Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Things I learned this week

1. Spraying moth killing chemicals may exterminate more than moths - a thorough-going spritz of moth-be-gone can lead to definite deadening of the brain cells and some fairly intense moments of feeling a bit fluttery myself.  Still, personal sacrifices aside, I showed no mercy.  Seriously moth, be gone.

2. Those midnight moments of inspiration (possibly related to the inhalation of large quantities of toxic material) do need some kind of concrete base of knowledge to follow through on and prevent embarrassment.  I'm convinced that my dissertation idea has legs for further research, but the fact it came to me in the middle of the night and converges on some fairly massive historical and theological themes of which I have less than a minimal grasp does make it problematic (nothing like a good understatement).  Couple that with a pathological fear of history after a tricky encounter with a teacher in secondary school means that I have a very steep hill to climb in terms of getting a proposal ready and obviously actually delivering something of any use at the end of it.

3. If one doesn't learn something at school, then it might be at least partly the teacher's fault for not teaching it properly.  Now I'm not writing that to discount my responsibility for not knowing things that I jolly well should know but as an aside, I was chatting with several friends about their childrens' experience of school.  In each case, a teacher had made a statement about the child, effectively labelling them as shy, not academic, creative but no good at science or vice versa and, in one quite alarming case, "a lost cause."  In the latter case, she's now head of an academic faculty.  Anyway, it got me thinking that often teachers will label a child something quite early on and then it's the child's fault and their problem to overcome.  There seems to be a lack of reflection that, as the teacher and, more specifically, the adult in the relationship, it might be their responsibility to make the effort, to reach across the void to the child who isn't grasping their concepts and may not be grasping them because the teacher isn't articulating them in a way that accesses that child's imagination.

No doubt everyone has seen this, but I was particularly struck by this quite old now TED lecture with Ken Robinson and it really got me pondering for many days.  In another of his lectures he refers to teaching not as a "delivery system" but as a creative profession; he makes the point that what great teachers do beyond teaching itself is "mentor, stimulate, provoke, engage" rather than simply transmitting facts for learning by rote.  It must be very boring for teachers who are hamstrung by protocols preventing them taking on these other exciting elements of their role, placing them instead in thrall to the spectre of examinations.  

So that isn't to say there aren't lots of fantastic teachers out there, I'm not trying to write off a whole profession.  It just that I'm not that keen on the labelling of children early on, and it seems odd to me that so many of my friends with children - including very young children who are still at nursery - have experienced that moment where their child is labelled.  It strikes me as very limiting because if one hears something at such a formative moment, it could become a defining feature.  Shyness is a particularly personal label that I resist.  I've been reading Quiet by Susan Cain which has resonated loudly.  When I was little I was told I was shy and should speak up.  One particular experience at the hairdresser springs to mind: because of my unwillingness to loudly tell the hairdresser what I wanted, I was gifted an extraordinarily short hair cut, and my newly scalped self was informed on my first day at school, by another new girl (with long flowing locks),  "that this isn't a school for boys."  Consequently I'm a chatter box who feels very uncomfortable being a chatter box, but I struggle to break the habit because I've always been told it's what's expected of me.  It's impossible to say how much I envy those quiet types, who can sit in total silence while all around them are competing for air space, and seem totally at ease bucking the conventional wisdom that you have to speak up to be heard.  I wish I had been brave enough before, it's a bit embarrassing to be only realising it at my age.

On a less curmudgeonly note, and because this is supposed to be a blog about textiles and craft, Liberty new season fabrics are out and two of them leaped out at me as particularly lovely.  The first is beautiful just because it is.  The Isabel Susan in this colour way takes my breath away and reminds me of a William Morris wallpaper we had in our bathroom (smallest room in the house so the only affordable place to put the stuff) when I was growing up.  It was the house we moved into after my parents divorced and my mother couldn't bear to stay in the old house any more - it was also the first house she got to have total autonomy over decorating.  I remember, when I was about 14, disputing vigorously with her about the wallpaper and claiming it was hideous; actually I think she was really on to something which either means I am getting old or confirms that I was probably a bit of a plonker for not realising that the boldness of the wallpaper was really her way of saying she was feeling bolder … anyway, it's the meandering of the tendrils and the setting side by side of the colours in a pattern that when you squint, almost leap out like lacework that gets me.  
Isabel Susan A Tana Lawn, image from Liberty.co.uk
William Morris, Chrysanthemum Wallpaper, V&A catalogue
The second fabric that particularly struck me is Heidi Maria and I love this because it is sufficiently abstract not to be twee, and sufficiently obviously plants and seed heads not to be oppressive in this colour.  

Heidi Maria C Tana Lawn, image from Liberty.co.uk
It also reminds me of Blackwork techniques with the range of density of darks and lights across it, and it prompted lots of doodles which may or may not end up being incorporated into the Blackwork project I will eventually do when I manage to pick up my RSN certificate later this year when I'm back from Glasgow.

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