Thursday, September 25, 2014

Friday, September 19, 2014

Homage to Catalonia


“One of the most horrible features of war is that all the war- propaganda, all the screaming and lies and hatred, comes invariably from people who are not fighting.”
George Orwell
   I already wrote about George Orwell’s “Down and Out in Paris and London”, a non-fiction book about his life as a homeless man in the early 1930's in Paris and London.
George Orwell died at age 46. During his short life he fought in the Spanish Civil War. In Homage to Catalonia George Orwell transports us to Barcelona during the years 1936 and 1937.  Without sentimentality, he exposed the reality of a war that gnawed at the human spirit.
  It is an invaluable feat to be able to reveal one’s truth while acknowledging that this truth may be biased by one’s personal perspectives. I believe this is a sign of wisdom, a humble approach to sharing personal experiences:
      “I hope the account I have given is not too misleading. I believe that on such an issue as this no one is or can be completely truthful. It is difficult to be certain about anything except what you have seen with your own eyes, and consciously or unconsciously everyone writes as a partisan. Beware of my partisanship, my mistakes of fact and the distortion inevitably caused by my having seen only one corner of events. And beware of exactly the same things when you read any other book on this period of the Spanish war.”
 As he described the different political movements (anarchists, communists, PUOM), I came to the realization that the boundaries between them became blurred. Orwell explored a territory that was crippled by deception, paranoia, hatred, and false accusations between the parties.
 Aside from plumbing the tendencies and features of the political parties that were involved in this war, George Orwell narrated the shocking details of his daily life during this chaotic time. The soldiers were unable to change their clothes for months. When they slept they had to keep their boots on lest somebody attack them.
  “All of us were lousy by this time; though still cold it was warm enough for that. I have had a big experience of body vermin of various kinds and for sheer beastliness the louse beats everything I have encountered. Other insects, mosquitoes for instance, make you suffer more, but at least they aren’t resident vermin. The human louse somewhat resembles a tiny lobster, and he lives chiefly in your trousers. Short of burning all your clothes there is no known way of getting rid of him. Down the seams of your trousers he lays his glittering white eggs, like tiny grains of rice, which hatch out and breed families of their own at horrible speed. I think the pacifists might find it helpful to illustrate their pamphlets with enlarged photographs of lice. Glory of war, indeed! In war all soldiers are lousy, at least when it was warm enough. The men who fought at Verdun, at Waterloo, at Flodden, at Senlac, at Thermopylae—every one of them had lice crawling his testicles.”
  The atmosphere of suspicion made everybody paranoid:
“Various people were infected with spy mania and were creeping round whispering that everyone else was a spy of the Communists, or the Trotskyists, or the Anarchists, or what-not. The fat Russian agent was cornering all the foreign refugees in turn and plausibly that this whole affair was an Anarchist plot.  I watched him with some interest, for it was the first time that I had seen a person whose profession was telling lies—unless one counts the journalists.”
 Unlike the journalists, Orwell tried his best to be objective by exposing what he witnessed.
   Enticed by the ideals of freedom and equality Orwell fought for the PUOM.  He believed that fighting was necessary to defeat fascism. Yet, at later stages, the group for which he fought was accused of being fascist and was suppressed by law. This meant that every person who had been enlisted was persecuted and incarcerated without trial.  For this reason George Orwell and his wife had to escape from Spain. They fled to France with the aid of the British consul.
  Political prisoners lived on scanty food, in filthy conditions, under the pressure of an uncertain future.  People who tried to visit the prisoners more than once were considered suspicious and ran the risk of ending up in jail for no reason.
 Another interesting aspect of his memoir is the description of Barcelona at different stages of the revolution.  Not only did he describe what the city looked like through vivid, interesting scenes, but he also disclosed the way people behaved and interacted.
  All in all, this memoir is a vivid testimony of a period ravaged by war. It is the story of a man who dared to show how his ideals were at odds with the political reality. Orwell expanded these situations and experiences by carrying them into the realm of fiction: he wrote his novels1984 and Animal Farm, two masterpieces that explore the deceit of the totalitarian regimes. In doing so, he dwelt on the stratagems of the political power, the slogans and the realities underlying those slogans.  
   Orwell was an Englishman fighting in Spain, and the fact that he was an outsider made the stories even more compelling. Even though he had seen the darkest side of humanity during the war, he did not lose his faith in human decency. He had met Spaniards who had given him whatever they could to help him. Their kindness was heartwarming-- to the point of being comical at times.
 After reading this book I pondered over the concepts of reality and truth. Reality is what really happens. Truth is the perception of reality. People can tell you different “truths” about a specific event, and their different versions of reality are colored by their preconceptions.
 A totalitarian regime imposes the existence of an absolute truth, and those who do not adhere to it are in trouble.
Homage to Catalonia sold poorly in England and it was not even published in America. Perhaps reality is not always welcomed by the masses.



Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Books I will be reading

   I have a passion for literature, poetry and writing. My zest for reading and writing is the driving force of my posts, and it continues to be the inspiration of this blog.
 This weekend I will be posting an essay on George Orwell's "Homage to Catalonia", a book about the Spanish Civil War.


In the next few months I will probably be less active on the blogosphere to devote more time to reading and writing.
Some of the books that have been patiently waiting for me are the following:

Roberto Bolano's "The Savage Detectives",  a novel about the lives of a group of young poets from Mexico.





The Essential Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe. His poetical prose is captivating. He is the kind of writer who speaks directly to my soul.

















 
Julia De Burgos's Song of the Simple Truth. The complete poems of Julia De Burgos, a bilingual edition. In addition to her poems there is a fascinating introduction about her life.
 Her poetry is mesmerizing.







James Joyce's Ulysses. If you have followed my blog for a while you know that I wrote about  "A Portrait of The Artist as a Young man" so I  am now compelled to read what happens next...

Jane Hirschfield's "The Lives of the Heart", a poetry collection.

A poetry collection by HD which I found when I was browsing books of poetry at a bookstore.


What are you planning to read?



Sunday, September 7, 2014

The mystery of poetry


"How do I explain these poems? Not at all. I quit teaching in colleges because it seemed so criminal to explain works of art. The crisis in my teaching career came, in fact, when I faced an audience which expected me to explain 'Dubliners' by Joyce."
Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

 Sometimes I hear people saying that they don't understand poetry.
A poem is not to be understood. It is to be felt, experienced, lived. This is the reason why people can either love a poem or be indifferent to it.
 A poem is an intimate space of possibilities. When you listen to music you don't expect to understand it. You connect to it or you don't.
 Education is deeply concerned with logic and rational thinking, but poetry transcends the boundaries of logic. It is not confined to this type of thinking. The creative process engages an intuitive side that mingles with emotions. Poetry paints music with words. It composes paintings on words; it writes a dance.  It sparks a connection to you... or it doesn't. That is poetry.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Maria Montessori, the Italian physician who revolutionized education for young children



