Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Support ATA

Support the Association of Teaching Artists- led by Dale Davis- she rocks!

Here's a little post I stole from ATA's fabulous blogger Michael Wiggins. I like what Phil wrote at the beginning- quite poetic.

I'm not a teaching artist right now... but I am in spirit!
Why I Support ATA

By Phil Alexander

The soloist enchants us, while the choir provides us with incomparable depth and richness.

The poem delights us, while the book creates an entirely new universe for us.

The sculpture engages us, while the museum opens us up to brand new understandings.

The lesson teaches us, while the whole course transforms us.

Simply put, collective action reaches us deeper and lasts longer than individual experiences.

ATA is the embodiment of collective action, it's a collective voice, a unified chorus of individuals who often cannot be heard. The incomparable listserve , the ATA website, and the blog are just a few of the most obvious tools in which ATA collects and shares the voices of teaching artists. The
board and staff of ATA are committed to hearing the needs of teaching artists, and sharing your concerns with the world at large. We have plans to provide more opportunities and events for teaching artists in the future, such as the first Teaching Artists conference, but with assorted financial challenges, everything must be reconsidered and no opportunity is secure.

During this period of appeals and gift giving, it's hard to claim that one cause is more worthy than others. So I'm left asking this question: What will be heard, if ATA"s voice is silenced?

Philip A. Alexander, Ph.D.
Senior Program Officer
ESP Office of Partnership Support and Research

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Speaking of Communities

Interesting piece on Community Arts Network: The Choices We Have and Our Privilege To Move On.

The ability to choose to enter a community, to make art and to leave once a project or session is complete or things get “too hard” is a privilege of the outsider community artist. When working in a community that is different from our own, it is essential to reflect, address and confront our own privilege in order to become conscious and committed to the work and to the community.

Love, Love, Love: Part 5

It's been about two months. But here's Part 5. In Part 4, I started exploring the first connection I saw between radical love and applied theatre: Courage, Envisioning and Imagining Change.

Just a re-cap on the last four installments: First, I rambled about the question of love and teaching, dove into Freire's concept of radical love, and got together a background on applied theatre. I've tried to sum it up by making connections between radical love and applied theatre in four areas:
So, this post is about Community Work in the applied theatre. How is community work practiced with love?

How do we create a hope of what can be in communion with others? How can we, as educators or teaching artists approach and work in community with new groups? Freire (2000) maintains that educators must enact this work with dialogue as the foundation.

A loving approach to community work requires an immense amount of self-awareness, reflection and openness. Michael Rohd, of Sojourn Theatre, offers,
one way to talk about love is with the generosity of spirit and humility that one has to enter any space or community or circle that you’ve been invited to. If you approach something with any interest to consciously or subconsciously manifest power, be in control or own something, then you are operating out of greed or fear. I think that love becomes a powerful way to attempt to move beyond your own greed and fear and think about what you can give and receive. It’s incredibly challenging to enter situations with love. You have to work to love. (personal communication, April 9, 2009)
Approaching an applied theatre residency without an agenda and with openness requires true listening and humility, both of which lead to and require genuine love. In conversations and literature about love, listening is often referenced. The listening that is required when first engaging and approaching unfamiliar communities is not a one-time occurrence.

Anne Bogart (2007) discusses the importance of attentiveness and listening in the work of directors and actors. She posits, “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnified world in itself.” In looking, listening, and feeling with attentiveness we deeply appreciate others. Henry Miller offers,
The one gift we can give another human being is our attention, and that attention, in turn, allows the possibility of change. We can be available and open to their change. Which means concurrently that we will change too. The gift we give is not to hold on to some way we have decided that this person is. Perhaps this gift of attention is also a gift of love. (as cited in Bogart, 2007, p 60-61)
Dialogue in an applied theatre setting---be it verbal or non-verbal (image theatre, etc.)—must be approached with this attentiveness. Rohd notes that dialogue occurs when participants are truly open to change; change is not a neccesary outcome, but must exists a genuine possibility for transformation (personal communication, April 9, 2009). The applied theatre space must create a context in which this openness and potential for transformation can take place.

