If anything is a metaphor for real life, its papier-mâché. In using this material you have to collaborate, you have to get messy, you have to make layers and layers for it to hold up. You have to have patience. You have to have long range vision, you cannot complete it in one day. For my students these challenges offered by papier-mâché have such high stakes.
What does it mean to collaborate? It means letting go of the final say and control of something to the group. It means listening to other people’s ideas about something you may feel very strongly about. Sometimes it means sitting out for 5 minutes while you calm yourself down and allow yourself not to be the boss. Many students could jump into the messy joy of it. We did have to come to terms with not “owning” the balloon. We had to learn that we could make suggestions to other people but we couldn’t control what they did. Working in a group to layer in paper mache is enough to make some students shake with frustration, and others laugh uncontrollably.
Its hard to let go, its hard to let other people have a say. Its hard to know we don’t have ownership of the completed orb. This is enough to make any teacher steer clear of papier-mâché and collaboration in general, but the benefits far outweigh the risks. If we can struggle through it, if we can accept that the whole group benefits when we work together, life is going to get a lot easier. We prepare ourselves for a future where we can discuss our problems and make decisions as a community (without any time outs or anybody kicking the table) when we collaborate in childhood. Some children might come home today and tell their parents that they didn’t get to make their own art. In some ways this is true, they don’t get to keep it. I prefer to think that what they did do, was learn to work as a community, and that the personal art that they made was an internal shift from singular ownership and control to collaborative decision making, and considering the good of the group.
How do you make papier-mâché? Well, its one part water, one part flour, a sprinkle of salt, and a whole lot of giggly joy, and patience.