Friday, January 30, 2015

Chapter 44 - On The Road: Part 5 - Barstow School

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

As its Head Mistress and Education Director at Barstow School for Girls, Kendig had set out to teach it to children—to center the entire curriculum around evaluation and language. Before the First American Congress for General Semantics scheduled for early March, she had an entire month to see how Korzybski could stir up the cauldron at her elite Mid-Western school. She had made up a work schedule for Alfred soon after his arrival:
January 21, 1935
Alfred Korzybski - -  
Call at office each morning and at 4:15 for communications, will be left on big table. This is our clearing-house. 
Please write out stuff for press. They wish a typed handout with each interview. 
There is an exhibit of Polish art at Nelson Gallery and Museum this month—make tie-up. 
See Calendar of events on Bulletin board in hall outside the Study Hall. 

You will lecture to faculty every Monday and Wednesday evening: January 30, February 4, 6, 11, 13, 18, at 7:30, beginning lecture Tuesday night, January 29. 

You will work with a group of 8th Grade girls every morning from 11:30 to 12:10, beginning Monday, January 21, with Ruth Faison Shaw till Friday, January 25. After that, alone (with an observer) every morning throughout the visit; Ruth will explain cases and so will I. Having you with her first will make a natural transition which must always be considered in any work with young people in School.

Monday at 4:00 o’clock, Ruth Shaw will talk to a group of 12 most intelligent (Honor Roll) Juniors and Seniors and they will try out Finger Painting. This will give you an orientation. 

I will outline other work with girls later. (12) 

Among other things, Alfred appreciated the opportunity to directly work with Ruth Faison Shaw, whom he had met earlier in New York City. Her book, Finger Painting: A Perfect Medium For Self-Expression had come out in October 1934 and it immediately grabbed his interest. A North-Carolina-born teacher, Miss Shaw had opened a school for American and English children in Rome in 1922. While there, in the latter part of the decade, she had discovered/invented finger painting. As she later wrote,
It all began, in the most natural way in the world, with a little boy at the school who smeared the bathroom wall with iodine. All the children liked to “smear”—“smearing” with the hands is a primary impulse, a way of having fun and of learning. So I went about the task of compounding a suitable medium [non-toxic earth pigments on moistened sheets of special paper] with which they could smear to their heart’s content without damaging results. (13) 
Lucien Aigner / Corbis
The Shaw System of Finger Painting
The technique she evolved provided a means for personal symbolic expression not requiring verbal facility, which had surprising, beautiful, and sometimes therapeutic results for young children—and also adults. Korzybski believed Miss Shaw’s work involved “important semantic [evaluational] factors which are quite unique”. He had been recommending her book to others since he had read it and wanted her to give a presentation at the upcoming Congress on “the semantic aspects of finger painting”.(14) But she couldn’t comply because she was continuing from Kansas City to other Mid-Western towns as part of a tour to promote her book. Korzybski would continue to have an interest in finger painting and refer to Ruth Shaw’s work in his seminars for some years to come.

As Kendig realized when she invited Ruth Shaw to Barstow, finger painting could be used to introduce general semantics to even the youngest children there. Years later, in a 1961 talk, Kendig described the process:
...No one in my school was allowed to ask the child, ‘What is it?’...They made a finger painting, and you said well ‘tell me about it’. Or what does it represent to you? Or what do you call it...And you can by the way your teachers speak to the child....I always remember this one little child who made a finger painting, she was probably five. And it was just some brown and some green, and she’d just done this. And we said tell us about it, and what do you call it. She said ‘it’s Jo-jo in the park.’...Well she had a dog named the old days, at least, the teacher would have said, ‘well that’s not a picture of a dog.’ We just said, well you were in the park with Jo-jo? Yes. Then of course it occurred to us that Jo-jo in the park was the way she was petting Jo-jo...But if someone had said ‘what is it,’ and ‘but that doesn’t look like a dog to me,’ well see what you’ve done.’ (15)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
12. Barstow School Agenda for AK, 1/21/1935. AKDA 34.315. 

13. Shaw 1947, p. 5. 

14. AK to Ruth F. Shaw, 2/6/1935. AKDA 33.441. 

15. Kendig, “Talk in Los Angeles”, 1/18/1961. IGS Archives. 

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