Friday, November 14, 2014

Introducing Andalusia to Middle School Students

I recently had the pleasure of welcoming to Andalusia Farm over forty seventh-grade students from what is called “Early College” at Georgia College & State University. They spent a cold November morning visiting key spots at the farm and writing their impressions in response to prompts provided by GCSU college students and faculty, led by Prof. Martin Lammon, director of our creative writing program. The key stations for the visits were - as you might predict - the main house, the peafowl aviary, the pond, the farm’s largest barn, and the tenant home popularly referred to as the Hill House.

As I welcomed the crowd to the farm, I reminded the students that they could aspire to be writers while living in the middle of Georgia – and perhaps, like Flannery O’Connor, or Eatonton’s Alice Walker, be known all over the world someday. The morning proceeded well, with many of the students encountering things they had never seen before: ancient appliances, farming implements, peahens, a cow-milking parlor . . . and the modest bedroom/studio where one of Milledgeville’s residents managed to make herself into one of America’s great writers.

Seventh graders ask questions. Am I a member of Flannery O’Connor’s family? No. Why is there a broken rope hanging from the top of the barn? Well, when we can afford put a new rope up there, you’ll be able to tell that it was used to move hay into the barn. Are there snakes around here? You bet - snakes that can sense when the peahens are about to lay eggs.

After sharing their compositions with their teachers and classmates, the students headed to the front porch of the main house for refreshments and then were back on the bus for the return to school. They may not have spent the morning analyzing Flannery O’Connor’s writings, but the seed is planted, that they should think of O’Connor as a person they can relate to, a regular person whose home is interesting. Someday, I trust, many of these students will read O’Connor’s writings attentively because of the morning’s experience.

A high point of the day for me was chatting with the man who drove the bus to bring the kids to the farm. As he told me - and the always helpful Prof. Melanie DeVore of the Georgia College Biology Department - when he was around ten years old, he visited the farm regularly because his father worked in the dairy operation of Andalusia. As he walked us through the barn and the tenant house, the man discussed the old entrance to the farm operation, how the cows would be moved around the farm, and his memories of the final days of Jack and Louise Hill.

One always learns from teaching—and sometimes from simply entertaining. I’m delighted to have learned as much as anyone on this day at Andalusia.