Thursday, September 6, 2012

The End of Perspective

I spent a good part of July and August reading tons of books with the 'big idea' of perspective tucked into the back of my mind.  I presented the lengthy book talk to a group of elementary school teachers last week.

I've been involved with this school for the last several years, book talking resources focused around whatever big idea they select to teach for the whole academic school year across all the grades.  This is a great exercise for me but I must admit I'm glad to wrap up at the end of August, too.  I can now read more openly not in such a prescribed way.

But to wrap up this exploration, I thought I'd mention a few of the books that seemed to be of particular interest.

I started with the perspective that was closest to self.  How do I perceive myself?  How do others perceive me?   Single perspectives versus multiple views. Perspective that is biased or distorted versus perspectives that promote empathy or are non-judgmental.  There were so many good books to choose from.

 Wonder by R.J. Palacio and  Who is Melvin Bubble? by Nick Bruel  seemed to strike a cord with a couple of teachers. Both use multiple perspectives to explore who each of the main characters are.  Looking at distortions or bias is certainly relevant in each of these books.

My exploration of perspective broadened out a bit to look at community (in the biggest sense, Calgary, Alberta, Canada, and world) over time and place.  Two history books based on the lives of Canadians that attracted interested were The Duchess Ranch of Old John Ware by James Davidge and Fatty Legs by Christy Jordan-FentonThese two books would work well to show how attitudes change from historical to contemporary times. A third book, Mrs. Harkness and the Panda by Alicia Potter also looks at how things change over time. This particular book shows how our contemporary views about animal conservation have changed since the 1930s.

The next broader layer started to look at organizational perspectives (eg. corporate, media, technology, religion, government, etc.) and specific perspectives of particular disciplines such as art, mathematics, science, literature, history, psychology, philosophy, the natural world, etc.  This allowed me to combine perspective with the question about what is true/truth and how do we know when something is true or real.  Lots of layering of complex thoughts and more great books to recommend.  Here are a few examples:

Art Against the Odds by Susan Goldman Rubin and Just Behave, Pablo Picasso by Jonah Winter are different ways at looking at the question of who decides what is art.  The picture book about Picasso is particularly accessible for the primary grades, whereas Art Against the Odds will work better for older students.  Whether an artist is presenting something entirely new or in unexpected places (prisons, psychiatric institutions, African villages, inner city classrooms, etc.) public perceptions can make it difficult.

Looking at the way the media portrays, well anything and everything could certainly be a rich way to explore the idea of perspective.  The Great Moon Hoax by Stephen Krensky and Bat Boy Lives!: the Weekly world news guide to politics, culture, celebrities, alien abductions, and the mutant freaks that shape our world by David Perel are interesting ways to look at how news can be distorted to the point of being totally ridiculous.  

Related to this are two books in the series Captured History: Migrant Mother and Breaker Boys.  Each of these books looks at the power of photography, especially in the early 1900s.Photo journalism was something fairly new then and was a way for the American public to learn about dire social conditions for migrant farm workers during the Depression (Migrant Mother) and child labour in the early days of industrialization (Breaker Boys).  The motivations of the photographers and the techniques they employed to capture their images are discussed, as well as the context in which the photos became famous.  Both are excellent resources.

Along the same lines is The Big Push by Erika Wittekind that is a little book that accessibly lays out how we are constantly exposed to media messages,  whether in terms of advertising  pressuring us to buy stuff or informing us about current issues (supposedly news).  Because it's brand new there are many contemporary examples for kids to related to. 

The last one I'll mention is There is a Flower at the Tip of My Nose Smelling Me by Alice Walker that I actually read this aloud as an opener to my presentation.  It gave me a beautiful way to open the book talk about perspective in a 'backwards' way.  As the title suggests it is the flower that the narrator  holds that is actually doing the sniffing.  Or the ocean, sky, and sunrise that experiences the narrator rather than the other way around. Or a dance, story or walked dog connecting back to the narrator who becomes the object or the activity.  It's an interesting way to show an interconnection with nature and the artistic/creative sides to our world.  Poetic and beautifully illustrated, this book is a grand opener and presents perspective in a different light.

Any finally words about perspective?


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