a pencil native story

Once upon a time, there was a group of pencil pioneers who pushed their way into the Slate Land and conquered it in the name of education.  All was well for the Pencil People, who changed the name from Slate Land to the rather uncreative Pencil Land.  In fact, they grew rather giddy over the prospects of raising Pencil Natives in this brave new world they had created.

So, they decided it wasn't important to show a kid how to use an eraser or use blending and shading.  In fact, it wouldn't be important that they learned how to write at all, because being a native automatically made one a perfect citizen immersed in the culture.

The Pencil Natives wandered aimlessly, never knowing how to use the tools of their own culture.  Some teachers pointed this out and wondered if these children had actually been born in Pencil Land at all.  They missed the reality that the Pencil Natives were comfortable with pencils and had, indeed, internalized the value system of a Graphite Globe.  They were creating a world that was ambiguous, confusing, gray.  They were erasing any remnants of history and replacing it with every-changing, bite-sized information.

Others said that the old folks were simply clueless and that they should delight in the fact that the Pencil Natives spent their days making paper gliders and paper balls and playing Hang Man instead of writing poetry.  After all, this was their world and we should learn from them. We should let them be our mentors and tutors and guides, because they knew more about pencils than the Pioneer Generation.

The two sized polarized the issue into a binary reality that missed the nuances of the argument.  Instead of asking, "How do we help Pencils Natives make sense out of a graphite globe?" or "How do we get Natives to criticize the tools they use and use the tools they criticize?"  they focussed on the question of, "Why aren't they getting it without our help?"  Instead of asking, "What does citizenship mean and how can pencils be used to sharpen critical thinking?" the adults obsessed for hours about whether or not pencils were luring in creepy outsiders.

So, the Pencil Natives grew up with the dual reputations of Saviors of the Graphite Globe and Dumbest Generation Ever and all the while they secretly yearned just to be kids with pencils, trying to make sense out of their world and their place within it.



  1. Exploring the shades of grey in a black & white society is what I like best about your writing.