that evokes insight and gives rise to revisions and refinements.” Foxfire

We build through reflection and we grow through reflection.

“Not only the present, but the future depends on a constant reinterpretation of history and a re-examination of the state and nature of human consciousness.” Laurens Von der Post

I think reflection could be inserted just as easy into Von der Posts quote; we all need to take time to see where we are and then participate actively as we go in life. Please keep all in harms way on your mind in and in your heart.

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