UN PAESE COME SCUOLA
IL GIOCO COME MOMENTO EDUCATIVO E FORMATIVO/
A COUNTRY A SCHOOL
PLAY FOR LEARNING AND GROWING
was in Assisi and it was pouring with rain and my shoes had several holes between their soles and uppers and the earthquake had happened and everywhere buildings were in scaffolding, great beams shoring them up, and there was no room for me anywhere at any convent. Poverty and disaster and misery combined. But Salvatore Jacobelli, himself behaving like a playful child, despite grey hairs in his beard, was insisting on giving me this book. It is a delight, turning tragedy into comedy.
It is important to enter this world of play. This world of language. This world of music. This world of sharing culture. On Oliveleaf we discuss the effect of trauma, how it brings on effects ranging from numbing, depression, denial, alcoholism, substance abuse, bipolarity, multiple personality disorder, self-mutilating, suicide. A world of broken souls and heals. What can cause trauma to body, mind and soul? Rape, Torture, Incest. What is a violation, a threat, to one's existence, bodily, mentally, spiritually, being a violence against one's wholeness. An abuser then forbids the victim to tell the tale. Such victims become slaves, instead of free. We do not have games today, but competitive and spectator sports. We do not value play, only money. Even children, passively fed television to obesity, clamour for money to buy toys. 'Toys "R" Us'. Golden Calves of metal and plastic. Not happy children.
Trauma is inflicted on immigrant peoples when they are forbidden their own language, their own culture. It is said that thereby they will assimilate more readily into the dominant culture. Children are taken from their families amongst indigenous peoples and sent to boarding schools, Aborigine children in Australia, Native American children in America, Roma children in Europe, and their response to this loss of culture is the response to trauma, a deadening of themselves, culture shock, substance abuse, criminality. The come questing freedom, are instead enslaved. Homer says 'A man who is enslaved loses half his soul'. But immigrants who retain their language and their culture through embedding these in religion, Jews, Chinese, flourish, have both cultures at once, immediately enter the professions of medicine, law and education. One recalls the magnificent art form with needle, thread and cloth of the Hmong, telling their tale. They will survive. Amongst the hardest hit are immigrants from Catholic countries, Irish, Polish, Italian, Spanish, the Spanish preceding the Anglos in settling America, though this group now does even less well than Blacks in American schools. Enslaved Black people understood the hermeneutic of Judaeo-Christianity as liberation from enslavement, composing Spirituals, singing the Gospel. The message Catholic immigrants, especially mothers and their children, receive, is that their language, their music, their culture, their religion, are all to be despised. Internalizing this message, from being proud, learned, gifted, skilled persons, the children despise their immigrant parents, and thus themselves remain in the underclass of menial, rather than manual, labour, lacking skill, tradition, culture, soul. Usually, they neither enter the white-collar professions requiring education, nor carry out skilled craftsmanship, but are bluecollar workers doing unskilled labour to support their families. They become machinery, the iron in the Golden Arches. It is Plato's myth of the metals, the lie of class structure, of the golden king, the silver aristocracy, the iron slaves.
Today, globally, even in Italy itself, this culture trauma is taking place. The world's children revere English as the language of power and vice and wealth and sex. They grow up in rooms glutted with toys; they do not play with each other, apart from grouping with their motorini and telefonini, easily sliding over into substance abuse, nicotine, cocaine. Even in their own country such children are displaced from their culture, the tradition, the heritage that once parents had given them, how to tend vines and olives, how to grow wheat and make bread, how to spin, weave, knit, embroider, how to work wood, marble, terra cotta, stone. Almost nothing now is made by hand in the First World, that being done out of sight and out of mind in the Third World, by children, having to shape garments, machines, toys, for a culture not their own. 'Toys "R" Us'. The children of the First World as consumers and Third World as producers have forgotten how to play. But languages are a game, reaching out to others, teaching all. We play music and sing from our souls. Both the Haves and the Havenots have to grow up too soon, without learning, without education, balancing bodies, minds and soul. When we have so much to share.
A soul of a people is in play, in language, in music, in art, in literature, in culture, in ritual, in religion. It is a collective soul and can delight not only itself but also others. My own culture, in England, in America, had lost its soul, with the invasions and conquests of England and Ireland, with the Industrial Revolution in England, with immigration and with the motor car and cinema and television in America. But I have joyed in seeing, in 1960, children at play in Italy, too poor for toys, and earlier, in 1955, grownups and children together at the Serenata in Mexico, the many generations sharing in music, dance, play, courtship, under the evening stars.
Della Robbia, Cantoria, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo di Firenze, Photographs taken in the nineteenth century by Alinari, purchased by Mother Agnes Mason, C.H.F., in Florence, prior to founding her Community for teaching children.
Salvatore Jacobelli, who comes from the Lazio region
near Rome, has written several books on his native dialect.
This one he co-publishes with the music written out for him by
padre Evangelista Niccolini, O.F.M., the Director of the
Assisi Choir, whose soul is music. You can write to Salvatore
Jacobelli, Via della Cupa 25, 06100 PERUGIA, ITALIA, asking
for a copy of his book. It deserves to be in every Italian
cultural centre and to be shared amongst families, in Italy
and abroad, Italian and non-Italian. It is an infinite
treasure, like air and water, free, yet without which life is
not possible. Rather than accumulating toys, let us treasure
languages, the more the merrier, and cultures, and games. For
it is in these ways that the world soul grows in joy. The
Kingdom of Heaven is entered by children.
Then Canon Jim Irvine sent this from Canada and I have permission from him to copy it here:
Paul wrote, “Love each other as brothers and sisters and honor others more than you do yourself.” Romans 12:10
Life’s lessons begin in the fall. For me, the fall has been a wonderful beginning, year after year, painted on a large canvas. The fall invites us to participate in a familiar pattern that is reinforced in each ensuing year.