Check out these fab books:

Saturday, December 19, 2009


Via Michael Wiggins at ATA Blog, check out the Charter for Compassion, whose road was paved by Karen Armstrong. You can also watch a series of talks by people around the world. Enjoy.

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensible to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

Friday, December 4, 2009

bell hooks on Radical Love & Buddhism

When I knew how to love the doors of my heart opened wide before the wind
Reality was calling out for revolution.

Thich Nhat Hanh, in the poem “The Fruit of Awareness Is Ripe”

I came across a great piece by bell hooks on Shambhala Sun, entitled Toward a Worldwide Culture of Love. hooks' touches on the emergence of the discussion of love within Buddhism, particularly from Thich Nhat Hanh. This love is not fluffy, romantic love. It is transformative and revolutionary love--so similar to that which Freire speaks of.
When lecturing on ending domination around the world, listening to the despair and hopelessness, I asked individuals who were hopeful to talk about what force in their life pushed them to make a profound transformation, moving them from a will to dominate toward a will to be compassionate. The stories I heard were all about love. That sense of love as a transformative power was also present in the narratives of individuals working to create loving personal relationships. Writing about metta, “love” or “loving-kindness,” as the first of the brahmaviharas, the heavenly abodes, Sharon Salzberg reminds us in her insightful book Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness that “In cultivating love, we remember one of the most powerful truths the Buddha taught … that the forces in the mind that bring suffering are able to temporarily hold down the positive forces such as love or wisdom, but they can never destroy them.… Love can uproot fear or anger or guilt, because it is a greater power. Love can go anywhere. Nothing can obstruct it.” Clearly, at the end of the nineties an awakening of heart was taking place in our nation, our concern with the issue of love evident in the growing body of literature on the subject.

Because of the awareness that love and domination cannot coexist, there is a collective call for everyone to place learning how to love on their emotional and/or spiritual agenda. We have witnessed the way in which movements for justice that denounce dominator culture, yet have an underlying commitment to corrupt uses of power, do not really create fundamental changes in our societal structure. When radical activists have not made a core break with dominator thinking (imperialist, white supremacist, capitalist patriarchy), there is no union of theory and practice, and real change is not sustained. That’s why cultivating the mind of love is so crucial. When love is the ground of our being, a love ethic shapes our participation in politics.

To work for peace and justice we begin with the individual practice of love, because it is there that we can experience firsthand love’s transformative power. Attending to the damaging impact of abuse in many of our childhoods helps us cultivate the mind of love. Abuse is always about lovelessness, and if we grow into our adult years without knowing how to love, how then can we create social movements that will end domination, exploitation, and oppression? John Welwood shares the insight in Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships that many of us carry a “wound of the heart” that emerged in childhood conditioning, creating “a disconnection from the loving openness that is our nature.” He explains: “This universal wound shows up in the body as emptiness, anxiety, trauma, or depression, and in relationships as the mood of unlove.… On the collective level, this deep wound in the human psyche leads to a world wracked by struggle, stress, and dissension.… The greatest ills on the planet—war, poverty, economic injustice, ecological degradation—all stem from our inability to trust one another, honor differences, engage in respectful dialogue, and reach mutual understanding.” Welwood links individual failure to learn how to love in childhood with larger social ills; however, even those who are fortunate to love and be loved in childhood grow to maturity in a culture of domination that devalues love.
Continue here!

Monday, November 30, 2009

Judicious and Radical Love in Teaching

Love is not simply giving; it is judicious giving and judicious withholding as well. It is judicious praising and judicious criticizing. It is judicious arguing, struggling, confronting, urging, pushing and pulling in addition to comforting. It is leadership. The word "judicious" means requiring judgment, and judgment requires more than instinct; it requires thoughtful and often painful decision making.

-M. Scott Peck
The Road Less Travelled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Meditations for Teachers

A month since I've blogged = major teaching stress.

As long as space endures,
And as long as sentient beings exist,
May I also abide,
That I may heal with my heart
The miseries of the world.

-A Guide to the Bodhisattva Way of Life

I walk, I fall down, I get up, Meanwhile, I keep dancing.

-Rabbi Hillel

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Saw this as I was walking today in Brooklyn.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Fall 09 Issue of Rethinking Schools = Props to Freire

The new issue of Rethinking Schools is out: School Leadership in Tough Times.

