For the ninth iteration of our Distraction Series, we have pulled a questionnaire from our archive that Madeline had her mother give to her Fifth-Grade class on January 20th, 1969, the day Richard Nixon was sworn in as President of the United States. Lucy Ives, editor of The Saddest Thing Is That I Have Had to Use Words: A Madeline Gins Reader, wrote a lovely piece about this questionnaire for the Poetry Foundation in April of this year. Madeline’s questions focus in on thoughts – where do you feel them, from where do they come, where do they go, what are they made of? And she then has the children conduct a practical exercise (drawing a circle), before asking about their thoughts while carrying out this particular activity. Finally, the questionnaire asks the children to explain the difference between children and adults, state their most interesting thought, share their oldest memory, and come up with an interesting question to ask their teacher.
The fascinating responses from the children have thoughts taking the shape of duck feathers, words, air, gold, nothing, silk, soft tissue, sugar, fur, emerald, steel, fluffy cotton, brain tissue, leather, and marbles. One child, Nancy, explains that “an adult has to be mature, not only in size, but in mind. A person could be six feet tall, 26 years old, and still act like a child, as an 8 year old could act like a professor of Math according to his mind.” So true, Nancy. A few students had some thoughts to share about our planet: Susan has imagined that the world was completely covered by water and asks if her teacher would like to live under the ocean, while Tracy imagined a land where everything was sweets and sodas. Tybert once thought that the middle of the earth was hollow and that you could go inside, and, finally, Peter made the chilling declaration that “the earth is dead.” 13-year-old Zoë, responding in 2020, has a scary thought about her own world: “What if my life is a [video] game and someone is just controlling me and everyone in my life is fake?” Contrary to the assumption that this would be a frightening scenario, she thinks it would be “cool.”
An interesting thought exercise to try at home for adults and children alike!
Yours in the reversible destiny mode,
Reversible Destiny Foundation and ARAKAWA+GINS Tokyo Office
Image: Photograph of Madeline Gins (seated in the second row from the front at the far left) in Grade Six, Radcliffe Road Elementary School, Island Park, NY, 1952