A time-place curriculum

There is something profoundly disturbing in making a random collision with a relative you didn’t know you had.  As an epiphany it is reworking of nature that is culture.  There is an ambiguous legacy of that On the other hand, the mental impact of connecting with a long lost relative gathers up some of the intellectual disorder underpinning one’s personal time-place curriculum, moving it towards a more robust and productive ideal.  Forget the fact that our common ancestor died centuries ago.  Skip over the many generations that had swirled away in an ever-expanding gene pool from the neighbourhood where it had gently rotated since Saxon times.  We have homed to each other, Internet-sure, straight as a missile or a magnet swinging to the pole.  We have known each other forever.  We speak the same language, although we may not yet know the architectures.  This is not a matter of genetics.  The likelihood of us expressing any of the behavioural genes that brought together two young people in an isolated pre-industrial rural community is practically zero. Nevertheless without this lost love sanctified through baptisms in a tiny church, which our ancestors would still recognise, we would not be together. 
Their church is our time machine; its navigators are the procession of priests down the ages assiduously recording their parishioner’s rites of passage.   On entry we accept the limits to human perception and language in the otherness of countless unknowns.  Spectres wait on tapes of stone to play endlessly off the walls for those who want to listen.  It is an otherness that sits along the margins of parish books like a whisper.   Nevertheless, today’s bond is a stabilising strut in world far wider than the old closed box of extreme rurality.  It is a cultural matter of focusing a common history of family with a love of place.  As a reworking of nature it is also an ecological matter.  It adds order to a placeless post-industrial environment where day to day we stumble about in an infinite space full of messages circulating freely without fixed destination. Culture and ecology come together with a vein of spirituality because it is about possessing a place through love, a painful process unless you can share a destination on common ground. Love is also the ecological cement of family:-
The only way to get out of the pain of possession
and insecurity is moving toward the love of others.
The more love we give the less insecure we will feel.
The more we share the more we love.
All of this demonstrates how easy it is to fall into history from a platform of family and kinship.  History lives on through making kinship connections with places where significant family events have happened. Families, not kings and queens, really embody our connection with the past.  This route has a wider perspective than the school subject because it is very strongly and specifically rooted in place, but is also led through love into the weave of a wider cosmos.  According to Freya Mathews the ecological self is an expression of this oneness and interconnectedness.
Genealogical research strengthens the self because you have taken responsibility for revealing the development of your family and locked on to its diaspora.  Human development through evolution and social learning is a powerful cross-disciplinary framework of cultural ecology. It is a recurring theme in every realm of knowledge: the universe, planet Earth, life, human technologies and families. This theme is actually the basis of the most recent time-place curriculum in cultural ecology.  Called ‘Voyages Through Time’, it has been produced, for a one-year high school course by the SETI Institute.  It takes a cultural view of the ecological relationships between people and their natural, social and created environments.  The materials, for what is essentially an integrated science course, are presented in six modules; Cosmic Evolution, Planetary Evolution, Origin of Life, Evolution of Life, Hominid Evolution, and Evolution of Technology.   The core lessons for the modules are provided on teacher CD-ROMs, which contain instructional guidelines, science background information, IT resources as well as student handouts.
The essential non-scientific family/kinship portion of a time-place curriculum is missing in the SETI syllabus.   To gain an inkling of the importance of adding a kinship agenda we may turn to National Grandparents Day. This also originated in the United States when a West Virginia housewife, Marian McQuade, initiated a campaign in 1970 to set aside a special day to celebrate grandparents.   The first Grandparents Day was proclaimed in 1973 in West Virginia by the state governor.  In 1978, five years after its West Virginia inception and much lobbying, the Congress passed  legislation proclaiming the first Sunday after Labor Day as National Grandparents Day. Jimmy Carter, the homespun president, signed the proclamation.  Now, millions throughout the United States observe this event begun to meet the needs of a few concerned about the dissolution of kinship.  It is one American invention that has not yet become embedded in our calendar.  Yet traditional kinship patterns throughout the West are in dramatic dissolution today, as heterosexual marriage declines, biological and social parenthood become dissociated, and homosexual unions are legalized.
Twenty years ago I was involved with a team of curriculum developers who were trying to launch a Great Grandparents Day in Welsh schools.  This was as an initiative to personalise the study of history and locality as part of the time-related cross-subject classroom topics of ‘change’, ‘continuity’ and ‘citizenship’.  This project coincided, in middle age, with my first stumbling efforts to find out where my great grandfather was born.  The starting point to develop this kinship aspect of a time-place curriculum was that, as individuals, our first knowledge of ourselves is that we are alone, and our dream of ourselves is we are alone because we are unique.  Not surprisingly therefore, everyone searches for a place where they belong.  Thinking about human history as a meeting with ancestors inevitably involves attaching the imagination to places; hence I gave the report of my first excursion into the ancestry of my parents the title ‘Meeting Places’.  Its subtitle could have been ‘sharing places’ because mapping and sharing ones roots with family and friends are practical navigational procedures.  Trails we discover or create through ‘drifting’ and playful exploration of genealogical records can also form the basis of personal narratives. In this sense, a kinship narrative is part of the wider cultural environment required for the emergence and stabilisation of self-realisation.  This wider environment itself constitutes a greater self-maintaining cultural system, which we have to customise successfully in order to live and work.
