Chapter 5
 

Acknowledgements
Preface
Foreword
Introduction
Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
References

Being Imaginative and Creative

Peace-building Storytellers

To create a new, peaceful world we need to think differently and employ our imaginations to construct new images of our world, one in which we are working together in sustainable and peace-building ways. We need to construct new paradigms and allow our imaginations to be playful and unlimited by our present thinking and systems.

Read children's stories:   Activity 7   Activity 8

For the past two centuries our educational thinking has been influenced by many inspirational peacemakers and educationalists such as Maria Montessori and Leo Tolstoy[1]. Both have left indelible marks not only upon any existing understandings about teaching and learning but more significantly, upon any understandings about the nature of peace.

Born in the province of Ancona, Italy, in 1870, and after graduating from university Maria Montessori became Italy’s first female physician. In 1906 she left her medical practice to work with a group of sixty young children of working parents in the San Lorenzo district of Rome and it was there she founded the Casa dei Bambini, or "Children's House" that eventually led to the establishment of the Montessori Method of Education. Her philosophies and methodologies continue to enrich educational thinking. Her beliefs in relation to the importance of learning environments being structured to nurture and stimulate each child’s individual development have impacted upon thinking well beyond traditional learning institutions. Montessori schools exist in many countries throughout the world and they operate co-operatively. The inherent, well designed structuring allows children to safely explore and grow in their worlds, to learn to trust and respect life and their own innate and unique abilities. She believed teachers needed to encourage and trust that children could be guided by their own internal wisdom (Seldin, date unknown).

“It is not the child as a physical but as a psychic being that can provide a strong impetus to the betterment of mankind.”

“The child is both a hope and a promise for mankind.”

“Children are human beings to whom respect is due, superior to us by reason of their innocence and of the greater possibilities of their future.”

“There is in the soul of a child an impenetrable secret that is gradually revealed as it develops.”

(Montessori, 1949)

Therefore she requested that educators endeavour to educate the hearts of children and allow the innate peace loving spirit of each child to guide any teaching and learning, and consequently assist in humanity’s quest to create peace. The challenge for educational systems is to nurture this innate peace-building knowing and allow it to affect thinking and action.

Sharing stories of hope and peace is one way both adults and children are able to come together to explore peace-building, learn to sustain peace and live it in every moment as Gandhi, whose thinking was significantly guided by the writings of Tolstoy, also stated:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Leo Tolstoy, the great eighteen century Russian novelist, was led to believe by his older brother Nikolai, when they were both children, that he had written the secret for universal future happiness on a green stick that was buried at the edge of steep valley in their native estate. Future unearthing of this particular green stick and the subsequent revelation of the power of the words inscribed upon it would ensure the entire world would be enveloped by love (Meisel, 1997). Inspired by this imagery, Tolstoy created many literary gifts the world has been fortunate to inherit. He also chose to focus his attention upon education and offered ideas to create more spiritually enriched pedagogy.

The story of the green stick was never translated into English. The spirit of this enduring story, though, has inspired the creation of “The Green Stick”, a newsletter published by P.E.A.C.E. (Project for Ecological and Co-operative Education), that is a peace-building group of committed European peace-builders and educators. The newsletter was first published in 1998 at Orel University in Russia and it promoted international exchanges of peace-building educational activities.

Professor Felix Litvin, of Orel University, has expanded upon his understandings of the original green stick’s origin.

“In 1878, Leo Tolstoy started writing My Life. In 1892, an extract titled "My First Reminiscences" was first published in a collection "To Russian Mothers". Among other things, Tolstoy tells in it how, when he was five, his elder brother Nikol'en'ka declared to his young brothers that he knew a secret which would, when disclosed to all people, make them all happy; there would be no diseases, no troubles, nobody would be angry with anybody, and all people would love each other.

"... the chief secret of how to make all people trouble-free, never quarrelling or getting angry - he had written that secret, he told us, on a green stick, and that stick was buried by the roadside at the end of a ravine in the Old Reserve, in the very place where I - as there must be somewhere to bury my dead body - have asked, in memory of Nikol'en'ka, to be put to rest.

"And, as I believed then that there exists the green stick on which was written that which was to do away with all the evil in people and to give them the supreme good, so I believe even now that that truth exists and that it will be disclosed to people and give them what it promises."

As Montessori and Gandhi have suggested, focussing on educating the heart rather than the mind, perhaps we can together with our children, find Tolstoy’s elusive green stick.