Big City Superintendents: Dictatorship or Democracy? Lessons from Paulo Feire

Did you know Paulo Freire was a school district superintendent? His ideas are as thought provoking as ever.
What else looks good?

Editorial: Where Is Our Community Organizer-in-Chief?
by the editors of Rethinking Schools.

There is a disturbing overlap between Obama’s educational policies and those of George W. Bush. The nation’s schools don’t need an entrepreneur-in-chief; we need national leadership that supports critical thinking, educating the whole child, and democratic participation from the ground up.

The Fun Theory - duh!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

With Every Step, Peace

How can we teach this to kids?

Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four brand new hours to live. What a precious gift! We have the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.
From Thich Nhat Hanh's Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life.
We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good a living.
Very similar to John Dewey's notion that education is not a preparation for life, but a way of life.

Connections between mindfulness and teaching?

Teaching Teachers Mindfulness to Foster Education, Improve Well-being
In the Classroom, a New Focus On Quieting the Mind, NY Times

Monday, September 28, 2009

Going Beyond

From the NY Times. Several education folks weigh in. I like what Diane Ravitch has to say:

Beyond Testing

The single biggest problem in American education is that no one agrees on why we educate. Faced with this lack of consensus, policy makers define good education as higher test scores. But higher test scores are not a definition of good education. Students can get higher scores in reading and mathematics yet remain completely ignorant of science, the arts, civics, history, literature and foreign languages.

Why do we educate? We educate because we want citizens who are capable of taking responsibility for their lives and for our democracy. We want citizens who understand how their government works, who are knowledgeable about the history of their nation and other nations. We need citizens who are thoroughly educated in science. We need people who can communicate in other languages. We must ensure that every young person has the chance to engage in the arts.

But because of our narrow-minded utilitarianism, we have forgotten what good education is.

Ravitch is a historian. Her book ‘‘The Death and Life of the Great American School System’’ will be published in February.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Love, Love, Love: Part 4

After taking a look at the question of love and teaching, delving into Freire's concept of radical love, and getting together a background on applied theatre, I tried to break down the concept of radical love in the applied theatre space.

I've made connections between radical love and applied theatre by looking at four areas:
  • Courage, Envisioning and Imagining Change
  • Community Work
  • Facilitating Challenging Dialogue
  • Representation of the Other
Courage, Envisioning and Imagining

As I began to explore the idea of radical love in my own practice as an applied theatre practitioner and through conversation with other practitioners, the first recognition was that the context in which Freire spoke and wrote was certainly very different than that of my own. Christina Marin, Assistant Professor of Educational Theatre at New York University, noted that coming into the applied theatre or Theatre of the Oppressed space from a privileged and academic perspective is quite different from the original context of Freire’s pedagogy and Boal’s adaptation in the theatre (personal communication, April 3, 2009). The Instructional Coordinator of the Adult Learning Center at Lehman College’s Institute for Literacy Studies spoke of her frustration applying Freire’s pedagogy within a modern context:
It is very hard to feel like you are doing something radical and revolutionary in times where people are not rising up at all, but trying to survive and fit in and be successful within the system. I think it would be much more like Freire to teach within the context of social change movements, than the kind of teaching that I do. (personal communication, July 14, 2009)
Thus, our adaptation or judgment of the applicability of Freire’s radical love may be skewed by our belief that we are not in a revolutionary context or time of major social change. Are we in the context of a social change movement? And should we be? Do we believe in the potential for change in the present context?

Oppression may carry a different meaning at the present time within Western culture than it did in Freire’s historical context. In Life in Schools: An Introduction to Critical Pedagogy in the Foundations of Education (5th Edition), Peter McLaren (1998) offers a newer take on oppression that sees oppression beyond the deliberate practice of evil (p. 18). McLaren (1998) states, “oppression can exist even in the absence of overt discrimination” and is perpetuated by well-meaning individuals in the routine decisions of life (p.18).

