Google has started a new, free, travel opportunity. It’s called the Google Art Project, and offers young people of all ages opportunity to visit places many will never have opportunity to see – for instance, Freer Gallery of Art (Smithsonian), Denver (Colorado) Art Museum, Hong Kong Museum of Art. Point your browser to www.googleartproject.com and start admiring.
Art, one of my college professors said, is the history of the tribe. To which I add, that and fiction. In both, the creators get to show life as they see it, without their stories being approved by Texas and California school districts.
“But the little boy said…
There are so many colors in the rainbow
So many colors in the morning sun
So many colors in the flower and I see every one”
From “Flowers are Red,” by Harry Chapin, 1978
When my son started school, I was in the Navy, driving home every other weekend. The ship was in and out of port, getting ready for a seven-month vacation in the Mediterranean Sea and other exotic places. My spouse would relay comments from First Born’s teacher. Finally, the opportunity arose for a long-weekend trip home, and a Monday visit to school.
First, she showed me a mimeographed sheet with sample letters on it, in dotted lines. The students’ task was to trace the letter, then write it freehand. First Born faithfully traced, then drew, a 5.
But the assignment was to make six of them. He gave it his best shot, but by the sixth 5, he was making a rather sloppy S.
Later, I asked him why he didn’t make all his 5s as neatly as the first two.
“I already proved I could do it,” he said. “I wanted to do something else.”
From a six-year-old, that made perfect sense. In fact, it made sense from a 30-something’s point of view, except the older person had learned, more or less, not to be so clearly spoken.
Still, I wanted to know what other complaints the teacher had.
“He won’t put his coat on when he goes out to recess,” she said. “And when I get him to put it on, he won’t take it off when he comes in.”
I explained how he spent his formative years in the Aleutian Islands, where cold Arctic air from the Bering Sea crashes into warm air from Japan, and people arriving on the island in fur-lined boots and coats are met by residents in short-sleeved shirts. Back in the Lower 48, First Born was not cold.
Still, the teacher is responsible for making sure her young charges do not suffer frostbite, and I would talk with him about following instruction.
The young first-year Kindergarten teacher then described how First Born was always trying to outdo his classmates in getting attention. For instance, during Show and Tell, other kids would talk about how they drove their dad’s tractor or went fishing with their uncle and caught six brook trout and fried them up and ate them.
First Born, the teacher said, would make up stories of having his bathtub full of crabs, and of his father shooting halibut before bringing them into the boat.
I remembered, as a youngster, catching brook trout in a local stream, and catching pickerel, salmon, and togue from the lake where I was raised. Also, I remembered trying to drive Charlie Bates’ tractor, and it kept stopping. Not stalling, of course; that would have indicated its driver was having some difficulty coordinating the clutch and throttle. The tractor kept stopping. That was the right word. Not stalling.
When you’re in an 18-foot runabout on an Alaskan bay and you pull up a six-foot, 200-pound flatfish, there isn’t room in the boat for it to be left thrashing around. The guy who owned the boat carried a 30-carbine pistol to quiet the fish.
First Born didn’t see that happen, but he saw the hole in the fish lying on a plywood board in his garage as it was turned into filets.
And the bathtub of crabs? The Japanese crab fishing fleet pulled into Finger Bay each year to process their catch, and to sell whole Tanner and Alaskan King crabs fresh from the boat to shore-bound gastronomes. Fifty cents for Tanners, a buck for Alaskan Kings.
Yup, we bought enough to fill the bathtub, then boiled and froze them for later dinners.
Finally came the Big Lie, although the teacher admitted “From what you’ve said about the fishing, I don’t know whether to believe this or not.”
First Born had told his class about the elusive Man-Eating Beer Cans.
One evening, while we visited a friend and his family on his farmstead, we adult man-children decided to wander down to the corn field and see about scaring some corn-eating gophers. We were gone a couple hours before darkness prompted us to leave the field.
When we arrived back at the house, the kids wanted to know what all the shooting was about. Did we get the gopher?
Alas, no gopher met his demise that day. But on the way back up the hill, we were accosted by a herd of man-eating beer cans. They are immortal, like vampires and werewolves, but if you shoot them, you have time to bury them while they are stunned from the noise.
We did that, and hustled home before the aged tin cans, with their numerous sharp, rusty edges, reemerged from the forest compost to renew their attack on unsuspecting hikers.
First Born still tells stories. He has traveled a bit, as a youngster and as an adult with his own family. From my experience with his experience, I have come up with an education plan I think would work: teachers would be offered grants to pay for their schooling; their payback would be a commitment to teach in another state. Imagine if kids in Texas had a teacher from Maine, or Alaskan students could hear tales of Pennsylvania’s history from someone who had lived where it happened.
Students should be afforded every opportunity to take field trips – outdoors, to water treatment plants, and, now available by computer, to museums of many-colored storytelling around the planet.
Photo by davidyuweb
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