Monday, February 07, 2005

Children's Program

So in this month of February, 2005, I'm childrens program czar for BCFM (alphabet soup alert!). My predecessor, Jane, and clerk of our committee, had done a lot of legwork around Sparklers, Too!, a 1989 work by Nancy Pickering, and a publication of FGC.

However, given this pre-web material would require yet more legwork, in the form of trips to the library, and given I'd feel more energized were I to indulge my penchant for doing my own curriculum writing, I resolved instead to google for gold. Jane relayed her support for my taking the intiative, yet expressed nostalgia for programming around physical childrens books as well (not just web stuff), as some of these are quite beautiful.

The goldmine I found was A Visual Glossary of Religious Symbols. My reasoning was this: these younger children for which I was preparing a lesson plan have much first hand experience with not reading, are indeed many of them still native nonreaders. And yet human language has for ages had to reach a majority of nonreaders, as literacy in the modern sense was a rarity among the common folk for many centuries.

But the prevelance of illiteracy didn't mean the PR gurus and spinmeisters of old were helpless to communicate with their flocks or other target audiences. Obviously they wielded the spoken word, plus song, and dance -- some things never change. And in place of these dictionary words (as we now refer to them) they used petroglyphs, cave paintings, tapestries, mosaics, etchings in wood, stone, and skin (tatoos), even hand signs. As semiologists might say, a web of signifiers was cast, a network of mnemonic triggers, nevermind if most people still couldn't "read" in the modern sense -- they could still read in a way that mattered.

So... (my wheels were still turning) let's investigate this world of signifiers that aren't words, and in particular let's consider the role of such signs in religion. How have humans wordlessly communicated about matters of spiritual and/or eternal significance? However, let's also not be too strict about dividing the world of symbols into the religious and the not-religious, the sacred and profane. Human is human, after all.

Consider a large multi-national airport. The humans going through there, but for the youngest, are for most part literate; they can read as well as write, but you can't in practice use all their local encodings on every bathroom door -- there're just too many of them. So you still need some universal symbols for Men and Women. And on the computer desktop what do we find: icons -- and logos from advertisers, often obnoxiously popping up when we least expect them. Our languages, our religions, our sciences, still demand so much more from language than mere words, as useful as words may be.

As it turned out, this First Day only three children showed up, two of them sisters and quite young. Fortunately, within my OSCON bag of tricks were two cultural icons, both stuffed and cuddly: Tux the Penguin and Elmo of Sesame Street. The older boy was beyond such dolls but I had other goodies for him, including a dissectable cube (not really a symbol, but geometric at least).

Dave led the session with Rocky (the psychologist, and the boy's dad), with Martha (the girls' mom) and I helping out. We spread out the symbols I'd printed off the web on my HP DeskJet 952C and then each chose a few to redraw with colored pens.

Much interesting conversation transpired as we doodled, on many levels, with the children included. Dave copied a caduceus while Martha looked up its meaning in a dictionary I'd brought (Cirlot's). All of us marveled at the emblem of the Tohono O'odham and their proud nation. None of us appeared to have tuned in the emblem of the Unification Church before. Dave and I agreed the compass and square seemed especially relevant, in light of the fact that MMM (an affiliated meeting) is still eyeing that next door Masonic temple (and its parking lot). I drew attention to the Glastonbury insignia, as Dawn is planning a pilgrimmage to that site come spring.

All in all it was a good lesson and a good time was had by all. I've banked much of the material in the BCFM archive (a plastic box) for future reference, including some literature we might want ot take up later in Adult First Day (a different program).

After the rise of meeting, I discussed blogs with Darl, mine being the first she'd visited (though she'd long been aware of the phenomenon). We agreed that keeping blogs was natural for Friends, given our pronounced proclivity for journal-keeping. Indeed, Darl and I could well-imagine republishing some favorite Quaker journals in blog format, complete with original dates. Imagine reading the journals of George Fox or John Woolman or Margaret Fell right here on blogger dot com! The only hitch is the current interface doesn't allow back dating posts that far -- a limitation we might take up with Google at some point.

Tara and I watched the Superbowl yesterday, starting with the half time show (she's a true Beatles fan, sang along, wondered about Ringo). I liked the commercials a lot better this year. Toyota's was good -- used the word synergy (and yes, the getting-nowhere pace has been frustrating). Bud's designated driver ad was fun. The popsicle sports car driver was humorously macabre. All those corporate logos in one room, eating together -- heart warming. Plus Pepsi showed off some of its delivery fleet on steroids (bizmos!). And those imaginary beings teaching dad to be more generous with the snacks was inspiring.

Speaking of imaginary beings, Tara had a new toy to show me this evening, not one I'd seen: a plastic three-headed dog, all heads looking pretty vicious and mean. I recognized it from mythology and offered that we might google for its proper name. Someday, when I get my digicam replaced, I'll upload its picture.

Followup: Tara and I followed up on Cerberus this morning. I suggested nicknaming her toy Cera, an allusion to our one-headed pet, but Tara felt Berus would be better, as she considers him a boy. I described his job as "border guard" between two worlds (ours and Hades -- not so much Hell as prechristians were less judgmental of its inhabitants). And speaking of Negative Universe (that's one reading), I got a call from Ashley this morning, regarding Ed, her dad, who is truly not long for this world. Bonnie is flying out there to be with him, a messenger of our love and best wishes.