School Groups’ Experiences at Common Ground, and the Self Reflection They Inspired in a Long-time Fair Demonstrator
To the editor:
A group of school kids crowds against the safety chain, peering in at the forge and anvils. Students check the clipboards they hold in their arms.
“How do you get the fire hot?”
“Why do you put the metal in water after?”
“This says I’m supposed to interview a blacksmith.”
“Who is Herb, anyway?”
Questions rain down on the man working in the shed, who answers with more patience than I think the questions deserve. When he gets to the last query, he says evenly, “Do you mean the Herb Tent?”
During 15 years as a demonstrator in the Folk Arts Area, I, too, have experienced this sort of rapid-fire questioning, and, just as the blacksmith’s, my answers were only half listened to. It is not without reason that somewhat wry comments about Friday school groups spring from all quarters of the fairgrounds on that day. But it is not the increase in wild energy caused by herds of running youngsters that leads to the widespread frustration. Of course not. We are at the Fair because we want to share about our lives. Our dissatisfaction comes from not being able to do that with these students.
As an educator by profession, I am deeply saddened by assignments given to the majority of Friday’s Fair-attending schoolchildren. Checklists and sheets of prewritten questions – assignments such as these preclude meaningful interaction between students and demonstrators. And I doubt that anyone can believe this type of school work constitutes actual learning.
Might students, instead, pick their own topics and questions? Or perhaps we let go, for the day, of measurable “facts,” and ask instead for a drawing, poem or story that embodies the Fair experience. Or, really, for a child, isn’t simply being there enough?
There is one other aspect to all of this that honesty demands I share. “When you reach out an’ point a finger at someone there’s three more fingers pointin’ back at you.” So said a very special teacher of mine, once. What, then, do I need to look at here? Perhaps it is this: If I feel the need to criticize the way others experience the Fair, then let me be sure that my own experience of it is in order. Let me organize those business cards, notes and handouts. Let me follow through on the networking ideas and rejuvenated friendships. Let me follow through with letters of thanks for area coordinators. To put it succinctly, let me not let go of any of the myriad pieces I’ve brought home with me from the Fair, but instead integrate them into myself and allow the Fair to help me grow into a greater whole.
– Ashirah Knapp
Koviashuvik Local Living School, Temple, Maine