Thursday, December 25, 2008

Farewell, Joe Kincheloe

Joe Kincheloe, amazing educator and author (who first introduced me to the study of Critical Pedagogy), died of a heart attack on December 19th.  He founded the Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy, and was a professor of Education at McGill University. You can find an announcement and slideshow of Dr. Kincheloe on the website.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Giroux and Saltman Comment on Obama's Education Pick

Henry Giroux and Kenneth Saltman comment on Obama's Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan: Obama's Betrayal of Public Education? Arne Duncan and the Corporate Model of Schooling.
It is difficult to understand how Barack Obama can reconcile his vision of change with Duncan's history of supporting a corporate vision for school reform and a penchant for extreme zero-tolerance polices - both of which are much closer to the retrograde policies hatched in conservative think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institution, Fordham Foundation, American Enterprise Institute, than to the values of the many millions who voted for the democratic change he promised. As is well known, these think tanks share an agenda not for strengthening public schooling, but for dismantling it and replacing it with a private market in consumable educational services. At the heart of Duncan's vision of school reform is a corporatized model of education that cancels out the democratic impulses and practices of civil society by either devaluing or absorbing them within the logic of the market or the prison. No longer a space for relating schools to the obligations of public life, social responsibility to the demands of critical and engaged citizenship, schools in this dystopian vision legitimate an all-encompassing horizon for producing market identities, values and those privatizing and penal pedagogies that both inflate the importance of individualized competition and punish those who do not fit into its logic of pedagogical Darwinism.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Mime Spoken Here: Awesome book on Mime (yes mime!), Aritstry, and Drama Education

While I'm in the academic mode, a few more thoughts on another book I recently read:Mime Spoken Here : The Performer's Portable Workshop.Read more about acclaimed mime and author, Tony Montanaro.

As a teaching artist (with little mime training) who is looking to transition to a full-time teacher who incorporates and utilizes drama as a way of learning in the elementary classroom, I came across several unexpected connections in Montanaro’s Mime Spoken Here. To me, the book not only encouraged an understanding and appreciation of mime work on an introductory level, but also inspired an understanding of Montanaro’s goals and work as an educator—knowledge that translates directly to those practicing drama in education.

Montanaro’s insights into premise, character, and improvisation can be applied throughout the acting world, and also further into understanding oneself and one’s work (in whatever field). Montanaro’s exercises in premise stress that the premise or motive will change how one does something. He notes that the ability of the actor to believe in the motivation will enhance and create credibility, even in the simplest of exercises. Montanaro points out that mime, at its foundation, is about understanding life and its physical forces--a beautiful idea. Montanaro notes, “It is important to remember that mime is a reflection of life, and that life is much more than the outward appearance of a living thing.” 

Connections: Montanaro and Dorothy Heathcote
Montanaro’s work led me to make connections between his insights and drama in the classroom—particularly, process drama work. His chapter on improvisation offers several connections to process drama. The dictionary definition of improvise includes the phrase “without preparation,” but Montanaro argues, “whether you can predict the future or not, you’re always prepared for it. Each moment is informed by the moment that precedes it. Everything that happens has been set up; it is prepared to happen." 

This thinking mirrors the approach that Dorothy Heathcote takes with a new class with whom she is working on a process drama. She often walks into a classroom and says, “What would you like to do a play about today?” While this question seems to require no preparation or prediction of the future, Heathcote prepares both beforehand and during by using her previous experiences and the connections that she can make between themes, history, and experience, what Betty Jane Wagner names “the brotherhood” (making connections to all of those who have been in similar situation) and “segmenting” strategies in her book, Dorothy Heathcote: Drama as a Learning Medium.

Montanaro’s “Rules for Improvisation” are applicable for all teachers and specifically, teachers engaging in process drama in the classroom:
  1. Read what is coming at you from all directions.
  2. Listen to what the present moment is “suggesting” to you.
  3. Follow your impulses dispassionately and faithfully.
Sadly, much of the curriculum mandates in our current educational system leave little room for improvisation. But “good” teachers look for student reactions and understanding in order to work in the moment; they follow impulses by recognizing teachable moments. Facilitators of process drama would find these rules to be applicable and similar to those encouraged by Heathcote.

Another of Montanaro’s statements that applies to the realm of drama in education is: “Some people believe that improvisations are field days for the uninhibited.” As Montanaro suggests, this can repel “the more serene and complacent types.” It is important that teachers and students alike interested in drama in education understand that they need not be haphazard, wild, or outspoken. He notes, “Improvisation, approached correctly, teaches acuity, perceptiveness, and presence-of-mind.”

In continuing to learn about the area of process drama and its use in the school classroom, Montanaro’s recommendations and insights into improvisation are all the more useful. The teacher engaging a classroom in process drama needs to have a grasp of improvisation, as well as an understanding that improvisation can still allow the teacher to maintain structure. Perhaps the most applicable portion of Montanaro’s writing on this topic is this:
The improvisers come equipped with a certain repertoire of skills and tricks, and they look for opportunities to showcase these skills. Some improvisers bring their own ‘safety nets’ with them—backup plans just in case something goes “wrong.”
These improvisers are expecting something from their improvisation; they are planning its future. If the improvisation happens to take them into an area of ‘weakness,’ they break the improvisation and follow Plan B—the safe route.
Montanaro stresses the importance of working with what is happening in the improvisation, “Nothing should be thrown away or ignored simply because it doesn’t meet your expectations or accentuate your strengths." This is similar to Heathcote’s notion of accepting and working with what the students suggest to her, without judgment, knowing that we can always uncover universal meaning in the way we work with and reflect on the topic students have chosen for the drama.

