Sunday night we saw Waiting for Superman, a documentary about the school system in America. I’ve been thinking about it ever since, trying to figure out what I want to say and what I want to do.
Say: It is devastating and inspiring. I want to throw up my hands and weep. I want to go back to school, become a classroom teacher, eventually a principal, and change the world from the inside.
Do: Talk about it with everyone I can. The more people who are talking and thinking about the problems with the school system, perhaps the more change that will happen (very, very slowly like the Grand Canyon, I know). I will keep doing the work I am with arts-in-education and religious education. Both are outside of “regular school,” one during the school day (so revoluntionary!) and one on the weekends, one for a school with 85% free lunch, one for a school where parents are MDs and PhDs.
The most important thing I can do is to keep finding ways to share my own love of learning with kids. All of the kids I can.
Not actually MY brain
I have several different categories that I like to write about: arts and theatre, my family, being pregnant, yoga, and personal things. Here is a general update of what’s going on in my brain these days:
- Arts in Education – I read a great article in American Theatre Magazine about creating theatre with and for autistic students. Using theatre for its therapeutic values: building verbal and non-verbal communication skills and increasing abilities to work together. I have done this kind of work before, with autistic students as well as students with a variety of emotional issues. It is amazing to see the rapid changes in these students when they connect with the material and each other.
- Family – My mom moved back to Florida. She had moved to PA to be close to us and the baby, but things didn’t work out according to plan. My sister and I drove down with her, stopping in North Carolina very briefly to see an Aunt and Uncle in Winston-Salem and and Aunt, Uncle, and Cousin in Charlotte. Then we continued on to Pensacola where we saw Dad and Brother, more Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins, one Bubby, and a few friends. I was sad for my mom thather plans fell through up here, but it was nice to have a reason to see my family. I hadn’t been back to Pensacola since August of last year.
- Myself – It is hard to separate myself from all that is going on with everything and everyone else. I have become impatient. I don’t like this, and I keep thinking since I’m aware of it, I should be able to master it, but I can’t. Yet.
- Pregnant – He is moving more, but not kicking. I feel him pressing against my abdominal wall or spine or bladder (usually when no bathroom is in sight!). At the midwife’s office yesterday, I received a packing list for having the baby. My favorite thing on the list is juice – I love juice and if labor is an excuse to drink an over abundance, bring it on.
- Theatre – I’ve been catching up on old American Theatre magazines (who has time for magazines of substance unless on an airplane?!). I read about theatre festivals going on all over the world; one that particularly caught my interest is in Germany and for children. No child actors, lots of mature material but in a kid-appropriate way. I want to go to there. I’ve been thinking about this play for children that I have a grant to write in 2011. I want the topic to be something mature and thoughtful and provocative, but of course for young people. I’m currently thinking of time. Big topic, but lots of possibility. And it will make David happy because it is science.
- Yoga – My practice has changed so much. The weirdest thing is that I’ve gotten away from studying the yoga sutras. That is something I can continue even while I’m in labor (though I don’t know I’ll really be able to concentrate), but for some reason, I have stopped reading and thinking about them. Some svadyaya (self-study) may help reveal why and guide me back to the books.
What are YOU thinking about?
Posted in arts in education, family, myself, pregnant, theatre, yoga
Tagged arts in education, baby, creativity, family, life lessons, love, personal, playwrighting, pregnancy, writing, yoga
Last Thursday, our State Senator Michael O’Pake came to observe the Neighborhood Bridges program in action. He joined in our discussion, watched the students create and perform scenes about Cinderella, and observed their (brief!) final creative writing.
Vicki, Raspberry, and State Senator O'Pake
I love meeting politicians, especially when they come into my turf. I never mind being observed, and with Neighborhood Bridges, I love to share what is it about and the profound effects it has on the children who participate. And I love talking about the value of Art-in-Education with anyone, especially those who can fund it better!
I was really impressed by how he interacted with the kids. They have a long time before they can vote, but he still spoke to them, asking about their ideas and their work in the program. I was amazed how the kids warmed up to him and welcomed him (and the 4 other observers) into their space.
Oh, Mr. O’Pake! Thank you for being kind and thank you in advance for being generous!
PS – did you notice my ridiculously cliche pregnant woman stance?
I put this article aside about a month ago. I’ve been thinking about it since.
Cultural Participation is Not Arts Education
Agreed. BUT, it is better than nothing, which is what many children are getting from their school and family these days.
Cultural participation means going to a play. Arts Education means doing a play. Very simply.
Last week, the 4th grade classes where I teach Neighborhood Bridges went on a field trip to see Sideways Stories from Wayside School (I snuck in too – my friends were in the show and I wanted to be able to discuss the play with the kids). On that day, Neighborhood Bridges was cancelled. One of the 4th grade teachers said something like
I guess they thought the play would be enough art for one day. They want us to get enough academics in.
The they here is the principal and administration. I know they are under tremendous pressure to raise test scores and get kids to a certain level. And I want to hug and kiss them all as a (creepy) way of saying thanks for having the open-mindedness to see the value of arts education and spend their limited funds on this program.
BUT. Can you really have enough art in one day?! And isn’t art academics?!
All of this is a step in the right direction, and I don’t want to complain. I am so grateful to have the job I have and work with the teachers I do. But if the administration could have heard the questions the kids raised about the play and the process of creating a play, seen their excitement to read the books the play was based on, and read their creative writing inspired by the play, I think maybe their tune would change.
