A Quiet Month…

Well, not really. That is, I’ve been quiet in the blogosphere but life has been anything but. A flurry of summer teacher institutes and, now, a summer kids’ camp on “The Art of Physics” has occupied me more than fully, but it’s also gifted me with a wealth of new experiences to challenge my thinking.

Here are a few of the thoughts, not yet fully developed, that have flitted across my screens while I’ve been doing my Randy Appleseed thang:

Courage

At the outset of this week’s 2-day institute experience with teachers, I led my usual “Human Bar Graph” activity to learn more about the attendees. The last question in the sequence is, “What is your level of comfort as a dance or creative movement participant?” The context for the question is that there are only trained and untrained dancers, and that we are all capable of moving expressively.

The four choices (these are multiple choice questions that sort the teachers into visible groups as they form the “bars” on the bar graph), are:

  • Put Me On Stage!
  • I Enjoy Moving Expressively
  • Nervous, But Willing to Try
  • {closeup of the face from Munch’s “The Scream”} – Terrified!

There was only one teacher in the “Terrified” line, so I went to visit with her as the others talked in their lines about why they had chosen that response. She was tiny and alert and eager to explain. It turned out that she is a teacher of Chinese in a local high school (and is obviously, from her appearance and accent, of Asian origin), and that she had tried to use some creative movement in a class at the request of her students. Some of her high-school-age teens, being rude and callous as only they can be, laughed at and made fun of her for her attempt, and she vowed never to expose her inner self in that way again.

Over the course of the two days, I watched as this extraordinary soul not only ventured back outside her comfort zone, but became an enthusiastic cheerleader for all the teachers to do likewise. Her post-activity reflections consistently showed that she was growing in confidence and in her understanding of how untrained dancers can still lead effective and valuable creative dance lessons in their own classrooms. And by the end of Day 2, she was ready to change her response in the bar graph to “Enjoy.” I teased her that she was really ready to move into the “Put Me on Stage” line, and even though she demurred, I could see an eye-gleam that hinted she might like that idea.

That kind of willingness to put the whole self, psychically almost naked, so far out of the comfort zone, is incredibly admirable. I see many teachers willing to follow that lead, if they can only be reassured that they have support and resources to help them. To me, that is the definition of courage.

Love

Here in “heaven” (Iowa), the teachers at this summer science and arts camp for kids have done an incredible job, in just three days, of igniting the children’s innate curiosity and passion for play in the pursuit of science learning. These children are not only able to describe what they’ve been doing in their classroom and field work sessions, but to explain why and to invent complications and variations on the themes. When I came in, mid-stream, to introduce the kinesthetic / creative dance component, they were already jamming on bubbles, ramps, and simple machines. I can’t wait to see what the older kids know about hydraulics as a result of their behind-the scenes trip to a water park.

2nd and 3rd graders showing force in motion

The almost tender, obviously caring relationship that the teachers have established with these kids in such a short time has to come from the deep and abiding love shown by these extraordinary adults for their young charges. I see lots of affectionate attitudes between teachers and students in my travels, but this genuine, heartfelt connection between a group of white women (I’m one of two male teachers for the camp) and a group of mixed-age, mixed-race, mixed-socioeconomic-status children is extraordinary. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week brings.

Factory Education’s Toxic Leavings

The behavioristic, cynical, and impersonal approach championed by the proponents of “traditional” (read: factory) teaching and learning has taken hold deeply in our culture. It is as hard to root out as the kudzu that chokes Southeastern US landscapes or the Asian beetles that are eating all our ladybugs or the tamarisk trees that suck the scarce water from the ground in the Southwest, leaving none for indigenous species. And it takes a daily, or hourly, toll on every child enrolled in public education.

In schools where there are teachers willing to band together and work beyond contracted times in order to incorporate constructivist or arts-integrated methods of teaching, there are still principals and other administrators and old-guard teachers who are determined to maintain “the basics” at the expense of proven, effective strategies. Yet again this week I have heard about schools that have decided to eliminate science, social studies, and recess, in favor of having students spend yet more time seated in rows,  silently and solitarily attempting to memorize facts divorced from their context or meaning. I have already described this as a model for the classic definition of insanity: repeating past behavior in the vain hope of getting different results.

The truths about arts integration’s ability to create conditions that are ideal for learning are spreading like wildfires through the education infrastructure. With any luck, soon the stodgy, blindered old guard will find themselves on the outside looking in at incomprehensible (to them) teaching and learning environments that feed, satisfy, and challenge the whole person in each child. In this vision, these obstructionists would become so marginalized that they no longer have any negative influence on the ability of teachers to use whatever teaching approaches work best for their students.

Of course, this would mean also taking major decisions about the course of public education away from know-nothing state and federal legislators and returning them to the state and local districts where they are most properly made. We need to stop rewarding idiotic legislative attempts to codify what “achievement” means for 50 diverse states, and to reward instead the teachers who are willing to make the leap into effective practice.

The road is long, bumpy, and badly lit. But more and more educators are setting out along it. And with luck, they are bringing snacks and flashlights!

Advertisements

About rbdancer

Randy has been a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist and Workshop Leader since 1995. During 35 years as a teaching artist, he has led over 300 in-depth workshops, courses, and seminars for teachers and teaching artists, traveling to 37 states in the process. As a choreographer and professional dancer, Randy has danced and produced dance concerts in some of the country's most storied theaters. Randy now lives with his wife in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in northeastern New Mexico.
This entry was posted in arts integration, dance, education and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s