Broader Implications
In his section on premise, Montanaro explicitly makes connections from his own classroom to the broader education system. In outlining the importance of premise work, Montanaro warns against learning by rote. He stresses that teachers must understand why they are directing the students to do something—going even further to say, “if the motives are not noble, the teacher should rethink his/her approach.”

Premise is a crucial topic—not just for mimes and actors. It is a critical subject for educators and students of all kinds to better understand and reflect upon. Montanaro concludes his chapter on premise by hoping and predicting that educating systems will incorporate the importance of premise work. “When students’ attention is constantly turned away from effects and back to cause, they discover better and better reasons for doing what they’re doing. They discover the inspiration to try new things and the courage to become mavericks.”

Beautiful Book: Steven Nachmanovitch's Free Play

Nachmanovitch's Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Artis an amazing and inspiring book that is truly applicable to its title: life and art. (A few excerpts from an academic paper I wrote are below.)

Nachmanovitch’s perspective on play was filled with an understanding of feeling and emotion, life’s inter-connectedness, and discomforting encounters with the unknown. He says, “The creative process is a spiritual path. This adventure is about us, about the deep self, the composer in all of us, about originality, meaning not that which is all new, but that which is fully and originally ourselves.”

Flow and Embracing Emptiness
A dance professor once reminded me that a beautiful dance is not created from a sequence of movements. The dance is made beautiful in the way the dancer connects those movements. Without the flow, the dance is lacking. Life, like dance (or art), is not only about a series of milestones or singular movements, but the flow between those milestones—our unfinished work (also true in education and learning). Nachmanovitch comments, “A momentous and mysterious factor that keeps us going through every obstacle is the love of our unfinished work.” Loving and paying close attention to the "in between" moments, the flow, and the creation of the work (the process) is as important as the milestone or the finished work itself.

I also appreciated Nachmanovitch's comments on the power of emptiness:
When we face our emptiness and look at it from the outside, it may indeed appear frightening or alarming, but when we move in and actually become empty, we’re surprised to suddenly find ourselves most powerful and effective. For only empty, without entertainment or distracting internal dialogue, can we be instantaneously responsive to the sight, the sound, the feel of the work in front of us.
Life is about continually valuing our unfinished work and responding to its ups and downs, finding strength within emptiness. 

Nachmanovitch’s chapter entitled “Childhood’s End” struck a chord with me, specifically when he mentioned the school as a place that breeds conformity. His story about the young child who learned to draw the right kind of trees rather than abstract ones is something that I have seen happen throughout classrooms. Nachmanovitch reminds us that “Schools can nurture creativity in children, but they can also destroy it, and all too often do.” More and more, students are not encouraged to look outside the box, but to fit comfortably into the box hat has been created and formed by normative society and positivistic learning structures.

Nachmanovitch argues, “education must tap into the close relationship between play and exploration; there must be permission to explore and express.”

I love Nachmanovitch’s term “Heartbreakthrough.” (And think it is connected to Freire's Conscientization.) A time when “the power of creative spontaneity develops into an explosion that liberates us from outmoded frames of reference and from memory that is clogged with old facts and old feelings." Heartbreakthrough is the return to play that we need as adults. Heartbreakthrough is liberation from the pressures of adulthood, the pains and habits of everyday life and a renewed faith in what is beautiful, pure, and simple: play. It is surrender to the depth of oneself and one’s creativity.

Free Play encouraged me to understand the ways in which play permeates life, and the ways in which a lack of play can take a toll on one's life (so important to also understand as an educator). Childhood play is amazing, and at times all of us long to return to childhood's innocence. Yet, at the same time, after going through the process of hurt, disappointment, and hardship, the return to innocence and the return to play can be all the more meaningful and rewarding.

Peace Corps for Artists?

NPR's All Things Considered discusses the possibility of an Artists Corps teaching artist model and examines Kiff Gallagher's MusicianCorps.
President-elect Barack Obama has said he believes the arts are good for people. During his campaign, one of his ideas was to create an Artist Corps — a kind of Peace Corps for artists who would work in low-income schools and communities.

But what would this actually look like?

There's already a model being developed for musicians called MusicianCorps. Kiff Gallagher's idea would be similar to AmeriCorps — in exchange for a year or two of service teaching in schools and after-school programs, musicians would get health care and a living stipend. Gallagher has the attention of Obama's transition team.

He also has the attention of private industry — the Hewlett Foundation gave MusicianCorps a $500,000 grant for a pilot program in the San Francisco Bay Area.
More background on Gallagher's idea and Obama's arts interest:

Friday, December 5, 2008

Educational Leadership Conference at Yale

Levers for Change
Hosted by The Yale School of Management
Friday, February 13th, 2009 at The Omni Hotel in New Haven, CT

  • Dennis Walcott, Deputy Mayor of Education and Community Development, New York City
  • Roland Fryer, Economist and Professor, Harvard University (this guy)
Panelists Include:

Definitely the corporate-leaning side of ed reform folks...