Can We Still Blow Up The Heads Of Chickens?

Probably not.

And it was probably never a good idea, at any time.

But there was a time when I did, and there was a time when I used the deed as a stimulus for teaching effective writing.

Context is everything. When teaching an Autobiography unit to year 9 students many years ago, and at the end of year 9, one of the chapter titles that students could chose to complete was called ‘The Dreadful Things I Did’ and this was, not surprisingly, quite popular. I would occasionally use my own personal experiences to engage and inform, and this was an ideal area in which to demonstrate relevant memories.

To illustrate, I had many personal anecdotes I could and would tell which were directly, and dramatically, related to this chapter’s theme. One, which is too convoluted to retell here in terms of the logistics of getting to the point where my friends and I were totally concealed within a storm drain and looking out of a gap precisely at a nearby main road level [the lengthy telling of these logistics all a part of the set-up], had the ‘punch-line’ of describing the ability to throw sloppy mud balls from our concealed spot straight through the open windows of passing cars to smack directly into the drivers’ unsuspecting faces.

Another was my play-chasing a friend around his garden with a four-pronged pitch-fork in my hand and when he ducked into a shed to escape my advance, I randomly – or so I think/imagine it now – threw that fork through the open window of the shed and when he came out of it, my former friend had four incipient red dots across his forehead.

That was an anecdote that gained impact soon after the telling. The fortuity of the ‘miss’ is frightening on reflection, and was not lost on students when I explored how my life, and that of anyone else, could so easily be affected/altered by one stupid action.

There are many, I must stress, that I didn’t tell. And I won’t here.

Not now.

But I did also tell the one about the chicken heads and used this in a written form to exemplify interesting ways to construct writing to tease and engage a reader. Just before I present the model here, I should explain what I mean by ‘context’: I used and taught this, rightly or wrongly, at a time where I think as teachers we felt less paranoid about others [parents/senior leaders] making corrective judgements about our professional judgements; I used and taught this in an environment where I felt my students would know me well enough to understand and appreciate the ‘parameters’ I would establish before telling, like making it clear this wasn’t something to emulate [!], and I used and taught this to establish a challenging account of a time and place where I grew up [small town America] when that very context too was educationally of interest, and the violence of the content was something we could/would possibility explore beyond the storytelling.

Cherry Bombs

The myth about them actually still being able to run around is true. Let me explain, but let me also set the context.

The first part of the story concerns a small red ball. A small red ball with a fuse. A small red ball packed with explosives and a fuse. A small red ball with a rather large potential for harm.

This small red ball was called a Cherry Bomb. It was a firecracker that you could quite easily buy at the shops and it was lethal. You could light a Cherry Bomb and throw it into a toilet bowl and it would explode and crack the porcelain. You could place a Cherry Bomb just inside the outlet of an aluminium drainpipe and it would explode, tearing the end into shreds of metal.

Cherry Bombs, as far as I know, could only be bought in America. It was most definitely an American firecracker: large and, as I’ve said, lethal. I would buy Cherry Bombs in the 60s when I was living in Elk Horn, Iowa. Like any firecracker, you bought them to set alight and wait for the almighty bang. Or to blow up toilet bowls. Or to blow up drainpipes. Or worse.

Cherry Bombs are now illegal in America. I don’t know when it was decided that they couldn’t be sold anymore. Perhaps it was when the government found out what my friends and I did with them.

As I said at the start of this chapter, the myth about them actually still being able to run around is true. The ‘them’ would be chickens. Let me explain. The Cherry Bomb was about the size of a 10 pence piece, but obviously as a complete sphere. If you pried open the beak of a chicken, and used a little bit of brute force, you could just manage to squeeze a Cherry Bomb into the opening. Obviously, being such a tight fit, the Cherry Bomb wouldn’t fall out, no matter how hard the chicken struggled.

Once placed in the opened beak, I’d light the fuse and wait for the head to explode. If you recall what happened to a drainpipe, you can imagine the many places a chicken’s head travels to once it has been blown to smithereens.

However, most amazing are the places the chicken’s remaining body travels to once the head has disappeared. Yes, the myth that a headless chicken keeps on running is very true. Very painfully true.

Writing Exemplar [click on text then click again to enlarge]


Of course, I have absolutely no doubt that many reading this will/would immediately reject my premise of an apt context for having used this, and indeed reject it for all number of other reasons! But, as ever, I present for those who are interested as an honest reflection on my teaching in the past, and as a means for my further exploring that past and thinking about what I did that was hopefully right and perhaps wrong and how such notions may or may not themselves be a moveable feast over time. When I recently posted the poetry idea I created for ‘Beheaded’ poems, I had to reassess its appropriateness for using now, and wrote about this with a caveat about using.

2 thoughts on “Can We Still Blow Up The Heads Of Chickens?

  1. Glad you have shared this-despite the horrors of the act itself-as I believe we can often get the best writing when we can push certain boundaries and, of course, you quite rightly explain that you did this with pupils in an environment you had prepared carefully with students who knew you. It is a shame that now we are constantly looking over our shoulders as English teachers and perhaps having to censor what we do to a somewhat ridiculous extent. It us also a shame that the society we now inhabit does not often trust teachers to handle potentially controversial ideas in a way which will enable students to shine in their writing, yet be appropriately presented and (as you would always do yourself) carefully contextualised.


  2. Pingback: Grandpa’s Wallet – Milk and Eggs | mikeandenglish

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