Friday, 3 August 2012

Becoming teachers together

Student teachers performing in the outdoor classroom installation, August 2, 2012:
Conflict between teacher control and student freedom
My response to the installation:
~a feeling of juxtaposition between confinement and freedom, the plants were geometrically organized in their set positions but they grew long and free in their places ~a feeling of gratitude for the gift of life...~a feeling of HOPE ~ positivity, tranquility, nature as a healer. (Student teacher, August 2, 2012)
Last week I noted that I would write about flax but right now I'm more excited about the incredible class visit we had at the installation yesterday with a group of BEd students from the Faculty of Education.

The class started at 8:30am, and at 8:00am I was still working frantically with Morgan, a work study student at the garden, to hang the windows at the installation. Finally completed the night before, the windows depict black & white images of school gardens in Europe and North America (I'll post more on this later in response to two students' questions: "Can you describe why you chose the pictures you did for the windows? and "What surprised you about the gardens the Germans created?).

"All this work for what?" I must admit, I frequently ask myself this question. However, the deep respect, attentivity, curiosity, playfulness, and shared teaching/learning moments that filled the garden and our time together yesterday reminded me that teaching matters, gardening matters, and thinking carefully about these practices is as vital as it is complicated.

I think we do need to pay attention to the culture and history of the students because working with the land can be a very personal and culturally significant project. However I always feel the most comfortable when I'm in the garden. I forget that others don't always feel the same. (Student teacher, August 2, 2012)

Moving through the installation, "back of the garden to the front, much like a classroom," students ate the flax bolls, the milky wheat and barley, discovered crisp purslane growing around the desks, picked out lambs' quarters (grey heads, in China, one student explained) and nibbled the leaves. "Sorry, we're eating your installation!" the instructor said. "Perfect!" I replied. "We always use our eyes - it's good to taste things, too."

I also felt a little sad because I realized how foreign gardens seem to me these days. I grew up with one until the age of 10, but haven't been around many since. The garden I grew up with definitely stood out in my memory, so it made me wonder how powerful gardens can be for kids. (Student teacher, August 2, 2012)

  • Why is it so controlled? 
  • Normally I feel calm in gardens, but in this controlled garden I felt uncomfortable.
  • Touching the plants felt nice.
  • The plants want to be free and I don't like that they aren't 
  • Are you doing this to try to teach children about gardening or to prove a point? (Student teacher, August 2, 2012)

In response to that last provocative question: No, I am not trying to teach children about gardening (I'm interested in our practices as teachers!) and I hope that I'm not trying to prove a point. As a research project, I have set out to ask some questions: How do gardens become teachers? What all is tangled up in the very attractive concept of "connecting children to nature" through gardening, especially when we think about the issues of control, colonialism, eugenics, and confinement that characterized some historical school gardening efforts. How can we recognize this problematic, difficult history and re-imagine gardens as reconciliatory and regenerative places? Perhaps another way of replying would be to say that I'm interested less in "points" and more in growing "threads and lines" that connect ideas and people and places. Which brings us back to plants, and flax, and the things and relationships that matter so deeply to us all.

Thank you to Chessa & Morgan for assisting with photography, Jay & Natasha for calling us out of the installation and into the garden to harvest with you for the CSA and for preparing a delicious salad lunch, and especially to all the students for being open and generous, the course instructor for agreeing to participating in this research, and - most importantly - to the garden, the land, the storytellers, gardeners, and teachers who weave us together and make this all possible.

Please feel free to share your comments & reflections here.

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