I've never really known what to do at the seaside. On a recent visit to Spain's Costa Brava, sat with my notebook on the beach, I came up with a series of stories about this little man. His name is Humphrey Bogin and the entire series is about his adventure at the beach.
In typical Humphrey style, each episode ends after 15 slides, regardless of what is happening in the story. There are also always 5 questions which follow immediately on from the story - always 5.
Humphrey is certainly special but I don't think that he is necessarily unusual.
Many of us have 'to-do lists'. Most of us get obsessive about things now and again. We all fuss about small details sometimes whilst failing to see the larger ones, exaggerating one part of our reality at the expense of another. We all have our pet hates. We all have moments when we would prefer to be living in the world inside our heads, with the versions of ourselves that we store there. Most of us have times when we would prefer not to talk to anybody - even if we end up doing so. We sometimes decide we don't like something or someone for no real reason. At other times, the reasons that we have in our own heads sound silly or strange to other people - and they let us know it!
We're all special like Humphrey in some way.
Or at least I hope we are. I know that I certainly am. To say that there is something of the autobiographical in these episodes would be halfway there. The entire first series was sketched out over two days on the beach in late June of 2010 as I sat dipping into my own imagination and then dipping into the world around me - in equal measures I think.
If you had been sitting there with me, you would have noticed many of the elements from the stories: there was indeed a new couple taking wedding shots, there was another couple tanning themselves red raw, there was a seagull and I did indeed make two little stone 'blob people' to amuse myself.
If you had been sitting there with me, you might also have got a little bit bored, because I don't talk a lot when I've got a new idea. That's one of my quirks. We've all got them, and I think that by accepting that we would all measure positive on a spectrum of some sort, in at least some respects, some of the time, we open the way to a more honest understanding of human personality and to increasing understanding between all those millions of personalities in the world.
|From day to day I try to bear in mind that the person in front of me who I've just decided is being daft because they're doing something I wouldn't or don't want them to, might just be having a Humphrey day, or a Christopher day like me, a Raquel day, an Andy, Edu, Ben, Miriam, Terry, Lola, Anthony or Emma day, a Guillermo, Charlie, Toby, Arthur, Susan, George, Chari, Graham, Caroline, Julian, Neeraj, Neil, Nicole, Kat, Kyle, Mel, Francis, Roser, Hiro or Amalia day, and they should be having that kind of day, and the list goes on for as many people as there are in the world.|
At the beginning of August 2010, I returned to the Costa Brava and this time found myself sitting on a beach full of pebbles. Without having any prior intentions to do so, this is where I sketched out the second series of Humphrey.
I would just like to take the opportunity here to say that I'm not taking the idea of being 'special' lightly. I know that for some people just getting through day to day life can be a huge problem requiring a great deal of professional and family support. It does seem to me ironic though that while some special people quite clearly seem to be a problem to or create problems for themselves, there are a lot 'normal' individuals in the world that create problems for everybody else.
I'm thinking here, for example, of defence ministers who sit in boardrooms drinking coffee and receiving salutes whilst giving the order to bombard areas of countries they have never been to before. I'm thinking of the individuals who act out those orders giving those salutes. I'm thinking of the poeple who own, manage and work in the factories that build the bombs that will be used, the scientists who conduct 'controlled' nuclear test explosions out of sight and the sales representatives who take international orders for machine gun bullets. I'm thinking of economists and government heads who favour global market conditions that allow large sections of the world's population to remain in poverty because they know that it favours their own countries' economies. I'm thinking of individuals for whom it is more important to build up a powerful company, accumulating riches in a large private fund, than to see the plants, animals, society and culture around them, and the future beyond them, flourish healthily - individuals that don't see that the accumulation of private wealth is always at the expense of another, or who if they do, are indifferent to it.
These people also need help and support because they are dangerously 'special'.
Thoughtlessness, greed, indifference and the need for power and authority - these are the real handicaps to our personal growth and to that of our societies. For every obvious Humphrey in our classes, we've probably got 5, 10 or 15 so called 'normal' kids who could be suffering from one of the above.
It may sound like I'm mixing politics and education - and I am. Humphrey Bogin is not a political series of stories and the arguments in these paragraphs are not reflected in his adventures, but I would like to make the point that there is always politics in education, even right down at kindergarten level. If there appears to be no politics in the classroom, then this means that the education system is tied so closely to the dominant ideology that it does not need covering explicitly in coursebooks. The world is big and as individuals we are small and our perspectives necessarily limited, mine certainly, but as far as I can tell, the above is especially the case for those societies whose ideology is based most heavily on the individual accumulation of wealth - I believe we call this capitalism. It is within such a climate that qualities like thoughtlessness, greed, indifference or the need for power and recognition might slip by as 'normal' or in some cases even be praised.
What I'm driving at here is that a look into the world of Humphrey Bogin's strange behaviour both logically and naturally leads on to a re-examination of our own behaviours. I do not believe that there is a single human being anywhere in the world that doesn't need help in some respect. I believe that we could ALL benefit from a closer awareness of our own mental processes and that if the human species is to evolve its way out of the current crisis it's in, then this awareness and capacity for self-analysis will be at the fore of our progress.
It's never too early to start thinking about our thinking and if in our classrooms that starts with a look at the apparently dysfunctional behaviour of a character like Humphrey Bogin then that's great, but as teachers, let's not forget what the real dysfunctional human traits are. We then need to apply the same understanding approach that we do to officially recognised 'special' traits to qualities such as thoughtlessness, greed, indifference and the need for power and authority.
As a final thought, I think that perhaps encouraging each of our learners to look for the Humphrey Bogin in themselves might be misplaced. I think what we ought to be doing is encouraging each of our learners to look for themselves in themselves.
Chris Roland 2010