Little by little.
This afternoon, I was walking down the hall at the elementary school where I arts-in-educate and was stopped by a Kindergarten teacher I worked with over the summer. She said, “I just wanted to tell you that you are the best storyteller I’ve ever seen! You did such a great job with the summer program. I’m glad you are still at this school.”
It made my day.
When I really think about it, a compliment from a teacher is worth more than a fellow theatre artist or educator. She is coming from a completely different point of view and she is the audience I want to reach. If she likes and respects the work, then she will advocate for me (and my co-teaching artists) to come back year after year. She will also take on what she likes about what we do and infuse her already great teaching with a little bit more creativity and art. Which is always good for the kids, especially in our time of testing.
I love hearing that teachers steal my ideas to use in their classrooms. They aren’t even my ideas – all of what we do as theatre artists is such a mix of all the people we’ve worked with and learned from, all we’ve studied, all we’ve experienced. I want to pass it on.
This is an op-ed about a new book called Fifty Dangerous Things (You Should Let Your Children Do). There is a blog too. I am reading this more as an educator rather than a parent.
I am concerned when I walk into a classroom and kids don’t really know how to think for themselves. They can repeat everything they’ve been taught by the principal or their parents, but they can’t create an original thought.
And they don’t know how to work together. Compromise, listening, contributing are all very difficult for them. All of school time is programmed so they will be prepared to pass NCLB tests and afterschool time is spent rushing from activity to homework to dinner to bed or to TV to TV to dinner to TV to bed.
I was at the grocery store with the skiddoos one day and they asked to get something in the frozen dessert aisle. I said yes, but they could only get one thing and they had to agree. An older couple was walking by around this time and laughed out loud at me and the man said “Good luck with that. ha!” And in about the time, the kids had chosen a box of popsicles (Scribblers, their favorite – “look, we can scribble on you, Vicki!”) and were carrying it together and giggling together. I was very proud.
I’m concerned about the future. But I think the kids in our house will be ok.
I’m so happy to be back to school, teaching Neighborhood Bridges to 4th graders in Reading!!!
Neighborhood Bridges combines storytelling, creative writing, and creative drama for a really amazing in-school arts-in-education program. I can say it is amazing because I didn’t create it. I’m just the messenger, teaching it to local kids. The program comes from the fantastic Children’s Theatre Company in Minneapolis (note: I was once offered a literary internship there – how different my life would be had I taken it. but I might still be teaching Neighborhood Bridges. Weird.).
I especially love this program for the fantastic kid art that comes out of it. I love kid art – especially writing and performing (when it is earnest). Highlights from today’s writing:
- Owon’s a pond a tim…
- Once upon a time there were ants at an amusement park…
- The Amusement Park was walking on the beach and he sat on a lifeguard…
- …Three litter boys…
- I fell through a hole in the earth
To the spelling I say “why not?!” and to the ideas I say “why not” – I love the places their minds go when we let them. I love the places my mind goes with them.
Beanstalks from summer's Kindergarten Bridges class
From Mr. Fish over at Harper's Magazine
I was concerned that I was losing my creativity, but I think it is back. Or coming back.
I mean, I’m creating a baby, which is about as creative as you can get, but it is different from creating art. Obviously.
I never thought I would say this, but I’m really enjoying working less. I’ve been quitting jobs or not renewing jobs (David is continually shocked), which is a big change from my usual work-a-holic self. But it isn’t like I’m sitting around sipping Mom-tini’s all day: I’m doing some work from home, keeping our house organized and tidy so we can enjoy our time all together, and making things. This is the best part, the making.
I’m also getting to read a lot, sometimes books and sometimes internet articles. Here is a particularly good one and a cause of personal concern on the Creativity Crisis. Best part of the article:
When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education, he described our focus on standardized curriculum, rote memorization, and nationalized testing. “After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”
How can we do this to ourselves and our kids? Teaching arts-in-education programs in schools, I see how desperate the kids and teachers are to be creative (and the teachers have so many good ideas on how to do that). But there is so much pressure on the administration (all levels of it) that they cannot even do creative writing or arts.
I’m looking forward to when the pedulum swings back in favor of real education and life.
PS: I want to go to there.
He is a brilliant mind, thinking on behalf of education and creativity. And he’s hilarious.
Disclaimer: What I am about to say is not meant to be criticism of any non-profit where I do or have worked. Rather, it is my personal observation. I know that I must be the change I want to see.
I have worked at a few non-profits. I have loved it, been excited when I was hired, done great work, and really felt like I was making a difference.
I have also felt, at those same non-profits, that we were all getting so caught up in the internal politics (though the organizations were small), the lack of sufficient funding or time, and the imbalances in commitment, that we lost our focus and our own connection to the mission.
How can I do good work at a theatre company if I have lost my inspiration and creativity somewhere in the administrative mess and meetings? How I can make a difference to the kids I’m teaching theatre and creativity to if I have lost my own creativity and active working in theatre? Change is difficult even at a small organization. Self-observation is as well.
This great article from the Stanford Social Innovation Review about what the author calls the Non-Profit Paradox – how mental health organizations get caught up in unhealthy intra-organizational relationships and how anti-terror organizations get stuck with terrorizing bosses. But he also offers a way to self-reflect and make it better so we can all contentedly do the work we are at our non-profits to do!