Thursday, September 22, 2005

John Bevan Ford - Pioneer Educator.

John Bevan Ford Posted by Picasa

I have just returned from a tangi for a good friend of mine John Bevan Ford

Anybody who has attended a tangi, a gathering to celebrate the passing from this world of a person, will understand the importance of such an occasion.

Mihi eh hoa John – greetings to my friend John.

John’s tangi lasted three days. It began for me with a long drive in pouring rain to visit John lying at his home where he was surrounded by his immediate family and friends; even the rain was symbolic as it represents, in Maori legend, the Sky Father crying at having lost intimacy with the Earth Mother after Tane, God of the forests, separated them as part of the ancient creation legend.

A tangi, unlike a European funeral, provides time for a range of emotions from sadness to humour to be felt and expressed, and for contacts to be renewed. Early next morning John, his wife, his family and close friends, were welcomed, with all due ceremony, onto the Marae (at the meeting house at the College of Education Massey University).

During the day several groups of mourners were welcomed into the meeting house, also with due ceremony, to pay their respects to John and condolences to the family. And during the day endless cups of tea and food was provided.

During the evening after a formal karakia (prayer), time was given to share stories about John with the family. These ranged from the light hearted to the serious, each followed by a waiata or song. A ‘talking stick’ was passed around to those who wanted to contribute. It was a long and, if one can say it, an enjoyable experience. Certainly in the process we all learnt more about John. Having known John since for over thirty years I shared some incidents from the early days.

The next day John was placed on the porch of the meeting house ready to greet, and be greeted by, it seemed, endless groups of people. All were welcomed, as is the custom, with a greeting, speeches and waiata.

A formal ceremony was taken by a friend of Johns. This provided an opportunity to share with all, his philosophy, the beliefs that he expressed through his art, his love of music, and his considerable achievements. Others were invited to contribute and I took the opportunity to say a few words.

Ten koe eh hoa John – greeting to you my good friend
Mihi from Maunga Taranaki – greeting from the mountain where you once lived.
And greeting from your friends who still live there.
There is a saying in Taranaki that: ‘If you are going to bow your head – bow it to a mighty mountain'.
Today John you are that mountain.
In a persons life there are only a few people who really contribute important ideas
And to me, and many others here, you were that person.
We thank you for your wisdom over the years.
We will all miss you but your ideas and art will live forever.
Haere mai eh hoa - farewell my friend.

On John’s site ,if you wish, you can see his contributions to the art world. To me however his other important contribution was in the field of education. John was chosen to be a part of a group a Maori Art Advisers to introduce Maori Art into New Zealand schools in the early 1960s. Many of these advisers have since gone on to be come well known for their artistic achievements but not before they had made their contribution to the development of creative education in New Zealand.

Today the ideas they contributed are all but forgotten.

I met and worked with those advisers in those early years, which included European advisers as well. They all believed strongly in the natural creativity of all children and introduced teachers to a range of, visual arts, crafts, creative writing, music and dance. And they also encouraged pioneer creative teachers to move into developing integrated related arts programmes to break down the sterile formalism of those days.

Today we need a new group of creative and somewhat idiosyncratic advisers to challenge the deadening effects of the current imposed standardized curriculums and to lead the way into transforming our schools into environments that personalize learning. This is important if we are to develop the full range of the creative talents of all students.

This is the legacy, and the challenge, that John and his friends left us, and one that we at Leading and Learning, and the creative teachers that we know, are dedicated to continuing.

Thank you eh hoa John.


Anonymous said...

A sad loss.They were the days! I hope you are right about a creative future!

Anonymous said...

The artisic and the poetic creative education of the 60/70s is a sad loss - replaced by the deformed rationality of todays imposed standardised curriculums.

Just look at the incoherance of the current ncea! Mind you, the creative education you mention, never made it up into the secondary schools. There, the factory mentality, was too firmly fixed in place!

Bill said...

It is very easy to say a tangi is very unlike a "european" funeral, but it is actually only different, not "unlike" as we to have the full range of emotions from laughter to sadness. These days most people like to have their deceased family member home with them and I have been to many funerals which allow all to talk to the dead person as a friend, and not as a body. I think your site is fantastic and hope that it enthuses teachers who on the whole are a dull and dispassionate lot. But, please,please dont reverse the rolls and tell pakehas their funerals are not as meaningful as the Maori way, this is why we as pakeha get dis-illusioned with treaty obligations etc, especially when we continually suffer these little subtle put downs. I am aware you will not have meant it this way, but think deeply of what you did mean and see if that is not the message that came across.

Bruce said...

Over the years I have been to lots of 'European funerals but only a few have ever matched the depth, time, or ritual of a tangi, but I appreciate your point. Things are changing.

I guess my other point was the loss of the 'creative spirit' and imagination that I felt we had lost with the passing of people like John. Today teachers often feel guilty if they do what they believe is right rather that what they are being asked to comply with, or be measured against. Not a very creative environment?

Anonymous said...

Your second point is the real problem with education today - too much deadening compliance and not enough creativity!

Bruce said...

You got it!

Anonymous said...

He will be missed in Aotearoa and around the world.

John & Cara Royal
New York City

Bruce said...

Tena korua John and Cara

You are so right - John's work was known of widely around the world.

Ka kite ano

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