Two and two are four: Strike diary 6

Today I went to a teach out session on mental health. I went there with an open mind, and rather low expectations. Put simply, I was expecting a few mindfulness tips, which I have heard many times already, and the efficacy of which I actually doubt (this is not to say I do not believe in the power of mindfulness – I’m only critical of “mindfulness lite”). I was very positively surprised: there was no empty rhetoric about the benefits of deep breathing, but rather some great insights into practice, policy, law, and even history, surrounding mental health.

We also reflected on the nature of modern university teaching and the fact that it is so much geared towards assessment. This puts such unbearable pressure on students; yet when they know they are not assessed on parts of a module, they often disengage. How can this be addressed?

All this made me think of one of Jacques Prévert‘s (1900-1977) poems, which extols the virtue of daydreaming. It is also a poem about metamorphosis, which is becoming a bit of a theme in this strike diary. You will find the original French here (see this post for another of Prévert’s poems). I have chosen to make the bird in the poem a ‘she’ in reference to the mythical Sirens (in French birds are masculine):

Oydsseus and the Sirens. Second century mosaic, Tunisia.

Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen…
Repeat! says the teacher
Two and two are four
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen.
But here comes the lyre-bird
Who flies in the sky
The child sees her
The child hears her
The child calls to her:
Save me
Play with me
Then the bird flies down
And plays with the child
Two and two are four…
Repeat! says the teacher
And the child plays
The bird plays with him..
Four and four are eight
Eight and eight are sixteen
And sixteen and sixteen what are they?
They are nothing sixteen and sixteen
And certainly not thirty two
And anyway
They go away.
And the child has hidden the bird
In his desk
And all the children
Hear her song
And all the children
Hear the music
And eight and eight in turn go away
And four and four and two and two
In turn scamper off
And one and one do not think twice
And go away too.
And the lyre-bird plays
And the child sings
And the teacher shouts:
When you are done playing the buffoon!
But all the other children
Listen to the music
And the walls of the classroom
crumble quietly.
And the windows return to sand
The ink returns to water
The desks return to trees
The chalk returns to cliffs
The quill returns to bird.

The white cliffs of Dover.


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3 Responses to Two and two are four: Strike diary 6

  1. PMu says:

    Really interesting post! Thank you for sharing. Always great to be pleasantly surprised and inspired by an event.


  2. Caroline Spearing says:

    Love the poem! It so perfectly encapsulates what is missing from the modern classroom/lecture hall.

    Liked by 2 people

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