Fall speaks with a voice of long shadows and chilly nights, of wind-swept leaves and hoar frost harbingers of endings. For me, I have known beginnings. The warm days and crisp, fresh air draws me back down memory’s lane and the hope and anticipation that accompanied every autumn.
School layered memories for me. The Michaelmas daises of September and the chill air demanding a sweater highlighted the fresh opportunity that met me and you, dear reader at the threshold of classrooms throughout the days of youth. For myself, I walked along Bayside Drive the three blocks that led me to teachers and classmates and the prospect of new friends that have shaped and moulded me over successive years.
Classroom work was all right. I found it a distraction from learning. Others enjoyed it more than I. I was more contemplative than competitive. The carrots held out before me did not inspire. I found them limiting.
For me, the playground held a greater attraction. Not that it was an idle time; recess held no interest. The playground was everything. It was an inviting, creative space and I learned there well. It helped shape me immensely! The playground at my school was well equipped. Banks of swings stood out against the sky. There was a metal slide, polished by the feverish bottoms of youths who prevented its rusting ever! And there was a bank of teeter-totters. You might know them better as seesaws. I enjoyed that the most. It imprinted much for which I am grateful.
I am saddened to see them disappear.
I have noticed that playgrounds have been redesigned in schoolyards over the past decade or two. Playground equipment design has become more independent, more competitive. Magnificent architectural designs invite children to climb, swing, crawl and jump. That’s all they get to do. They get to climb, swing, crawl and jump. If there are fifty children in the schoolyard they each get to climb, swing, crawl or jump: altogether but not together. A child wandering by the schoolyard after hours sees nothing changed: alone, the youth climbs, swings, crawls and jumps as always. That is all that can be done. Imagination can be ignited but there is no need of another for the unit to be fully functional. Function is independent and whether there is fifty or one, the apparatus makes its mark.
The absence of the teeter-totter has changed the dynamic of the playground. Its absence has touched many aspects of our lives and we are less for it. Don’t misunderstand! I am not advocating teeter-totters be installed in the workplace, in community common areas or even the church. I am simply saying that their absence in our formative years has limited how we relate today. Because of all of the playground equipment, the once ubiquitous teeter-totter was essentially a means of building relationships.
For me, I’d say that the teeter-totter is a relic of our church.
I’d get on the swings, don’t get me wrong. But they only went backwards and forwards. I might jump from a height to land, but that was rare. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth I overcame my fear of heights and learned to yawn. Some might be in adjacent swings, but their activity was independent of mine. I might stop swinging. But the others could continue. I’d use the slides as well. There were often two slides, one larger than the other. The larger slide encouraged maturation bloodied, we’d mount the ladder and gasping a breath in the heights, head down. But once done, it was always and only an opportunity to head down. Never with another. Another might even be in the way if they didn’t remove their collapsed little body in time at the base of the shoot.
The teeter-totter provided playground dialectic. Not that we knew as much. The apparatus demanded another and urged eager participants to develop negotiation skills. The teeter-totter provided a breadth that demanded and allowed oppositional counter-weight. It allowed us to see the value of balance required in life. The teeter-totter was unlike a pendulum there was no place for a pendulum in a playground. This was no carnival mid-way! It was a place of learning! I couldn’t content myself with standing the other in the heights while my corpulence remained anchored on the ground. There was fun only when there was a reciprocal give and take in the transaction. Opposition in view and force was welcomed - no, demanded - for both to benefit!
Paul had a word for this. He admonished the church in Rome, telling them to “Love each other as brothers and sisters and honour others more than you do yourself.” Just possibly he had played on a teeter-totter in Tarsus when he was enjoying recess at his yeshiva. He would be reflecting on Torah as juvenile glee mounted the seat. I can imagine Gamaliel looking through the classroom door to the area where the boys played, witnessing the conception of a model of behaviour: where my joy in increased as I honour you.
The fulcrum of our relic is Jesus himself. While I and the other face each other, we both face Jesus and depending on our weight and leverage, one might be closer to Jesus than the other. From opposite ends we discover a breadth of understanding that enriches both participants. The loss of one participant impoverishes both. We are not isolated or independent in our debate and search in this model.
Today’s church has lost the sense of balance and breadth that I came to cherish in my youth. We have drifted away to more independent and isolating models of community fragmentation. We choose to leave at will and are unrelenting in our self-righteousness. We are still imaginative. And each under their own will climbs, swings, crawls and jumps. But we're willing to go it alone.
The pattern of the yeshiva allows for God to be instrumental in our learning. The pivotal point is Torah, the word of God. I see the pivotal point as Jesus the Word of God: a dialectical model of redemption and salvation.
Copyright © James T. Irvine
Canon Jim Irvine makes his home in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada
How well I remember our seesaw in Westfield Village, East Sussex, outside St John the Baptist Church, next to the War Memorial, the Memorial grieving the devastation of both World Wars to one English village, the other about peaceable cooperation. I wonder if they are still there.
And Canon Jim Irvine's essay reminds me of the First
English-Latin Dictionary, the Promptorium
Parvulorum, written for schoolboys studying with a
Carmelite anchorite in Lynn, shortly after Julian's day in
nearby Norwich, in which he has taken care to list all the
Norfolk dialect words and their Latin counterparts for the
games his children play. You can find these in the Early
English Text Society, Extra Series 102, Promptorium
Parvulorum, ed. A.L. Mayhew, now obtainable from Boydell
and Brewer. A great way to study Julian's English and Latin
that she would have also taught to schoolchildren from her
anchorhold. Also for learning Latin with Laughter, I recommend
Terence's Comedies in the classroom
and on the stage.
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