Consequently, it may be more difficult to contextualize radical love in a situation where oppression is not so obvious or palpable. In recognition of this in her own work, one adult literacy coordinator concludes,
It’s a different book now that would be written. [Pedagogy of the Oppressed is] a product of history, when we really felt like the whole world was going to have a socialist revolution, and it was so obvious that this was going to happen and people were going to embrace it. And now, that’s not so obvious. They always used think that revolution was right around the corner, and I’d love to feel that way again. (personal communication, July 14, 2009)
In the re-contextualization of Freire’s radical love, the concept of revolution may be outdated or irrelevant for some educators coming from an American standpoint. It may be more difficult for us to envision dramatic, revolutionary change in our communities and societies. Still, Freire (1998) encourages us that love breeds bravery that inspires us to try “a thousand times before giving up” (p. 3). Yet, in order to persist, we must be able to envision liberation.

Envisioning another future requires believing in the possibility of change—change that can be brought about through education, and in our work, through the use of theatre. Marin describes this poetically as “love of the potential” (personal communication, April 3, 2009). She continues to describe this as, “loving what can be. What we haven’t achieved yet. And if you feel that kind of love for a potential, you work harder toward it and you work more in community toward it“ (personal communication, April 3, 2009). In the applied theatre context, potential is explored in a theatrical dialogue.

According to Boal (2002), “Theatre is a form of knowledge; it should and can also be a means of transforming society. Theatre can help us build our future, rather than just waiting for it” (p. 16). By reflecting on our lives, our world and our actions within the world, exchanging ideas, pondering alternative realities, and trying out and rehearsing possible options and solutions to oppressive situations, theatre can transform communities and help us to create new possibilities.

Appropriately, the imagination is at the center of social change, the foundation for the ability to love and persist in the creation of a new world. In Releasing the Imagination, philosopher and social critic Maxine Greene (2000) shares,
it may be the recovery of imagination that lessens the social paralysis we see around us and restores the sense that something can be done in the name of what is decent and humane. My attention turns back to the importance of wide-awakeness, of awareness of what it is to be in the world. (p. 35)
It is difficult to scientifically measure the change that the power of the imagination, personal connections, dialogue, human interaction and trust can spark. These scientific measurements are the ones that our society currently values and privileges. But it is even more difficult to argue that personal connections, dialogue, human interaction and trust are meaningless. Humans are the most powerful tools in social change—the only tools.

To recognize the sacredness of the human ability to identify and reflect is to place a profound respect toward our ability to transform our communities, our world and ourselves. In order to truly engage in loving action that leads to liberation and transformation, we must first believe in the possibility of change. In the applied theatre realm, that possibility can be articulated with dramatic techniques.

Up next: Exploring Community Work.


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What to do with defiant behavior?

Seriously, what do you do? I'm struggling with this right now with many of my elementary school students. Here are some strategies I found from a quick search:
State Teacher Directives as Two-Part Choice Statements (Walker, 1997). When a student's confrontational behavior seems driven by a need for control, the teacher can structure verbal requests to both acknowledge the student’s freedom to choose whether to comply and present the logical consequences for non-compliance (e.g., poor grades, office disciplinary referral, etc.). Frame requests to uncooperative students as a two-part statement. First, present the negative, or non-compliant, choice and its consequences (e.g., if a seatwork assignment is not completed in class, the student must stay after school). Then state the positive behavioral choice that you would like the student to select (e.g., the student can complete the seatwork assignment within the allotted work time and not stay after school). Here is a sample 2-part choice statement, ‘John, you can stay after school to finish the class assignment or you can finish the assignment now and not have to stay after class. It is your choice.’

Teachers seldom have the time to drop everything and talk at length with a student who is upset about an incident that occurred within or outside of school. The "Talk Ticket" assures the student that he or she will have a chance to talk through the situation while allowing the teacher to schedule the meeting with the student for a time that does not disrupt classroom instruction. The Talk Ticket intervention is flexible to implement and offers the option of taking the student through a simple, structured problem-solving format.

Take the Time to Talk...This intervention will probably be most effective if the adult who debriefs with the student is able to use a structured problem-solving approach to help the student reflect on (1) what factors led to the problem in the first place and (2) how he or she might avoid such problems in the future.

Monday, September 14, 2009


There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.
- Zora Neale Hurston

Perhaps this is why.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Love, Love, Love: Part 3

Before delving more into the connections between radical love and applied theatre, I thought it was important examine the background of the applied theatre. (Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.)

