DZIEN WAGAROWICZ (The Day of the Wanderer)

The first day of spring is marked by many diverse events in many cities across the world. In Naples, on the waterfront, people protest against the Mafia; in New York, the city's park rangers organise a salt-marsh hike; couples dance in the streets of Paris, and in India they celebrate Nowruz, the most vibrant festival of colours.

In Warsaw however, they've got it better than all the others. They dog school. March 21st, or the nearest school day to it, is known as 'dzien wagarowicz' , loosely translated as 'the day of the wanderer'. Children, the ones that are worth their salt, take this perennial opportunity to skip off classes and wander through the city. Most however, fearful of the wrath of parent and teacher, simply wander in spirit, daydreaming themselves out of a classroom window into the clouds above.

I believe it the responsibility of every teacher to encourage a little 'wagary' once in a while, a little rebelling against the system, what the physicist and teacher Richard Feynman might have referred to as 'engaging an active irresponsibility'. Here, with 'wagarowicz' we have a classic example of exactly that. Education, (ex-ducere), is thus led outwards, where it should be, into the field, beneath the clouds.

As a boy I was regularly detained after school for wearing the wrong footwear and 'dogging it' and spending whole days, wonderful days, in the subterrene confines of The Premier Billiard Hall in Sauchiehall Street. These are the days I remember the most, along with the other outings (this time arranged by the school) to the fields, and to the river where we ran cross-country through quagmires of knee-deep mud, and where I coxed a four man boat on those cold winter afternoons, eventually, though not wholly deliberately, coaxing it, much to the consternation of my crew, into the bank of the river itself.

Later, at university, I could recall my psychology teacher telling me how worried he was that I had attended all his classes, and that maybe there were better things to do.

Words and a walled classroom can only take you so far. The Swedish vagrant and seafarer, Harry Martinson, reminds us in his Aimless Travels that teaching will take place in a 'thousand open-air classrooms' when 'the world breathes through you'. It is then that I stress to my students the importance of ‘wagary’, that a little truancy once in a while never hurt anyone. To quote Thoreau from Walden, a man well acquainted with the stravaig:

To my astonishment I was informed on leaving college that I had studied navigation! - why, if I had taken a wander down the harbor I should have known more about it.

Life is not mathematics. Nor is it a text book. It is, rather, an immutable truth, which is best 'learned' out of doors.

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