Bird Droppings November 2, 2021
Education is turning an ugly face jug, not pouring in a mold
I turned seventy-three yesterday and, of all days, had a good case of the flu. I was sitting on my back porch, eating a late breakfast and sipping a cup of tea, listening to the birds. I have used the line I was born on All Saints Day in St. Joseph’s Hospital many times. My last church affiliation was confirmation in the Catholic Church many years ago as I married a Catholic, and my children were baptized in the Catholic Church. Today I claim no church affiliation and, in many ways, no religious affiliation. My morning meanderings and monasticism are my spiritual leaning—enough about religion. I have long enjoyed the art of the ugly face jug. There are many tales as to why the folk potters began this idea. One story is to keep the kids out of the moonshine jug, but I always thought placing them on graves was more feasible to keep evil spirits away. Regardless I have collected and been fascinated for many years.
It has been a few years since I last talked with and watched the late Cleater Meadors turn a jug on the potter’s wheel at the Mossy Creek Arts and Crafts Fair in Perry, Georgia. A simple lump of clay in a skilled artist’s hands can become a work of art as each moment passes. Cleater Meador’s pots and jugs fetch thousands of dollars in today’s folk art collecting. He learned the family trade as he was the nephew of the world-renowned folk potter Lanier Meadors and the son of Cheever Meadors, a renowned potter and Lanier’s brother if you are looking up folk pottery in the book Brothers in clay by Burrison, 1983.
As I thought about Mr. Meadors and the many fond memories of days gone by, I saw a similarity to education. How do we see our students that come into our rooms each day? Do we see them as unique, like the ugly face jugs of mountain potters that have no restraints in size or shape, or do the current legislative policies limit us to seeing them as just a commodity, research-based, or a standard much like the graduated cylinder with a precise and fixed amount of space that we are required to fill?
My middle son, by chance, graduated from Georgia Tech; however, when he was eight years of age had the opportunity to be hands-on with Mr. Meadors at his wheel, making a small pot. I asked my son recently if he remembered that time, and he recalled each step in the process. I asked him if he remembered perhaps a specific teacher in that same period and how she taught, and he did not recognize her name, let alone what he was taught. A few moments spent working with an artist are long remembered in minute detail, yet his school teacher somehow escapes him. Are we missing something in this standardized system that is becoming education? As I watch my school system piece by piece, we lose art, creativity, and imagination in classes and with our children.
“When we say that a work of art is an experiment in living, we mean exactly that it presents to us the pros and cons, what it feels like to be a murderer or the victim as a result of which you feel somehow that you have entered into the lives of other people.” J. Bronowski, The Visionary Eye
Maybe we should consider our students as works of art rather than commodities. As I tried to understand how my son recalled that moment with Mr. Meadors so clearly, yet his class work and teacher seemed forgotten, I wondered about our educational system and Bronowski’s statements. Bronowski was a teacher, and he said, “you have to touch people” in his television series; it is about emotions and feelings and living. I use the phrase from my Dewey studies of giving context to content, and I thought of my former classroom. I tried to provide opportunities for discovery to my students, all of whom are classified as special education and many are emotionally and behaviorally disturbed. My room was a cornucopia of things from a 1955 Tonka truck, photos everywhere, posters, and daily quotes from famous authors to Stevie, the ball python, and the rest of our zoo. It was by no means a sterile environment. I try and put context in the content. I try and instill imagination and creativity.
“How strange should curriculum become? Unless one can see the possible in or beyond the actual, they cannot frame a moral ideal of what ought to be; they are slaves to the actual. Imagination acquires moral import to unite the real and the ideal. Imagination is the chief instrument of the good…the ideal factors in every moral outlook and human loyalties are imaginative. In the active relation between ideal and actual imaginative, art may become more religious than religions…. art is more moral than moralities. Spirituality involves expanded perception; therefore, education in all fields must involve educating the creative imagination.” John Dewey
We need to go beyond content, beyond the traditional rhetoric of compliance to standards, and we need to imagine, and we are losing this. Dewey continued this idea by discussing the spiritual vision of art and expanding creative imagination, which is much more to the curriculum for teachers to consider.
“Education must ensure that not only the material but the inward life of the individual be developed. Education should address not the isolated intellect, as the advocates of standards suggest it ought, but the hopes and dreams of the self of which intellect – the complex reflective self – is merely a part.” Allan Block
How do we try and rekindle that desire in teachers and, most importantly, in students? Can we return to the imagination, context, creativity, and the individual? Please, my friends, keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and let us look inward namaste.
My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)