Applied theatre engages participants in critical reflection on their society, their relationships, or their communities and poses problems and explores solutions (Taylor, 2003). It activates human consciousness through participation and observation, rather than observation alone (Taylor, 2003; Boal, 1985). Philip Taylor (2003) argues, “the applied theatre operates from a central transformative principle” (p. 1). Within these explorations and dialogue, theatre is the language that is utilized (Taylor, 2003).

Augusto Boal (1985) adapted Freire’s pedagogy into the theatrical space with the creation of Forum Theatre, a dialogical and participatory form of theatre in which the typical audience is transformed from spectators to participants or “spect-actors.” In his book Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Boal (2002) offers his concept of theatre:
in its most archaic sense, theatre is the capacity possessed by human beings—and not by animals—to observe themselves in action. Humans are capable of seeing themselves in the act of seeing, of thinking their emotions, of being moved by their thoughts. They can see themselves here and imagine themselves there; they can see themselves today and imagine themselves tomorrow. (p. 11)
Theatre, in this sense, is tied to action, reflection, and imagination.
Boal (2002) claims, “To identify is to be able not only to recognise within the same repetitive context but also to extrapolate to other contexts; to see beyond what the eye sees, to hear beyond what the ear hears, to feel beyond what touches the skin, to think beyond what words mean” (p. 12). Applied theatre as a human activity of identification means thorough examination, thinking beyond current patterns, breaking those patterns, and exploring new ones (Taylor, 2003; Nicholson, 2005; Boal, 2002).

Applied theatre practice often takes place within marginalized and oppressed communities and untraditional spaces such as prisons, hospitals, and other community centers (Rohd, 1998; Taylor, 2003; Nicholson, 2005; Boal, 1985). Because the work takes place in such a range of settings, artists often work with communities of which they are not a part. Consequently, it is important that artists explore the dynamic of insider/outsider and respect for the community within which they are working (Cohen-Cruz, 2005), harkening back to Freire’s (2000) concept of genuine dialogue and opening up the self to the other.

Radical Love in the Applied Theatre Space

To explore the concept of radical love in the applied theatre space, I reached out to other practitioners and continued to review applicable literature in the field of education and theatre. I have organized these thoughts into four that struck me:

• Courage, Envisioning and Imagining Change
• Community Work
• Facilitating Challenging Dialogue
• Representation of the Other

Resources to check out:

Jacob's Pillow asks why

Jacob's Pillow asks dancers "Why do you dance?"

I dance because there is something inside me that wants out - it wants to move and express and be beautiful and feel good.
- Anonymous

Because without it, my soul is incomplete.
- Carla Santia via Facebook

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Right Questions

Thanks to ATA Blog for sharing!
I am reading Chapter 5 of Asking Better Questions. The authors propose three broad categories of questions. The book, which totally qualifies as a classic teacher resource, also suggests that instead of asking "What type of question should I ask?" it is probably more practical to ask, "What do I want this question to do?" Download and read Chapter 5 here (PDF).

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Love, Love, Love: Part 2

Today, we continue with our second installment on Love. See part one here.

To continue exploring the relationship between radical love and arts education/applied theatre, let's take a closer look at radical love from Freire's perspective.

Freire (1998) overtly refers to teaching as an act of love and claims that teaching is impossible without a “well-thought-out capacity to love” (p.3).

Freire’s philosophy of education contends that education must contain horizontal dialogical relationships, in which the dialogue is rooted in love for the world and for people (Freire, 2000; McClaren, 1999). Within this dialogical concept, the self is opened up to the other (McClaren, 1999). Freire (2000) warns, “Dialogue cannot exist, however, in the absence of a profound love for the world and for people. The naming of the world, which is an act of creation and re-creation, is not possible if it is not infused with love. Love is at the same time the foundation of dialogue and dialogue itself” (p. 89-90). Without love, true dialogue is impossible. Freire (2000) offers, “Because love is an act of courage, not of fear, love is commitment to others. No matter where the oppressed are found, the act of love is commitment to their cause—the cause of liberation. And this commitment, because it is loving, is dialogical” (p. 89). Commitment to others (rather than a fashionable social cause or issue) is the foundation of liberation; acts of courage, change, and dialogue are all acts of love.

