Friday, July 14, 2006

learning from ray bradbury

Leah and others in the institute are greatly amused that I wear my sunglasses around my neck, hooked behind with a dark green Croakies strap, each and every day of the summer program.

"Like, ah, at any moment the sun might burst through the fluorescent lighting of our fourth floor classroom?"

Little do they know that I keep my sunglasses at the ready as an homage to our friend Ray Bradbury.

Bradbury has bracketed our summer program, beginning with "All Summer in a Day" on day #2 of our participants' presentations and ending, as you know, with Nicola's request that we read "The Long Rain" in anticipation of becoming Venusians on the final day of participant presentations.

This was accidental but fortuitous, since Bradbury's stories are about nothing so much as the difficulty of remembering the sun in times of deep, heavy, continuous rain.

Karen had us do a very interesting exercise with "All Summer in a Day." She told us, first, to select one of the symbols or similes we found in the opening paragraphs of the story, and to write down, quickly, the attributes of this symbol or simile. I chose Bradbury's description of the sun as a "coin large enough to buy the world," naming its attibutes "monumental," "memorable," "god-like," "overpowering" and "extra-ordinary." We then selected one of the characters in the story and described that character's attributes. I selected Margot, describing her as "timid," "shy," "an old photograph whitened away," and "ghost-like."

But here's where the activity got interesting. "Now, how would you link the symbol and the character you've selected," Karen asked. "What one sentence would connect the two?"

After some thought, I wrote "Margot held a secret within her: a coin large enough to buy the world." When Karen next asked us to expand our paragraphs into short essays, I wrote:

"Margot has a huge secret within her, a knowledge of a coin large enough to buy the world. This secret is too much for her increasingly frail body to contain. It separates her from her fellow classmates, makes her feel alone and even uncertain whether her knowledge is real or just imagined. Margot's recollection of the sun is like the knowledge we all carry of a world before our birth, a prelapsarian world of expansive plenitude, a world where we were part of a larger whole. It is this prelapsarian knowledge, and the confidence in this knowledge, that the other children--Margot's postlapsarian classmates--must snuff out."

While this seemed a wholly new perception to me at the time, an unexpectedly new way of looking at Margot in particular and "All Summer in as Day" in general, in hindsight it seems to have uncannily foreshadowed the great lesson that Bradbury was, as it were, trying his best to tell us all summer.

"You will have days of educational sunshine, many of them," he was telling us, "and it will seem at times to you as if these days will never end."

"But be wary. These days will end. The joy and camaraderie and great good humor you have experienced together these past four weeks will fade, leaving behind only the fleeting smile, the brief shake of the head in pleasant recollection."

"You will experience your return in the fall as Margot experienced her 'exile' to Venus: incessant and unrelenting rain, the drum and gush of water, the crystal fall of showers and the concussion of storms so heavy they will seem to you like tidal waves."

"Your 'classmates'--fellow teachers--will mock you and berate you when you try to tell them what it felt like to be in the sun. 'You're lying,' they will tell you. 'Such a place does not exist. You're making it up.'"

"So follow Nicola and Catherine's advice (see comment #2 sent 9:28 PM) , and follow it now: remember exactly what being in the sun of the summer institute felt like, what it looked like, what it smelled like, what it sounded and tasted like. Some of you will forget, and some of you will doubt. But collectively, you can remember. And you will."


Patrick Walters said...

This is a great way of looking at the Summer Institute!

jonathan said...

Thanks Patrick. The Bradbury connection just came to me in the middle of the night on Thursday, long after we'd left for our long final weekend. So yesterday I went back to SH 434 and rescued my drawing from Karen's workshop and the writing on Margot that I'd done right afterwards, which was taped to the back wall. Funny how such connecitons unfold, don't you think?

Mary said...

Jonthan, great points in the "Learning from Ray Bradbury"--I especially like the image of Margot being too frail to carry the power of the secret of the sun. Alone it's so easy for me to feel frail; collectively--as in the power of a group like ISI 06, so much more can be managed.
and Catherine, I totally agree about what can't be measured. If I'm remembering correctly the line from the Little Prince, "It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

I hope we can keep the fire burning/the passion alive/keeping seeing the sun, as we meet at Super Saturdays; as we email or blog to tell an ISIer how we used his or her teaching ideas; when we need a soulmate to hear our, hopefully temporary, despairs or disillusionments...thanks for all the sun you've shared.
Jonathan, that for sharing such a thoughtful analogy.

jonathan said...

Much obliged, Mary. My present blog-in-process is called "learning as remembering," and will hopefully add a bit more to our inquiries about how to carry the "isi06" spirit forward into the coming school year. Not to mention why it's important to do so. In this next blog posting I'll be using scottish country dancing as a metphor for learning as 'remembering.' Who could have guessed I'd finally get round to writing about scottish country dancing? Mara!, I don't want to hear your answer to that one!

Laura said...

Ah, I hear the Voice of Experience, somber in the truth. There will be rain, rain, rain, endless rain...pounding, thundering, shattering rain.
However, I will turn over in my palm, as I lean wearily on my podium after class, the coin that glints under the flourescent lamps with uncanny warmth and I will remember to this effect, "Dreams...(and I will falter to catch the numinescence of the word)...dreams are what you need to make something possible."
Knowing that I'm paraphrasing things I saw and heard at ISI, I will listen to the imaginary coin speak in those dark downpours, and - perhaps I will not discount my dreams or those of anyone around me, no matter how different and childish I may feel.

spam said...

Thank you for including me in the summer institute by welcoming my visits. I did catch glimpses of the sun, but especially perceived the great figurative tans all the participants were sporting from the light of each others' great good company.

Mrs. N said...

I feel that way about any retreat, conference, and long-term workshop I attend. It seems too perfect, a microcosm where everyone is on the same page and has the same goals in mind. And then it floats away...

Good to see you blogging, Jonathan.

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