“To influence society we must turn our attention to childhood. Out of this truth comes the importance of nursery schools, for it is the little ones who are building our future.”
Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was the first woman to become a physician in Italy, a journey that had not been free of hurdles and challenges. 
   Maria Montessori pursued a career in medicine against her father’s wishes.  At the medical school the authorities were   appalled at the idea of a young lady becoming a doctor.
  The other medical students shut her out of conversations and even made fun of her in the corridors. With much grace Maria replied to them: “Blow away, my friends; the harder you blow, the higher up I shall go.”
 Once she graduated from medical school she was invited to  Berlin to give a conference on why women should be given the same pay as men for doing the same work. At that time, women in factories and and on farms were paid considerably less than men. (Interestingly, equal pay continues to be an issue these days).
  In addition to being an outstanding physician, she became interested in the education of young children. As she had not been trained as a teacher, she did not have the fixed ideas that teachers were taught in those days.
 Inspired by the work of Jean Itard and Edouard Seguin, who refused to believe that mentally retarded kids could not be educated, she worked with kids that had disabilities. Instead of using the usual teaching methods, Dr. Montessori encouraged them to learn by exercising their senses of touch, sight, smell, and sound. She developed special materials to accomplish her goals.
  Thanks to her work, some kids with disabilities were able to reach the same standards and pass the same exams as those without disabilities.
The next step for her was to work with kids who did not have disabilities, so she tried her methods with children from the slums. These kids were poorly fed and miserable.
 Maria Montessori welcomed these children in The Casa dei Bambini (The Children’s House). Up until then education had been based on rigid principles. Kids had to memorize facts and repeat them like parrots. They were not supposed to ask questions. Children who did not learn this way were labeled as “lazy”.
 The opening of the first Children’s House in San Lorenzo, Italy, was the starting point of a revolution in education. In 1907, when Dr. Montessori was well known in Italy as a physician and a campaigner for women’s rights, she began to work intensely on education, and she would later spread her methods all over the world by giving conferences in different countries. She also wrote books on this subject. Her methods became popular.
In her private life, things did not go  well. She fell in love with Dr Giuseppe Montessano and she became pregnant. Single pregnant women were a shame (interestingly, women—not men— can still be fired for conceiving a baby out of wedlock these days). It is not clear why they never married, but she had to hide her son away. Her child had to be raised by some relatives that lived in the countryside. Her work would have been discredited if she had acknowledged him publicly. Making a living as a single mother would have been difficult.
   Maria Montessori channeled her frustration and pain into her work by devoting more of her energy to the study of children’s development and to their education.
 Maria Montessori was able to show the world that kids are motivated to learn. She observed children and studied their behaviors. One thing she learned was that although there were plenty of toys in The Children’s House, kids preferred to work with the sensory materials. 
            What she noted was that when kids were in an environment that was conducive to learning they would be motivated to learn. The sullen and crying children became happily involved in their learning experiences. There were also plants and pets to care for.
 Maria Montessori thought it was important to allow the children to decide what to do. Children had the opportunity to work at their own pace in a peaceful, non-competitive environment.
Working outdoors on purposeful activities was also encouraged.
                                                                          
 Maria Montessori believed that teachers should follow the      child. She believed that children taught the teachers, not the other way    around.
 The true Montessori philosophy  contemplates the emotional and social aspects of education. It fosters peace and understanding at every level.
 Dr. Montessori believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed, rather than as a "blank slate" waiting to be written upon.
                                       
                                        
 During World War II Dr Montessori was forced to leave Italy due to her antifascist views.  Mussolini closed all Montessori schools. Maria lived in Spain for a couple of years, and then she moved to Holland. In 1947 she  undertook a lecture tour in  India, which lasted two years. There she developed her work Education for Peace.
  Dr. Montessori was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times (1949, 1950 and 1951). 
 Peace education is about developing skills to resolve conflicts peacefully. It  provides opportunities and experiences for the children to learn to live in harmony with other people and the environment. 
 "Establishing lasting peace is the work of education."
Dr. Maria Montessori
 Regarding prizes and punishments she said, "The prize and the punishment are incentives toward unnatural or forced effort... the jockey offers a piece of sugar to his horse before jumping into the saddle. The coachman beats his horse that he may respond to the signs given by the reins. And yet, neither of these runs so superbly as the free horse of the plains."
All in all, Maria Montessori believed in the kids' motivation to learn and discover. She was convinced that kids have a world of their own, and that adults should not interfere. 
 Now, do kids still have that world of their own? Or do we violate it through the images and messages imparted by television screens?
 Do we respect kids' vulnerabilities these days? Something to think about.

 Maria Montessori liked to tell the story of a little girl who came to a Montessori school for the first time. The little girl asked the first child she met, "Is it true that in this school you're allowed to do what you like?"
 "I don't know about that," replied the child, "but I do know that we like what we do."


References

Maria Montessori. The Italian doctor who revolutionized education for young children. Michael Pollard

Maria Montessori. Her Life and Work. E.M. Standing

www.montessori.edu/maria.html
  










Sunday, August 17, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The gifts of nature and a thank you note


 There is a marsh one mile away from where we live.
 It is an area of breathtaking beauty where we go for walks along trails by the forests.
 It is a place where we can rest our eyes and recharge our energy. We exercise and reflect; we watch the  birds that inhabit these peaceful landscapes.

This land has a unique educational value, for it allows us to teach kids why it is necessary to protect our ecosystems.


 We can all celebrate these gifts of nature. It is nobody's privilege to do so there.
 Today I want to say thank you to the group of conscientious people  who stood up against those who thought that building a highway was more important than preserving these gifts of nature.
Thank you.