Kincheloe (2004) describes this concept as “radical love” (p. 3), commenting, “Such a love is compassionate, erotic, creative, sensual, and informed. Critical pedagogy uses it to increase our capacity to love, to bring the power of love to our everyday lives and social institutions, and to rethink reason in a humane and interconnected manner” (p. 3). Revolutionary or radical love must liberate; it is struggle, and encourages and fuels more struggle (McClaren, 1999).

Antonia Darder (2002) reflects on Freire’s use of the word love. She argues that Freire’s love challenges the restrictive fear of freedom that is present in so many of us; it is characterized by vulnerability and struggle (p. 499). McLaren (1999) posits that “authentic love opens up the self to the Other” (p. 171). With this opening up of the self comes solidarity and struggle for liberation.

Freire (2000) offers that, “[a]s individuals or as peoples, by fighting for the restoration of the humanity they will be attempting the restoration of true generosity….. And this fight, because of the purpose given it by the oppressed, will actually constitute an act of love opposing the lovelessness which lies at the heart of the oppressors’ violence” (p. 45). McLaren (1999) also mentions the political and active nature of Freire’s vision of love: “a love for humankind that remains disconnected from a liberatory politics does a profound disservice to its object” (p. 171). Love is connected to that which is political and that which is active.

Consequently, in opposition to love and dialogue, lies oppression. “Sadistic love is a perverted love—a love of death, not of life. One of the characteristics of the oppressor consciousness and its necrophilic view of the world is thus sadism. As the oppressor consciousness, in order to dominate, tries to deter the drive to search, the restlessness, and the creative power which characterize life, it kills life” (Freire, 2000, p. 59-60). Oppression stifles dialogue, creativity, and the ability to name the world.

It appears that love, from Freire’s perspective includes a specific open relationship to the other, as well as actions that seek freedom and liberation through intense struggle. According to McLaren (1999), “revolutionary love is always pointed in the direction of commitment and fidelity to a global project of emancipation” (p. 171). Love is not simply feeling, it is action.

Graphics + Theory = Fun

I've recently acquired a couple Introducing Books. Basically, they're graphic guides to pretty heavy subjects. Great for introducing a topic or looking for a little refresher! I've got Critical Theory and Foucault. (Also, they make great gifts!)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Little Kids, Big Hearts & Minds

Using Their Words features social justice projects from elementary school classrooms. Hurrah!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Love, Love, Love: Part 1

I've been working on research surrounding Paulo Freire's concept of radical love in relation to teaching. I presented a bit of this at the AATE Conference last week. Over the next few weeks, I'm going to share some short installments of the research (a work in progress.)
“It is impossible to teach without the courage to try a thousand times before giving up. In short, it is impossible to teach without a forged, invented, and well-thought-out capacity to love. (Freire, 1998, p.3)
If you’d have told me two years ago that I’d be writing a research paper on love, I might have laughed. And while I still consider it amusing to ponder the subject, I find it important, difficult, intriguing, and critical to discover what love means in my own practice as a teaching artist—if it means anything at all.

Paulo Freire’s writings, philosophy, and practice have deeply influenced my pedagogy and practice as a drama educator. Peter McClaren (2000) maintains that Freire’s “unshamed stress on the power of love” (p. 171) makes him unique among other progressive and leftist educators. Freire (1998) argues, “It is impossible to teach without the courage to try a thousand times before giving up. In short, it is impossible to teach without a forged, invented, and well-thought-out capacity to love" (p. 3). But what is a thoughtful capacity to love? What does Freire mean? How does love relate to my own pedagogy?

In A Natural History of Love, Diane Ackerman maintains:
As a society, we are embarrassed by love. We treat it as if it were an obscenity. We reluctantly admit to it. Even saying the word makes us stumble and blush. Why should we be ashamed of an emotion so beautiful and natural? Love is the most important thing in our lives, a passion for which we would fight or die, and yet, we’re reluctant to linger over its name. Without a supple vocabulary, we can’t even talk or think about it directly. On the other hand, we have many sharp verbs for the ways in which human beings can hurt one another…. Our vocabulary of love and lovemaking is so paltry that a poet has to choose among clich├ęs…. Fortunately, this has led to some richly imagined works of art. It has inspired poets to create their own private vocabularies. (p. xix)
How appropriate is it that we, as teaching artists, theatre practitioners, actors, and educators explore and create our own vocabulary of love? Or are we too, ashamed of something that appears to be too gushy, silly, or emotional?

