Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth, that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Dog Ate My Homework

In Thailand, they have a hell of a lot better excuses than paper-eating dogs. Today at Thai Samakee, my fifth grade did not show up at 2 because they were out with this man, learning to make brooms out of bamboo. I knew well in advance they would not be coming. I was working with my second graders, making name tags with their nicknames (yes, with these guys I only see once a week, that is where I am).
What was going on outside the window was compelling, though my project held the attention of 9 out of 10 of them. I admit, I was sneaking peeks out the window. Here is what I saw:

These boys were in charge of the fire. They had a long sharp awl they heated and used to drill/burn holes through a section of bamboo in the handle. It wasn't an all male thing however. I saw girls working the fire later in the afternoon.

These girls were doing a separate sort of stripping of these leaves, the purpose of which I only discovered later. Note the size of the knife at her feet. At some points there was a teacher present, but often she left to tend to other business. Here is a video of the wizened soul teaching broommaking.
He was something to behold. More astonishing was the rapt attention of the students. Although, if American students were allowed to make fires, drill holes, and use sharp, large knives on a regular basis, they would probably be attentive as well. Next door to me was another ongoing lesson:
It was mostly a simple graphics program, but I did feel in a uniquely symbolic position between these extremes of technology and global and local markets. And there we were with our markers, writing our names and drawing pretty pictures...Here is the finished broom product. It is a stiff affair, built for outdoor sweeping of leaves and such. Very Hogwartian, no?
I am pretty sure the leaves for the second project came from stripping the bamboo for the handles of these cool babies. Either way, they became the focus of the rest of the afternoon, which is why only three of my grade 6 kids came to class.
 We had a great time learning the names of classroom objects and then transitioned to learning prepositions of place. It is a little like being a carny at a fair. I hang around and hope that someone will come and find my game interesting and plug a few minutes into playing it. In some ways I suppose it is an embodiment of the Summerhill School in England, where children more or less "follow their bliss" and go to where they want to learn, when they want to learn it. Having taught at an experimental school, and just having as many years as do in teaching, I don't let any of this bother me. I mean, who am I to say if English or broom making will be more important in many of these particular lives? My bet is on the broom. Ninety nine percent of the adults they know, from all but the highest echelons of society, speak barely a word of English- including many of the secondary school English teachers! And these girls who came for English? All three very academic and organized. I think they were sick of handwork and wanted some straight, abstract brainfood. Tired of this after an hour, we drifted back downstairs to see the second half of the show. This turned out to be making something strictly playful,  a leaf fish tied to very thin fronds to make mobiles.

I found it quite soothing to watch the student strip the fronds. The Thais are gifted at this kind of craft work, and it pervades their day. It is as if, because there is certainly no need for knitted goods, everyone has substituted a variety of other hand-occupying gestures where they can create and share time together in a tranquil, productive enterprise. The knife she is using is very sharp.
Here are the two fish I managed to catch!


  1. more videos please! how is the language barrier coming? I have forgotten, while reading your blog, that you are immersed in a language you didn't know before you left, but watching that video of the little girl and hearing all of the background chatter was fascinating. Do you understand their conversations between one another? Or do you just pick up words and phrases here and there? Are you making progress speaking it? Details please!

  2. This is where american schools could learn a lesson from the real world. Students need things to do that are immediately important! It drives their commitment to their community and by extension, their education!

    Mostly I want to make boats and fire in history class.