Curio Challenge: the humble pencil



Alex Dunedin of the Ragged Project (social education project) writes about the curio which he feels links his work to sustainability:

See image at the bottom of this post.

As an artefact, I have picked the humble pencil. As someone involved in a social educational project, this item and the histories which it has accrued represents, for me, the interconnections with our environment, with each other and with learning. In learning terms,  the pencil was a symbol of Humphrey Chetham, philanthropist who started Chetham’s College in Manchester which took 22 poor boys and taught, fed and empowered them to improve their city.  To this day, it is still symbolically worn in the top pocket when Chetham’s pupils come together.  The connection with the environment and human society comes through Leonard Read’s famous essay ‘I, Pencil’.

“I, Pencil” is written from the point of view of a pencil. The narrative details the complexity of its creation, listing all its components (cedar, lacquer, graphite, ferrule, factice, pumice, wax, glue) and the countless people involved, from the janitor in the factory to the lighthouse keeper guiding the ships to port.  The interconnections highlighted in this text demonstrate how dependent we are on so many resources – human and natural – and how these are inherent in the value of the pencil.  It is a fable for understanding the complexity of our existence and how much we need to think sustainably in our actions so that we may have the things we value in our future.

It helps to clarify the many resources which go into making something we often take for granted. The power of language, resources, human society and our environment is literally in our hands. Thinking of the pencil via this lens helps me continually re-explore the value of what is around me, and just why I should respect it rather than waste it by engaging in a throw away culture.


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