“Whoever sets out to write about love is taking the biggest risk of his or her life.” (Isn’t it Romantic, 2004, p. 17). I write this paper is because I want to know what love means for Freire, other educators, and me. Perhaps my exploration of my own definition of love will help you to agree, disagree, and ponder the meaning and concept of love within your own educational practice.

Up next: Freire’s concept of radical love and the roots of applied theatre.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Contribute a Verse

O Me! O Life!

by Walt Whitman

O Me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring;
Of the endless trains of the faithless—of cities fill’d with the foolish;
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light—of the objects mean—of the struggle ever renew’d;
Of the poor results of all—of the plodding and sordid crowds I see around me;
Of the empty and useless years of the rest—with the rest me intertwined;
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?


That you are here—that life exists, and identity;
That the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Have you checked out...

Entrepreneur the Arts?

Conferencing in Times Square

Spent the weekend at the AATE/ATHE Risking Innovation conference at the Marriot. Met some great folks, like Michael Wiggins of the ATA Blog, and attended some fun and provocative workshops from The New Victory and Creative Arts Team, to name a few. Plan to jot down some of my notes down here soon.

Also, gearing up to begin teaching "for real" this fall... teaching artist turns elementary special education teacher. Making the leap, but still blogging arts in ed, just with a new perspective.

Check this out:
Rethinking Schools Resources on Rethinking Early Childhood Education

By the way, if the Obama's choose this education for their girls, shouldn't everyone have the opportunity to have a holistic education?

Friday, August 7, 2009

EdLib features Resources from Free Minds Free People Conference

Greetings! This month’s lab report features curriculum materials from the amazing Free Minds, Free People conference that took place in Houston in June. You can learn more about the conference by visiting www.freemindsfreepeople.org. This report also includes a collection of resources for teaching about Hurricane Katrina. Many thanks to those who contributed the items listed in this report. We hope network members will continue to enrich this important social justice education tool by posting their own teaching materials.
the lab report is a monthly update of curriculum materials posted to the EdLib Lab, the network's online database of social justice teaching materials. To join this community of educators, sign up here for the Education for Liberation Network listserv.

Using Their Words by Social Justice Critical Inquiry Project

Using their Words showcases social justice education projects in elementary school classrooms. All the units housed on this site: -were designed and implemented by elementary school teachers and student teachers focus on social justice issues such as racism, gentrification, fairness, child labor etc. -help students ask difficult questions about the world -are designed to engage children in social action to change the conditions of their worlds -have been integrated with standards or mandated curricular programs. (Free Minds, Free People workshop: Catch us if You Can)
Grade Levels: Elementary
Cost: No

A Katrina Reader: Readings by & for Anti-Racist Educators and Organizers by a team of white anti-racist solidarity activists

A collection of close to 700 articles, reports, and resources, organized thematically, that attempts to document the history of racism and resistance on the Gulf Coast. An effort is made to highlight the voices of grassroots organizers speaking about their own struggles.
Grade Levels: High
Cost: No

Why Did This Happen? by Susan Wilcox, Ed.D. at The Brotherhood/Sister Sol

The NEW curriculum from The Brotherhood/Sister Sol for helping young people engage in critical inquiry, develop a love of learning, and transform their lives. (Free Minds, Free People workshop: Sister Museum)
Grade Levels: Teacher Training Material
Cost: Yes

Fences by Abby Ashford-Grooms at Austin Social Justice Teacher Inquiry Group

This is an outline of an approach to teaching Fences by August Wilson. Teachers will see the kinds of questions and inquiry that lead students to think about their own fences, those that keep us out and those that keep us in. This unit is part of a larger group of lesson plans under the category "BorderLands" by the Austin Social Justice Teacher Inquiry Group. (Free Minds, Free People workshop: BorderLands)
Grade Levels: High
Cost: No

Writers Corp Resources

From WritersCorps in San Francisco
Anthologies, Lesson Plans, and Resources

Jump Write In!
Days I Moved Through Ordinary Sounds

Jump Write In! is a collection of lesson plans created by WritersCorps
Teaching Artists. It was published by Josey-Bass. Summary about the
book (on the sidebar to the right), including the TOC: http://www.sfartscommission.org/WC/for-teachers/

There are also some of the exercises on the site for people to use.
It's in the Teaching Tools section of our site http://www.sfartscommission.org/WC/
The lessons are sortable by topic. There are a just few up right
now, but a lot more will be added.

