The present of learning

It is that time of year again. The presents are given and the wrapping paper which takes you ages to do is undone in no time and the remains litter the floor.

For many years, as a Primary (elementary) teacher, I would start the New Year at school asking the children to “reflect” on their Christmas holiday. This would usually turn into a list of presents that they had received. It was the topic of conversation as they filed into the classroom and would continue into the playground at break.

As a child myself I can remember the presents that really made an impact were not the toy cars or the racing game that my uncle got me one snowy Christmas, but the large comic “Annuals” (I was a real fan of the Beano, Dandy, Beezer and Topper comics). my brothers each received an Annual and we would read each other’s in a frenzy of excitement that would take up a large part of Christmas morning.

The reason that these Annuals played such an important part in my childhood Christmases was my joy in reading comics. I knew that I would enjoy the silliness of the Bash Street Kids and the naughtiness of Dennis The Menace (and his fearsome dog Gnasher!). I was involved with the subject matter. I had a desire to read and nothing in the world could deflect me from concentrating for a long period of time (for me) on these books.

Now, returning to the long lists that the children had. They varied from expensive bikes, to Play-Stations, Laptops even a new Puppy. What interested me was not to listen to the list of new acquisitions in our materialistic culture but to listen to the effect that the present had on the children.

Getting a new Bike is one thing, but having the chance to ride it on a regular basis, to explore different environments with it, to go out riding with your friends, is another. Is the bike a means to widen our experience or just the means of having a state of the art object that can be one better than the next person’s.

In the end it is not the present’s value that counts but how we use, explore or learn from what we receive. This year I have received a few presents but the one that has really motivated me and which has helped to change me as a person cost hardly anything… it was a “stocking filler” that came from a chance remark that I made to wife.

A few months ago I was on laptop journeying through the internet, as I often do in my “learning journey” and I came across a really interesting talk about a Civil Rights activist who I had never heard of. I found that the programme had been broadcast on a San Francisco radio station and that there was a link to the station. I clicked the link and found that (due to the 8 hour difference between where I live in Britain and the Western side of the U.S.) it was breakfast time in S.F. and there was a song playing by a group called “War” called “Gypsy Man”.

I loved the song but in particular loved the harmonica solo that was part of it. I then looked the song up on Youtube  and found a brilliant version (in 2 parts) from a live performance by the group in Halifax (here in the U.K.) in 1980.Here is the second part with the solo by a man who I now know is called Lee Oskar and is one of the greatest Harmonica players in the world and even produces his own brand of harmonica:

The harmonica playing got me really interested in learning this little instrument. I told my wife that I would really love to own a harmonica and then forgot all about it. Until a few days ago, when she said that she had got me a small little present that turned out to be a boxed set of a Harmonica (C Harp for all you aficionados out there), a DVD and a book. It was picked up by her friend at a “remaindered” sale and cost all of £5  ($7.72, 5.87 Euros at present rates)!

I have been practising my “Harp” every day and have made about three good sounds so far. I have also taken the advice that I picked up online and have listened/watched (on Youtube)  to the work of some great blues harmonica players like Little Walter, Big Walter Horton and a fascinating lady called Big Mama Thornton.

I was never really a blues fan until I got my Harmonica but getting it has motivated me to learn about the wonderful way that it is played by these little known geniuses who have influenced so many of the rock greats of modern times like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Mick Jagger.

I am having fun and frustration in the learning process of making sounds from this deceptive instrument. I will never be a Lee Oskar or a Little Walter but I have increased my knowledge about their skills and my appreciation of their music. All of this has happened because I have been motivated to learn from that most important word for all of us in education….. “INTEREST”.

This is why the expensive gift may sometimes not be the best one. The small gift that “ignites a light” (to quote a phrase from Katy Perry’s “Firework” song) can be the key to releasing the “element” for any person it is the present of learning which is the best thing that anyone can ever get.

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