RUN, YOU GOIT.
Also, I absolutely love that you’re open minded on this. Gives me hope for much of fandom. :D
1. Be Kind. If this is the one thing I manage to do, I’ve done enough. Kindness may seem like a personality trait, but I think of it more as a...”
“Lyndon, do you know what the meaning of life is?”
“I’ve got an idea of what makes me happy mate, but I don’t think anyone knows the meaning of life, do they?”
“I do. It’s Chinese Checkers. And grapes.”
Whenever one of the students says something like this to me - something wild and surreal and impossibly funny - I write it down. Now I’ve got pages and pages of these hilarious anecdotes, some of which I could easily explain to you, like the Grade 2 who was mortified to find when playing a (very uniquely ruled) game of chess that his king had been taken, before he yelled triumphantly “OH YEAH? WELL I’VE STILL GOT ALL MY PRAWNS LEFT”; and some of which I could never paint a funny enough picture with words, like the two grade 4/5 girls doing their impersonation of The Voice, and slamming their desks to spin around on their chairs with huge dorky grins on their faces.
I have my suspicions that the kids have spotted me writing these things down, and sometimes - to their teacher’s frustration - are deliberately hamming up their behaviour because they know it gets my attention. But as a visiting writer I can’t help but get sucked in to these performances. While I’m here, these are my characters. And who could resist dialogue like this?
“I know! We should all get guns and shoot all the parents, and then we could take over the town!”
“I don’t know that I could shoot my parents. Could you?”
“Well they only gave me half a piece of toast this morning, so yeah…”
“…What I’d need is an army of me. Like, a million mes.”
“What would you feed them all?”
“I suppose they’d have to be cannibals.”
It’s no wonder that shows like Kid’s Say The Darndest Things can survive as long as they have with little more in the way of content than children just talking. Kids see the world in a way that socialised adults have long forgotten how to comprehend. I’ve now started my first classes in the secondary area of the school, and while the comedy is different here - devious, organised, and more challenging to authority - the comments are no less funny. When the 9’s and 10’s were told that as a “special treat” they could sit on the floor to work if they wanted, they exploded into sarcastic cheering and adoration. One boy cried out: ”Oh Miss, thanks so much! That’s the best treat EVER!”
It would be tempting to think that the teachers are desensitised to this, with their chiding comments about ‘behaviour’ and ‘maturity’, but actually I suspect just the opposite. You can hear them occasionally turn phrases and comments that have been picked up from their students in everyday conversation, and the staffroom itself is not vastly different from the wider schoolyard - it is a playground of its own, and the stories that turn up there are no less dramatic or amusing. It’s been interesting to discover this side of St. Helens. I remember when I was at school that even the worst teachers seemed like figures of infallibility. I couldn’t imagine any of them with a life outside of the classroom walls - let alone homes, friends, families and the occasional hangover. But now that I’ve had a chance to sit, observe, and watch everyone in the school more closely, I realise that all of them have a part to play in its story.
The vision statement for St Helens is to be “a supportive community where learning flourishes, confidence grows, and difference is valued.” I love this statement, because I think that it’s actually acted upon here. These are no cookie-cutter children, and individuality is not stamped out of them in the name of obedience and simplified learning. They are who they are.
And as I fill up another page of my notebook with the scribble: “The thing me and tortoises have in common is that once we lie on our backs we can’t get up again”, I realise that simply being allowed to be themselves is exactly what makes them worth listening to.
AIR2012 is an artist in residence program developed and managed by arts@work in partnership with the Australia Council for the Arts. You can find out more about the program here.