In search of the green stick

Peace-building stories can assist in this search. Two beautifully retold Chinese folk tales that were used as part of a Studies of Asia focus based upon China with year 4 students spontaneously, without any prior planning, became the initiators of a search.

“The Dream Dragon” by Yvonne Winer

(Margaret Hamilton Books Sydney 1998)

This is not only an ancient Chinese tale beautifully retold, with vividly clear and colourful imagery, but the story is intrinsically a story of hope. It evokes the power of dreaming.
It begins with the words:

"High in the mountains, where mists hang like spider webs spun across the peaks, lived a dream dragon. On silent nights she tumbled into the dreams of the people in a remote village."

Immediately we are captured and absorbed by the unfolding story. We are all dreamers who love to dream. The dream dragon enters the dreams of the old folk and in their dreaming she guarded their village and kept it safe from enemies. For the parents in their dreaming she protected the children from wild animals and for the children and she became a magical storyteller and the children dreamed peacefully. Until one night the dream dragon did not come. The people in the village became very anxious and the children wondered who would tell them stories. The people believed their village would no longer be safe. But the villagers got together and decided they wanted their dream dragon to return. What they chose to do was certainly molimo. The healing music and activities the people chose to undertake healed their village which then in turn healed its people. The story also ends happily with everyone winning and the dream dragon again enters the dreams of all the villagers, especially those of the children. Once again they could dream of stories with happy endings that all begun with:

"Once upon a time there was a dream dragon...."

The happy ending in this story does involve everyone winning but also there are many other essential peace-building elements inherent in this beautiful story. There is no violence, killing or death. The villagers peacefully responded to their problem and instead of choosing war the villagers chose to work together and create molimo. People held their faith that the dragon would return. There was always hope.

Critical questions to explore with children

bulletWhat different dreams did the dream dragon help the villagers dream at night?
bulletWhat happened to cause distress amongst the villagers?
bulletWhat happened as a consequence to the village?
bulletWhat did the villagers decide to do about their situation?
bulletDid the dream dragon return to their dreams?
bulletDoes the story have a happy win-win ending?

Creative questions to explore with children

bulletDo you think the dream dragon really existed?
bulletWhy do you think the princess didn’t have to slay a dragon?
bulletWhat other things could have been included in the test?
bulletDo you think the dragon was brave and like other dragons?
bulletDo you think all dragons would like to hear stories?
bulletWhat would you have done if the dragon had captured you?
bulletDo you think the princess should have tried to escape?
bulletHow else could the story have ended with win-win?

This story was read to the students, quite unintentionally, on the day after the September 11th anniversary. Immediately the students recognised the people of New York had also lost their dream dragon. They pondered ways in which they could help the peace dragon return. They decided to create their own dream dragon stories for the children of New York. As the original story unfolded it was revealed that the villagers created their own molimo to entice the dragon back into their dreams so the people of New York could perhaps do likewise. Just as the old people of the village wove a dream dragon in brightly coloured cloth or the parents of the village children decided to capture the dragon in the music they played or as the children decided they should tell their own stories to capture her again, the students wove their own special tale to help inspire the people of New York. The students retold their own stories creating their own versions of molimo to share with the children of New York via webpages.

These heart-felt words, structured so clearly and innocently by each student, revealed that each innately understood the meaning of peace and even how to create it in their own lives. Their words were not prompted, just freely expressed. Their words were true molimo.

Activity 7- Context: Studies of Asia: China

Task: to create a peace-building story about a dragon who needs to return to New York to help heal the wounds and bring faith and hope back to the people.

William imaginatively and creatively had captured his own dream dragon within his story and he had captured it also for the children of New York. William’s story inspired hope for peace.

read William's story

read Zane's story

The children recognised the importance of believing that peace would return again to the people of New York and innately knew how to make it happen.

Tolstoy wrote vividly about peace and war. He stated:

“War is so unjust and ugly that all who wage it must try to stifle

the voice of conscience within themselves.”

Peace-building stories deliver messages of hope, and they involve happy endings in which everyone wins, but there is another essential element that is particularly represented in the following story. Dr Martin Luther King Jr understood that peace was a process not an outcome and stated:

“Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek,

but a means by which we arrive at that goal.”

So in order to live the dream of peace, even daring to dream it as Dr Martin Luther King Jr did, stories shared need to honour our peace-building dreaming.

