One of the best pieces of fiction in Wendell Berry’s oeuvre comes in his short novel Remembering, written in 2008. The context is that of the adult Andy Catlett (the “type” of Berry himself, as much as any character is) who has lost a hand in a corn-picking machine, “remembering” himself back to wholeness and self-forgiveness. In the course of remembering the momentous event that took him from being an urban journalist in the service of industrial agriculture back to being a farmer again, he writes this:
More at ease, he remembered something that as a child he had learned about, but now saw:
Mat, his grandfather, as a little boy, was sitting on a board that Jack Beechum had nailed to his plowbeam to make him a seat. As Jack walked behind the plow, Mat sat on the beam, and they talked. They talked about the pair of mules that drew the plow, and about the plow and how it was running, but they talked too about everything that a small boy could think to ask about, who had nothing to do but look and think and ask, except maybe, up in the afternooon, go to the srping to bring back a fresh drink of water in the gourd.
Was that a school? It was a school.
Andy thought of his own young children, who had descended, in part, from that school on the plowbeam and did not know it. The mares strode lightly with their burden, the birds sang, the furrow rolled off the plow in a long fluent motion, and a thrill grew in Andy at the recognition of something he had forgotten.
The pun in the title is that this re-membering, whilst not restoring physical health to Andy, does begin to rebuild his experiential life and valued history, so it has a future and a hope beyond the brokenness.
Pan forward to an interview I heard on Libby Purves’ Midweek program on Radio 4 this morning with Marcus Wareing, the chef. “I didn’t realise at the time that my father was giving me a 5-6 year apprenticeship to deal with raw ingredients” says Wareing toward the end of the programme. His father was a potato merchant, a workaholic and had an intimate knowledge of fresh produce, of how to procure it, care for it, present it for the customer. Young Marcus, in order to be with his dad whom he adored and looked up to, would go and join him in the warehouses after school – and thus began the 5-6 year apprenticeship. His dad has been a model for hard work and a high level of competence that Marcus has inherited as an adult, and can say, as a focal practice, what it is of his father that impacted him as an adult.
This really struck me. We talked about it later in a small group of sane headteachers that meet termly for the Restorative Practice network with Paul Carlile and Tom Macready, where we often talk about parents and the way that we can engage them more deeply in school. There is something so broad about schooling, so rich, so participative, so inclusive of all the influence that we bring to bear on young children, that those parents who “send their children to school” should pause and remember that they, and not us, are the principal educators of their children, and should therefore make sure that everything in their family life is scooped up and put to good use. It is said of Samuel the prophet in 1 Samuel 3.19, that “The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground.”
Let none of our words fall to the ground. That is a real challenge – and a vision for a true intentionality and craftsmanship both for teachers and for parents, educators both.
Off to parents’ evening now – or perhaps, “a participative education consultation”…