So, I’ve been thinking about where else to go with this idea of the world around us as part of us. I wrote about and shared images of my first attempt with using my surroundings to create the pattern of a dress. Lots of other people took the idea and ran with it in really interesting directions, Kevin and Wendy in particular.
I am still thinking about this idea of our attire, the system in which we dress ourselves, and its relationship to our surroundings. Not only do we dress FOR our surroundings, but we dress IN our surroundings. I have a couple of directions I want to go with this idea.
First, I remember the early days of my first year away at college. All these new people were now in new surroundings. They still had to get dressed, please, get dressed. For some the distance, either actual or metaphorical, they ‘traveled’ to this college was relatively small. For others, they had traveled a much longer distance and this too was reflected in their attire. All of us came to college dressed in our old surroundings. Of course some of us were looking to make statements with what we were wearing, some of us wanted to look like we belonged. We were all probably dressing in ways that we expected to elicit one response, when in fact it might elicit a very different one. Students who ‘traveled’ a long way may have been acutely aware of or have expected these differences. Those who didn’t think they were traveling far may have been very surprised.
- What would it look like for students to create a set of images of clothing created from their home surroundings?
- College is a chance for reinvention. Would it be possible, or be seen as desirable for some, to try to hide or mask some of the realities of their home surroundings?
- Reinvention by choice is one thing, but feeling forced into reinvention, what sort of way is that to begin a new adventure?
Then, I also thought about students who attend high schools that are a distance from their homes. What is the cognitive load of switching environments and systems on a daily basis? While I know there are many who care not one iota about clothing, schools create many systems around. Some opt for the uniform, often in an effort to avoid highlighting the differences that will arise without one. However, the uniform itself is someone’s system. Often it is a very formal, traditional, gendered system that supposedly serves to erase some differences at school, but shines a spot light on students once they step outside school walls. They are now clearly identified as students of a particular school. What sort of system do we owe students in this regard? I do not have the answer.
Finally, I was thinking about how to bring this idea into my classroom. There was an article in the NYTimes Magazine this past weekend about two sets of identical twins who got mixed up at birth and therefore grew up as two sets of fraternal twins. I did not read the entire article, but the family circumstances were very different. What might it be like to use the cut out card to show clothing made by their non-identical surroundings?
And what about for book characters? Could it be informative to make cut outs for a character and create clothing from their surroundings? Does this character wear his or her surroundings proudly? What if a character were trying to hide an identity? While all of these questions speak to the system of clothing and the assumptions we often make about the wearer of the clothing, the other idea to consider, I think, is the importance of visual literacy here. When we read novels set in other times and/or places, students don’t always have the background knowledge to create the surroundings for the characters. And, there is only so much description they will read. What gaps in students’ image banks could we fill with this type of exercise?
When we read with young children, we read picture books, and we always show them the pictures. We do this not only because they cannot read the words, but because they are building all manner of background knowledge about what a farm or a city or a train station or a school or a castle looks like. When we ask students to imagine what will happen next in a novel, part of what students need to do is create not only actions but images in their heads. With older students we want them to predict based on the text and to make reasonable inferences, not just make &@#$ up. But I would argue that the students, no matter what the age, who make rich predictions, can extend the text, write that ‘lost chapter’, also have a good visual idea of what they are reading, even if there are no pictures provided.
So, to answer my own question, I think there could be some value in students collecting images of the time and place of the work they are reading and maybe even creating some outfits from those surroundings.
One of the books my class will be reading next year is Slaughterhouse Five. Do they know what Dresden looked like after it was bombed? Here is my image of a soldier with the helmet cut out and Dresden in the space. It’s definitely the two second version of this, but you get the idea.
Could be some interesting food for thought. It’s definitely going in my bag of tricks.