In Ben Russell’s Headmap Manifesto, ‘the journey’ is a central idea bringing together human culture and environment. A journey is a fundamental way in which we relate to our notional lifetime achievements and to space.  Notionally, we move upwards according to our projects and achievement targets.  We move laterally in space from one place to another in a more erratic sequence. The idea of the life journey is central to our myths and stories, it is encoded in our architecture and implied in our built environment; the streets outside our houses, the paths through the woods, the networks of roads we travel, the railway tracks through our towns, the airports on the outskirts of cities, the ports distributed along every coast.  Meeting up with kinfolk sharing the family name of either of your parents is an obvious starting point to begin a headmap, but names are an arbitrary and biased beginning.  We each have two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, etc. Current technology permits us to link via DNA analysis to only two specific lines. On the Y chromosome, one’s father’s father’s DNA, going back as far as we can locate the genetic material, can be determined with a high degree of certainty. On the female side, mitochondrial DNA can link one’s mother’s mother’s mother going back as far as we can garner the DNA. So, while we have 64 great- great- great-great-grandparents, the technology allows us to locate only two of those 64, if we’re going back six generations.  But what of the other 62?   Those people are equal contributors to our genetic makeup, and we ignore them only because we do not have access to them.  In other words, it’s fine to follow one line of kinship rather than another according to the fruits of the journey.  Twin studies suggest that genes only account for 40- to 60-percent of the variation in human psychological traits.  The influence of genes is probably less because this kind of numerical summary implies a scientific certainty that doesn’t exist because of the interplay between genes and environment.  So what about the influence of non-biological parents who definitely sit in a separate kinship sequence, which governed their descent and alliance.   Fatherhood and motherhood of people not sharing their child’s genes can profoundly influence a child’s personality for better or worse, just as can blood line parenting.  Also, persons cut off traumatically and irreversibly from their genetic roots are known to have stabilised their selfhood by adopting the ancestry of an influential personality by proxy.
Apart from kinship, there are at least three other ‘meeting places’ in the context of establishing personal links between environment and history to discover selfhood.  These are localities where we make use of  ‘nature’, deal with ‘conflict’ and search for ‘god’.   Together with places where we can establish kinship, it is these four social pillars of cultural ecology that truly comprise a personal time-place curriculum.  The curriculum can be used to personalise the more technical pillars of cultural ecology, which deal with balancing the utilisation of our planet’s natural resources with their conservation for sustainability.  Overall, self-knowledge about this culturally endorsed cosmology encourages the search for shared values in planet and cosmos to defuse confrontations where self interest, on one side or another, is seen as a supreme virtue.
Practically, there is no guarantee that meeting up with a previously unknown blood relative will work out in any way.   We quickly sense how that individual experiences herself. We sense the level of that person’s excitement or the lack of it. Our instant attraction or non-attraction is automatic because our bodies and emotions respond faster than thought can take shape in words.  Each person is a unique being and we discover at this moment what the other person possesses to complement our lives. Hopefully, we sense that a union with such a person can bring new possibilities, which can make our existence richer. This is not to say this newfound person is the only one who can be in the right place at the right time. There may be others. For this reason, it has been concluded that, for each person, more than one other self exists.  Through these persons we acquiesce to love as an attachment to another self and to all worlds.  The poet E. E. Cummings expressed this time and again his poems, which celebrate saying ‘yes’ to love, sex, time and place.
love is a place
& through this place of
love move
(with brightness of peace)
all places
yes is a world
& in this world of
yes live
(skilfully curled)
all worlds
We eventually emerged from our particular shared ‘world of yes’ into the dying day of the winter solstice.  There were thoughts in common about real people of the past who had once upon a time also returned through this very door.  From a state of otherness they emerged to the view we see virtually unchanged today, mentally blinking from the numinous environment of marriages, baptisms and deaths. My immediate connection with the reality of nature is a nearby bush pressing against a small gravestone.  It has  been nourished by the bones of an infant, two hundred years old, with my mother’s name and possibly a small footloose part of my DNA.  The cosmos is represented by a transient splash of the setting sun at the end of its winter traverse; a reminder that rhythms of time affect everybody and whose celebrations were once genuinely communal. 
The trinity of bush, bones and sun, remind me that for human beings to flourish requires that we view ourselves within our culture as selves-within-wider-selves. Here I have to go with Freya Mathews. Maybe the feeling we call love is really the faint psychological shadow of an inner spirituality of which our oneness with the cosmos is the external manifestation.  A time-place curriculum within cultural ecology is necessary to provide the personalised ideational scaffold or mindmap to navigate from one to another.
Mathews, Freya. The Ecological Self (1991) Routledge
Russell, Ben. Headmap Manifesto (1999). Available online at http://www.headmap.org/headmap.pdf
SETI http://www.seti.org/site/pp.asp?c=ktJ2J9MMIsE&b=181004

Comments are closed.