Dreaming of peace

The next story explores the power of dreaming but examines the nature of dreamers.

“Wan Hu is in the Stars” by Jennifer Armstrong

(Tambourine Books NY 1995)

This is one story that empowers children to dream. Jennifer's book is very magical. It gives permission to dream. The story of Wan Hu was an original story that was inspired by a Chinese legend and it has been beautifully retold. Wan Hu lived in a village near Beijing. He was absent-minded and did not pay any attention to the things the other villagers felt were important. He would wear only one shoe and a copper rice pot on his head, or give greetings to pigs, and keep his parasol unfolded when it rained. All Wan Hu seemed interested in was the heavens. He merely wanted to know how the stars hung in the heavens and he was prepared to try anything to find the answer to his question even though his choices were quite absurd.

His crazy attempts failed but on one night as he was watching the firecrackers being lit for the celebrations for the emperor's mother's birthday an idea popped into his head. Wan Hu decided that he would tie forty seven firecrackers to a bamboo chair, then tie himself to the chair and light the firecrackers. Yes what utter foolishness! Wan Hu was never seen or heard of again. As the villagers looked at the heavens at night a blaze of stars shaped like a lotus flower, similar to the flower Wan Hu used to wear on his robe, shone above his house. Perhaps he did achieve his goal. Wan Hu was foolish and he dreamed impossible dreams. But many once considered the dreams of Gandhi and Dr King to be foolish also. As with the story of the dream dragon, Wan Hu might inspire dreaming, a dreaming of a peaceful world. It is a story that teaches openness to new ideas and possibilities. It is a story that teaches dreaming of big impossible dreams and teases the imagination. It is most importantly a story that focusses attention beyond the day to day and helps us move beyond ourselves.

Critical questions to explore with children

bullet

What was different about Wan Hu?

bullet

What did he dream of doing?

bullet

Were his attempts at reaching the stars successful?

bullet

What did the villagers believe happened to Wan Hu?

bullet

What do you think happened to Wan Hu?

bullet

Does the story have a happy win-win ending?

Creative questions to explore with children

bullet

Do you think Wan Hu was crazy?

bullet

Do you ever day dream?

bullet

How would you have found out the answer to Wan Hu’s question?

bullet

What do you think the stars are made?

bullet

What question about the universe would you like answered?

bullet

How else could the story have ended with win-win?

Activity 8- Context: Studies of Asia year 4: China

Task: to retell (using the guiding main points if you want to) then create other endings for this story? Did Wan Hu really die? What happy ending can be created to finish this story????

The following scaffolding was provided to build the story around if the students required it. In the group many possibilities were explored before the individual writing task began. Although many students considered Wan Hu to be insane they did recognise the validity of his desire and his determination to achieve his dream.

Wan Hu was a dreamer who dreamed of travelling to the stars.

His friend the gardener had an idea.

Wan Hu tried harnessing birds that fly high in the sky.

From the rocket makers he bought 47 rockets.

Wan Hu was never seen or heard of again.

The students’ imaginations exploded and they created wonderful endings to this story.

read Henry's story

Henry revealed his appreciation for Wan Hu’s quest as being worthwhile yet ended his version simply not needing to elaborate being the dream being fulfilled.

read Nathi's story

Nathi has revealed a greater appreciation for the creative power of dreaming and defined achievement in terms of fame and being able to answer one of life’s important questions.

read Vinay's story

Vinay presented the most mature of understandings revealing his insight into the powerful dreaming done by indigenous Australians and their interpretations of creation and the meaning of life.

As each child shared their story with others each gained an understanding not only of each other’s awareness levels but more significantly of the limitless possibilities of magical and imaginative happy endings.

Reflecting

2003 was the 50th anniversary year of the death of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. Although he died seeking his dream's fulfilment, his hopes and desires for peace live on. Perhaps if we all could dream a little more like Dr Martin Luther King Jr or Mahatma Gandhi, dream of peace, dream of how we could create it, then we also might be able to achieve our goal of creating a peaceful world. Powerful imaginations are vital to peace-building.

Perhaps we all need to honour and cherish the “Wan Hu” in each of us?

 

 


Endnotes

[1] Leo Tolstoy (1828 – 1910) was a Russian writer who Although he was born into nobility, who spent much of his life as a champion of Russia's peasant class, notably in the field of education.. Retrieved November 28, 2008 from http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/598700/Leo-Tolstoy

 

 

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