Broadening the Mind

By Bruce, a supply teacher from Norwich

With education back on the political agenda and talk of grade inflation and the introduction of an E-bac, it is easy to lose track of one of the fundamental purposes of education which is to broaden young minds. Writing it down makes me feel so old-fashioned, but there are still those moments, those little epiphanies, that make teaching such a pleasure. My sister-in-law, who works in a middle school, was recently involved in a sponsored walk around a riverside park near to the school. She overheard the following conversation between two boys.

Boy One “What’s that smell?

Boy two “I think it’s the outside.

For children growing up in the near-virtual world of their X-box, experiencing the real world can be a revelation (just as city kids were meant to be astonished that milk came from cows).

Last week, I was teaching an art lesson to some year nine pupils where we were looking at a painting, ‘The Weeping Woman’ by Picasso. He painted it as a response to the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War. He went on to paint the more famous mural some time later. In ‘The Weeping Woman’, which is full of Cubist distortions and expressionistic colour, he hides a multitude of symbols which relate to the specifics of the bombing; a twisted spoon and bowl alludes to the fact the raid took place at lunchtime when the Germans knew that the town would be full, a boat for the fact that Guernica was a working port, and the silhouettes of planes in the woman’s eyes. What could be a dry and rather abstract analysis of a difficult picture became a delight as the pupils transformed it into a treasure hunt. They began spotting possible visual references in places I hadn’t considered. Without having Senor Picasso on hand to confirm or deny, all of their thoughts were as valid as any other. (Google the picture for yourselves for a larger version and see what you can find). We talked about civil wars and how civilians suffer more than the armed forces, and Ahmed, whose father and mother fled Libya years ago, spoke of his relatives who lived through the recent civil war and how one of his cousins had died. It made me realise that those little epiphanies can happen in many directions; teacher to pupil, pupil to teacher and pupil to pupil.