Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Voice From Deepest Devon

While travel affords the gift of a fresh perspective and appreciation for life as I know it, it also sort of turns me on my head.  Since returning from Vegas, I've experienced a readjustment period.  For a week I couldn't really remember what it was that I was doing with my life.

Then I packed up our overdue books and returned to the library.  AHHH, yes.  This is what I was doing.  I was sinking ever deeper into this one particular stack.  The poetry section in the children's room.  I find the most wonderful books in this area, some which are meant just for the teachers, books on teaching writing and books with collections of poems meant to be read aloud.  There I've discovered Naomi Shihab Nye, Mary Oliver, Georgia Heard, X.J Kennedy, and countless others.  I once read somewhere that everyone has a gap in their education, and that once found, has the potential to be a starting point for a great exploration as an adult.  Poetry is one of those gaps for me, and so I'm starting at the beginning and working my way to the grown-up stacks.  So far, I have yet to exhaust the children's room collection.  Each time I go into the stacks, I cross my fingers that there will be at least one collection I haven't read yet that isn't an overly juvenile cartoon about the seasons or a particular holiday.  I'm always searching for the deep water.

Yesterday's dig turned up a gem, which really isn't a book of poetry at all, but a book of short stories and essays on writing by Michael Morpurgo.  Morpurgo is the author of War Horse and was England's Children's Laureate from 2003-2005.  What I love about Morpurgo is that he began writing midway through his adult life.  I was so inspired by what he shares in Singing For Mrs. Pettigrew about how he became a writer in mid life, that I feel called to share a few passages that speak to my heart.

On teaching:

"(the students) had for too long suffered the tyranny of punctuation tests and spelling tests and comprehension tests; were already deeply alienated from literature and simply not interested in anything a book had to offer.  I had been there.  I knew that before they could engage with stories (and certainly with literacy) all the fear and the resentment had to be excised.  I would simply tell stories or read them, trying to make every one of them as enjoyable and compelling as I could, and I would not ask questions afterward, nor use the test to teach.  Let them enjoy the stories, I thought. Then they might see and understand the need for punctuation and spelling.  It might all begin to make some sense to them.  Words would hold less fear for them; in fact, they might see that words could turn out to be fun and fascinating and filled with music and magic. And it worked; it really worked.

On those first callings to become a writer:

"All this time, although I really wasn't aware of it then, I was taking my own first tentative steps as a writer.  I had already tested myself as a storyteller---thirty-five expectant children for half an hour's story time at the end of each school day had done that.  Confidence was growing.  But I still had not grasped that I could do more than entertain, and I knew that entertaining was not enough for me. I knew that the best books I had read, the best poems, had made me think and wonder and question.  Bu t at the time I thought that it was only geniuses that wrote such books, clever people, literary people.  I was still encumbered, I suppose, by this feeling of intellectual and creative inadequacy.  It was an uncomfortable reality.  I almost gave up."

On the turning point:

"Then I got lucky. At my wife Clare's, behest, we upped sticks from Kent and moved down to deepest Devon.  Both of us, as teachers, had felt that children could never learn enough within the confines of the classroom, that children----and city children in particular---would benefit hugely from the experience of living for a while in the countryside and working on a farm...and off we went on our great adventure down to Devon, to Iddesleigh, to get it started.  But quite unexpectedly, it turned out that I was the one who benefited most from all this, for...I inadvertently enriched myself hugely as a person, and so as a writer.  
It was from this total immersion that I was finding at last I had a story of my own to tell and a voice of my own with which to tell it...I was exploring in my stories, my own hopes and doubts and fears, engaging with my own past and present."


My final thoughts as I climbed the stairs up to bed after reading this essay was that while Elliot is benefiting from our home education journey, "unexpectedly, it turns out that I am the one who benefits from this...inadvertently enriching myself hugely as a person."






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