eating paper

i had a reminder just now about eating paper. here's a story. i teach special education high school students english language arts. but i also teach other things, and for over twenty years have been either a parent volunteer or a paid artist in the schools. there i teach papermaking, dyeing, spinning, drawing, and weaving. when i first began teaching gigs making paper, i was at a loss on how much equipment to bring, how to cart it all around, what would be meaningful for kids. i learned after a bit to really talk to them. to show them and let them use real equipment. to tell them exactly what i do and why. no frills, but lots of stories. we live a little north of the adirondacks, and the kids are very familiar with paper mills and logging. even though the mills are dying out, the tradition is still around. so papermaking isn't a completely foreign concept.

one time, before i began teaching in the special education classrooms that have followed, i was demonstrating papermaking with a group of middle school kids, about 12 years old. if you have a group like that there's always one cocky boy, who stands right in front and has a lot to say, mostly seeing how far he can push you, happy if he can get your goat. (but the clue is that he's in front--he's interested, all right.) having raised a bunch of goats (and milked them!) i am not your typical pushover artiste, i've wrestled goats. sheep. and even a gander. 

so this boy asks me about the pulp i had prepared for the demo. i told him it was abaca, also called manila hemp, but really a banana leaf fiber. the other kids were watching him carefully, and i continued talking about eastern and western methods. and then i said the cue: "the japanese say that your paper should be pure enough to eat". so this boy says with a grin, "can i eat it?" the other kids are leaning in at this, and he's got the devil in his eye. "sure", i said. the pulp is a milky soup and in has a few plant bits, ferns. so now it's up to him to save face, and hesitating only a tiny bit he scooped out a handful and popped it in his mouth. the cheer went up, he gulped it down. because i met his dare, we were buddies. and we continued to make paper and the kids all really joined in. 

today i had a new student. i told him we were going to make a book in our art class. after he had a chance to see some books online (thank you moonbindery) he was so interested in the project he wanted to take home his leather piece so he could work on it after school. this is what i'm after in teaching, sparking a kid to want to know more, to explore, to ask questions. i probably won't know all the answers, but together we will figure them out. this is what i love about teaching. working with the kids.