Reub's journey

16 May 2012

The thoughts of kids

One of the things I'll miss after retiring from my middle school art job: the thoughts of kids.  Funny thing is, that between the ages of 11-14, kids don't always readily reveal their thoughts to adults. By accident I discovered that one way to gain access to their thoughts is through the very old-school craft of calligraphy, which I teach to eighth graders.

Calligraphy is rule-bound, requires the use of guidelines, and the mastery of a finicky old pen dipped into a glass jar of black ink. 

This is a disciplined activity done in a quiet room.

 It is low-tech, yet it is one of the single most important things that Steve Jobs ever studied.

I teach them just two alphabets. The first is Johnston Foundational.

And the second is Chancery Cursive, an italicized font.

The quality of the text was so good that I nearly forgave the lower case  letters.
Fourteen-year-olds are so into texting that they sometimes forget about capital letters.

I ask them to bring in a 30-50 word piece of their own choosing.

And here is where it gets interesting.

I love what they bring in. I love it.

It's where I get to see who they are. Their thoughts.

Usually they bring in song lyrics.

But often they use their own writing.

What they choose is astonishing.

I have done this for years, and it still blows me away every time.

It is one of the many things I know I will miss come September.


  1. I love caligraphy but I had no idea that it was taught in schools. How wonderful that you get to see all this creativity come through and savor it and share it with others. I would love this too. So what is this about September- you are retiring, THIS YEAR? Well congratulations and good luck but you know, if you decide you don't like it you could always teach these classes on your own. Just a thought if you get bored with travelling or whatever it is you plan to do when not working at the school anymore.

  2. wow. really moving. you have a unique in with these kids, kerry.

  3. wow, these kids have some deep thoughts going around their heads. what a great exercise.

  4. wow, very cool. kids can be quite deep. I learned calligraphy in my art class in high school. I used it to get out of many boring classes as I was appointed to letter all the certificates for all the awards at the end of the year.

  5. Jarie Lyn: Yeah I love my job, but it's time to move on. I don't know what I'll do in retirement, but maybe it would be good to do something different from what I have been. I dunno, we'll see.

    Laoch: It is one of my favorite things about what I teach.

    Slim: The writing that they choose is always so amazing. I think it is not so much me as it is the activity of calligraphy itself that brings out the best.

    twg: Half of what they bring in I have never heard of, and it's always illuminating.

    Ellen:I learned it in college, but I wish they had taught it in high school. Lucky you to get out of class for this! Do you still use this skill once in awhile?

  6. How lovely. Kids sure can be deep and profound. I'm glad you are accepting of the lack of punctuation. That kind of expression should never be squelched. I suspect that you will be missed at least as much as you'll be missing them.

  7. it´s so nice to write with ink. looks beautiful :)

  8. How can you bear to leave them? Not to be in their world any longer, see them come to life and stretch into their skins?

  9. Hilary: I do dock them, a little, when they stray from the script. But mostly what I reward is a good, honest effort. And I am a slave to the awesome words they deliver at my feet.

    Tina: Thanks!

    Friko: It is hard to leave them. So far, though, I have not shed a odd. I am convinced that it is time to move on. Another person will replace me, and it will be the right thing.

  10. Absolutely fabulous. I love the art of handwriting and the art of caligraphy. It's great for the brain, too. Delicious!

  11. Never heard of calligraphy being taught in schools in India. Is it a common in all US schools or only selectively in some schools. I know very little about this subject and looked up the wiki and found this here :
    I am amazed by the vastness of the subject and the great and long history behind this. Wow !

  12. Sad to think that these kids will soon be old enough to die in America's endless wars. I too miss kids, only the ones I taught were between the ages of eight and eleven.

  13. Reya: Thank you. I bet this is good for the brain. It requires real concentration.

    RR: It isn't usually taught in schools here either, although I'm sure I'm not the only one doing it. I bet there are places in India where you could learn traditional calligraphy; you are right about it having a long history.

    Snow: If only the wars would end.

  14. I would have loved doing this as a kid!

  15. You can do it now! I bet you'd be good at it.

  16. I really like this post.


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