Hands Of Clay; Learning another culture

This is an excerpt from Judy Dyxstra-Brown’s charming poem about Learning Styles:


My own fingers on the clay
are how I choose to spend the day.
I can’t learn to cut or glue
by sitting here and watching you.

That made me think of the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico who are talented artists, many of them potters. Their clay is individually gathered from their tribal lands, with thanks given to Clay Mother for her gift. The pots are traditionally coiled by hand – no wheel for them – and fired in outside fire pits. Many families have passed this pottery making down through generations but the children learn mostly by sitting by and watching the grownups while experimenting with small pieces of clay. Not asking, but watching and copying, with some gentle assistance from the adult when needed.

This upbringing – just to watch and learn – can sometimes be a problem when the young people go to high school and college; they are not used to asking how to do something, or offering the answers that they might well know. Learning another culture’s mores is hard enough for adults; how much more for young, nervous folk embarking into another world, even when they grow up with it on their doorstep.

At the multi-cultural Adult Education Institute in London where I worked, we sometimes had work-study students who come in to learn office skills. I remember one Zimbabwean girl who looked down and never smiled back at me or even indicated she had heard my instructions.

Luckily I had a friend from that country who told me “Women do not make eye-contact.” She also said “We don’t smile – we laugh, but we don’t smile.” She had a delightful small daughter who quickly learned to put on “a plastic smile” when she came to England. But her mother found that difficult. How fortunate I was to know those customs, or I could have labeled our student a morose and sullen girl.

Don’t just sit there, watch, ask and learn.



One thought on “Hands Of Clay; Learning another culture

  1. What a wise woman you are, and how good it is that you can share your life experiences, especially those with other cultures.


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