Saturday, March 12, 2011

They'll Want To Try It Again

The sidewalk in front of our school is a long, tempting hill down which the children regularly run after they have left with their parents. I can't see them do this because of the 7-foot high fence that surrounds our courtyard, but I hear them declaring their intent to run down it. I hear their mothers warn them to be careful. And, not always, but regularly, I hear the sickening sound of their bodies succumbing to gravity when they stumble and fall headlong onto the concrete.

Watching as children make pendulum paintings is like reading Moby Dick. We are, of course, playing with the great forces of nature, in this case gravity, one that will always, inevitably win out over all our efforts to control it.

Our cups of paint swing with a universal predictability, with an original trajectory of our own devices, but with a destiny predetermined by the laws of physics.

When we just stand back and observe, indescribable beauty is revealed to us.

But it's hard for us to just stand back. We want to put our hands on and see if we can control these mighty forces, just as we want to challenge ourselves by running down the hill in front of the school.

I see that the paint is flowing in a stream from the bottom of the cup, pooling
where it lands.

The grown-up is urging me to let it go, so I finally do, and see that it swings,
making a straight line.

And this is what happens when I give it a push in another direction.

It's an experiment, of course, but it's also hard to not see it as a kind of battle between the forces of nature and man's eternal struggle to control them. Or maybe it's just a struggle to come to grips with them.

As we played with our painting pendulums, an inevitable geologic process was coming to a head under Tokyo, one that would soon devastate an unsuspecting nation. Millions of people were to be horribly reminded of the supreme power of nature; how thin that veneer of control really is.

How brave we must be, really, to go about our lives knowing that the flip side of that indescribable beauty is indescribable tragedy.

I suppose it's normal to want to protect our children from this, at least until they are older and somehow more sophisticated, but at the same time I suspect they know it already, perhaps not intellectually, but at a deeper level, because they've tried the experiment of running down the hill in front of the school. 

And once the pain has subsided, they'll want to try it again. That's because of the beauty part.

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1 comment:

Olivia Bush said...

Hi! My name is Olivia Bush. I am student at the University of South Alabama in Mobile, Alabama. I am working to obtain my degree in Elementary Education. I am in a class right now called EDM 310. It is a technology class for education majors. Please follow my blog

First I have to say I love your profile picture! You look like you are a fun and creative teacher. I really enjoyed your blog about painting with gravity. I am sure that made a mess but I know those students loved it. I want to try it! What a neat idea and project that you could even do with older students to teach them about the laws of physics. I will have to use it one day in my future classroom.

Thank you to for sharing your thoughts on the tragedy in Japan. It breaks my heart for the people of Japan. I have several American friends living there right now, and praise God for their safety in this terrible situation. Many others though cannot not say the same. I agree with you in your comparison of these young students and the reality of control. I try to protect and shield my own children now but one day they will be in the world to find out on their own how little control they have in their power. Yet, I hope they keep the same resiliency as a child and can overcome whatever is thrown their way. Just as the young Japanese children will have to do one day too.

Thank you for the pictures, the neat idea and your thoughts with the your pendulum paintings. I cannot wait to share that with others. I wish you the best in your classroom, for you and your students. I look forward to following your blogs in the future.


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