Days I Moved is an anthology of fiction, poetry and memoir by Teaching
Artists who have served in WritersCorps. Each writer shares a brief
memoir about their time as teaching artists, as well as their own
creative work.

Summary about the book: http://www.sfartscommission.org/WC/events/days-i-moved/

Authors who are in the book: http://www.sfartscommission.org/WC/events/the-authors-of-days-i-moved/

The student work section of the site features poems and photos by
students, also sortable by category, or the cloud tag on the right: http://www.sfartscommission.org/WC/student-work/

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Small, but Powerful! Spoken Word Poetry Unit for 4th Grade

I've been looking for resources to use for a fourth grade study on poetry that will culminate with a poetry slam. Here's what I've found so far:

News Hour with Jim Lehrer did a cool segment on poetry. Here, for teachers, they have the Poetry Box Rules that highlight poetry as the art of words, and describe the tools and forms of poetry. They also have one lesson plan on using the poetry slam to teach the mechanics of poetry.

Schooltube has a video of a second grade classroom's poetry slam. (Adorable.)

Hey You! C'mere! A Poetry Slam
seems like an interesting book to check out.
From Publishers Weekly
Everyone's a poet, according to this exhortative poetry-reading and street-theater combo: "You've got a poem in your pocket, A poem on your tongue, did you know that? You can be the poet and you can be the poem too. Yesssss!" To prove it, seven young poets roam their city block on a summer day, using ordinary situations as material for syncopated storytelling. The players' portraits and names appear in the table of contents, so that each one is identifiable during their improv. Ratchit, a bold prankster, repeats a tough kid's threat ("Hey you, c'mere, Whatsa matter witcha"), while his friend Jacob describes a timid reaction to bullying in "A Good Cry." Mattie mimics her mother's phone voice "Yeah, uh huh, uh huh" in a song. While Doria creates a nonsense riff on "Silly Names" ("Mr. Grub T. Mudstuck, Diane Doobey Doo, Fineas Figmuff and Tina Tutoo..."), Ratchit sneaks off to play a joke on the group; after his ghostly noises inspire his friends' frightened poem, "Monsters," Ratchit laughs, then composes a reiterative "Sorry." Swados, author of the musical play Runaways, crafts an upbeat series of poems and dramatic asides. Using a crackling-hot palette of orange, summer green and blue-violet, Cepeda (What a Truly Cool World) limns a vibrant cityscape and brings out the strong personalities of the multiracial group. The slangy words and upbeat visuals suggest that poetry happens in casual conversation and friendship; readers might want to try this "slam" as a real play or spin some verse of their own. Ages 6-12.
Education World has a few lesson plans as well.

There Are Still Kids: Amazing Poem

There Are Still Kids
by Crystal Tettey

In a world of adult policies
There are still kids
Where milk is left to curd, then sold
There are still kids
Where wombs are shattered
There are still kids

Where an arm is the price of a meal
Where a meal is the price of an arm
There are still kids

Where power outages deny us TV
There are still kids
Where solitude is safe, fun is sorry
There are still kids
On a playground of mines
There are still kids
At peace conferences that echo war
There are still kids

In a world where adults vote
There are still kids
In schools silenced by artillery
There are still kids
In homes emptied by bombs
There are still kids
Our land cracks at her sides
There are still kids

Thursday, July 9, 2009

What is Quality? What are the Qualities of Quality?

Harvard's Project Zero has just released The Qualities of Quality: Understanding Excellence in Arts Education. How do we create and sustain high quality arts instruction? And what is it, anyway?

Here's one small tidbit from the press release.
Quality reveals itself “in the room” through four different lenses. There are multiple dimensions of quality in arts learning experiences. