brick by brick, limb by limb
i was born into a country
divided by a wall that:
cut through people’s breaths and yet
straightened their shoulders like a spine;
i was born into a country with
a cast grown tightly around (and into) its body:
finally, the fall came:
as the trees began to shed their leaves,
the wind picked up brick after brick and
carried it away;
it left us with a new kind of emptiness that
made my father tear himself apart:
he took limb after limb and threw it against
that same brick sky until he was no longer my father but a
tiny white spot in the distance
most wars won mean several battles lost,
no big victory comes without defeat on both sides
keep in mind the bigger picture, i hear you sing –
your catch phrase:
keep in mind the bigger picture,
we are making history, we are changing things for the better
(battle after battle, defeat after defeat)
sometimes I open an old book and some of my father’s
fingertips or eyelashes still crumble
out from in between the pages and fall into my lap;
we all keep in mind the bigger picture, of course
but you should know that in order see it clearly,
most of us have to stand on each other’s shoulders,
that’s why some of us fall and break their backs.
It’s sitting in the corner, gray and plump and it’s not likely to go away – the elephant in the room: “What’s so different?”
Once I’ve told people I’ve recently been in the Netherlands with one of my education classes in order to take a closer look at their system of public education, it’s – inevitably – the question everyone asks.
The answer, however, is not nearly as intuitive.
Yet, there is one word that’s been buzzing around in my head for a while. It jumped at me when I first set foot in one of the schools there and it’s stuck with me ever since: Openness.
First, openness in the most literal sense of the word. The classroom doors: open. The classroom walls: open (i. e. glass). The principal’s office: (mostly) open! The area around the school: open (no fence, no nothing).
Second, openness in a more metaphorical way: A (for me) surprising as well as pleasant candor. It seemed people were neither afraid to open their mouths nor to open their ears – for questions, answers, even (potential) criticism.
In very broad terms, I also noticed their openness for: cooperation (instead of the dog-eat-dog mentality that you will find frighteningly often among the teaching staff at German schools), color (arts & crafts style, but also multiculturalism; pluralism in a lot of ways – in thinking, teaching, learning), creativity (self-explanatory), and also unity (in the sense of support; yet, also in the sense of collectivity – which can be a good thing…yet, I think, it’s also the one thing that goes on my personal list of bad things I’ve noticed about their system).
Unity (one method).
An interesting idea: the method. No wait, this needs more emphasis: it’s the method. Because there’s just one – one method per school. For the teacher this basically means two things. One, less work (hooray!). Two, less latitude (womp womp…).
Here’s how it works: Each school decides on one method – i. e. one style of teaching (possibly focusing on Montessori pedagogy or Helen Parkhurst’s Dalton Plan concept). This also includes a range of textbooks for all different subjects as well as computer programs to go with their whiteboards. Everything’s well-matched – at least it should be.
It seems to be an entirely holistic approach (which ties in with most Dutch school’s aim: learning with head, heart and hand), and that is a very good thing. It doesn’t leave teachers on their own, trying to pick the few cherries out of a huge pile of teaching material and objectives, and that is most certainly a good thing.
Yet, it also seems very close-meshed. It definitely leaves less room to design a curriculum that matches your own as well as your students’ preferences. It’s like wearing another person’s outfit, trying not to feel silly.
Of course it’s possible that I simply missed the point. Still. This approach, to me, doesn’t include the openness I’ve encountered elsewhere.
That’s, of course, not an in-depth analysis, but more of my own, unfiltered gut-feeling spilled out. In general, looking at the schools in the Netherlands left me with a warm and fuzzy feeling – possibly, even with butterflies in my stomach, or as they say: lentekriebels. Maybe just because it’s Spring. However I think, it’s probably more than a short-lived fling…
First, let’s create some atmosphere. Here’s the soundtrack that goes along with this post. This song is to this post as is the frosting to the cake, Elmo to Sesame Street,
the oven to Sylvia Plath, the road to Dean and Jack – caring is creepy…listen, read, enjoy. Well, actually, just do whatever. But the song’s really good.
1. Care – ful.
I’m a carer. I care for a zillion things – some of them important, some of them as irrelevant as one speck of dust in relation to the entirety of our quite enormous universe (that is, consequently: very irrelevant).
This doesn’t necessarily mean that I am also an action-taker, a mover or a shaker. Demonstrations unsettle me; I’m not a loud person – so yelling out catch phrases while angrily raising my fist into the air is really not my thing. Also, it doesn’t mean that I’m a convincer – I just don’t like enforcing my beliefs onto innocent victims that are being perfectly happy simply minding their own business. I’m more of a live-and-let-live-type-of-person. At times, I wish this was different. Because at times, caring just for the sake of caring is – let’s face it – somewhat tedious.
So at times, when I remember that also I am a writer (or at least, trying to be something close), I pick up a pencil or let my fingers work a keyboard – I write to let people know I care. I don’t have to be loud and I don’t have to be enforcing – I just put some words out there, for anyone to read – if they care.
I’m afraid, I am too care-ful.
2. What? (Objectives.)
My objectives, admittedly, shift – depending on my state of mind, the amount of caffeine in my system, how much time I’ve spent reading (terrifying/ridiculous/ *insert other adjective here*) news headlines/ a good book/ a bad book; simply on whatever’s been going on during my day. Of course. I suppose it’s the same with most people. Here an excerpt from today’s list: Several friends having a hard or stressful time (dealing with things I can’t, for the life of me, help them with – not in any other way than caring), international education policies (dear politicians: stop the cutting of funding, please – not all children have the auto-didactic brilliance of our dear Abe, for the most part they need at least books and teachers showing them how to use these books…), finals/presentations/papers (and their nemesis – procrastination – looming in the not so distant distance)…
3. Now what? (Post-caring: Taking action. Or not. Or…)
I don’t know. Honestly. I’ve taken to writing, and… now I’m out. That’s the tedious part I’ve mentioned earlier. That’s the thing with being care-ful. It doesn’t make a difference to anyone else, really. And yet. If you care, it’s because you want to make a difference. So here’s some more writing:
For a friend: I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking of you and although I know that I can’t actually change the situation you’re in right now, I can maybe change the way you’re feeling about it – you’re not going through this alone. Because I am thinking of you. Because I care.
For a politician: You’ve got to be kidding me. Do you even know what you are doing? I don’t think so. Yet, you’re probably not even the one to blame – because back in the days when you still went to school, there were other politicians just like you and they were already eagerly cutting the funding for schools and universities. That’s why there was no one (or no good book) left to teach you any better. And you’re just not an auto-didactic. It’s not your fault that you’re not the brightest crayon in the box.
As for the rest on the list – I’m going to stop procrastinating now (because this is what I’ve been doing writing this). I should probably make the best of my education now, before they cut half of the teachers on my program. Or the program (I’m not certain, they wouldn’t – even though it’s a teacher training program). So I can eventually kick one or two politician’s *insert any body part here*. And teach my students to know better. I’ll teach them to be care-ful, I think.