As a child growing up in the prehistoric days, when classrooms were full to bursting point, assessment of children on intake was an intuitive skill by young, one year trained teachers. It relied on wisdom handed down by their own mothers and senior teachers to spot potential talent or difficulty in learning and they had to be as quick as cattlemen assessing their herds going through cattle crushes. There were 81 children (YES!) in my prep classroom and our teacher was a nun about 22 years old. I remember clearly some shining moments in that year and ah ha moments so despite her wild furies and lack of time for personal interaction she had an impact on my life.
One of her assessment methods which I also came across in my later primary years was the broom method. A very quick assessment of a child’s organisational skills could be assessed from their use of a broom to sweep an area. It uncovered their sense of logic in finding a starting place that expended the least energy, their willingness to change plan if the prevailing breeze undid their work, their calmness in accumulating a dirt pile instead of creating a maelstrom of dust, their ability to predict traffic interceptions and adapt by either managing interceptors or diverting their flow. It also uncovered an ability to complete a task and care for the furniture and skirting boards, to return the equipment, to assess their own completion of the task and take pride in it. By looking at whether a child swept all along in front or made tight sweeping motions to their body could also be a possible indicator of personality type- introvert or extrovert. In those days it was the children’s job to participate in the cleaning as schools were too poor to afford cleaners. The poor novice nuns would scrub the bathrooms on their hands and knees, without rubber gloves, and cleanliness was next to godliness although they all suffered terribly from chilblains, an almost unheard of affliction these days.
Brooms are pretty well universal so their use is hard wired into cultures. Indeed, I vaguely remember the Japanese symbol for wife or female is based on a pictograph of a hand on a broom. No doubt a reader will fill me in on this.
The actual design of brooms has not had much variation over time and I am not even going to count those abominations called electrical brooms in this discussion. (If you are paying for garden maintenance make sure you aren’t paying for some inept fool to sweep around one leaf with an electric broom for half an hour!) Probably one of the greatest design leaps was to put a longer handle on a broom so that the user did not have to bow over to inhale the dust at the business end. Apart from that the only noticeable change I have found in brooms is built in obsolescence in the cheapening of handles and flimsy connections between brush and handle. Making a good design that lasts for aeons is not a money maker and therein lies the conflict. Save trees by using plastic handles but fill up our tips with broken goods which will never break down.
I love to sweep! It is a task that I learned proficiency in during childhood through regular practice and which I find to be satisfying and mind clearing. As a childhood task it gave me pride to sweep our driveway and a chance to hang around the front gate and engage with passers by. It also enabled some initiative to choose to sweep. As our driveway was also our art gallery covered in the clay chalk scrawling of 5 children, being good at sweeping provided for new drawing space each day. We would fossick for good clay globs in our explorative walks around the creek land and home building sites near our home, not dissimilar to cavemen looking for the perfect flints. It is sad that some councils have banned the use of chalk on public paving. Such a big stick for a minor act.
Whenever I am agitated or my life feels cluttered, the regular meditative job of sweeping relaxes and invigorates me and seems to align all my thinking gears into order. It also requires clearing a path of objects in order to accomplish the task and so acts as a sort of touchstone process for re orienting me in my space. It’s a great job for Friday to clear away the disasters of the week and plan for the following week. My last 30 minutes in classrooms on Friday afternoons was all about cleaning and preparing for the coming week with the reward of a fun weekend ahead when the job was done. The old mistakes didn’t haunt children and Monday was a chance of creating a new page.
Ceramic studios are dusty places, as clay slops and glaze drips dry and become dusty, and work drying on shelves sheds little rings of clay particles.
Unfortunately sweeping of clay is not a healthy practice as it stirs up loose silica, a regular component of claywork. Even with a mask on doing dusty work in a studio, dust still creeps under eyelids and into tear ducts creating unpleasant sinus conditions. I still like to sweep a little in there though in a very gentle and controlled way but I am very lucky to have a ducted vacuum system with one of those nifty pick up points built into my studio.
If I am doing any last minute fettling of lumpy glaze it is done in this corner as close as possible to the pick up spot. I find those microfiber fluffy brooms glide across the floor and pick up most of the loose particles and then it is a matter of using microfiber damp cloth under each foot to scoot around and mop the remainder.
Microfibre is something that didn’t exist until recently and we are lead to believe it is made from all our recycled plastic bottles. I would like to think so but I have my suspicions it may actually be freshly made from petro chemical by products like those so called green shopping bags. I hope there is a plan somewhere for reprocessing of microfiber cloths because I don’t know where I would be without them, but they will not break down naturally and so will become another piece of our world’s shameful legacy.
Anyway its all clean now and my kiln is fixed and working again so Monday is looking rosy.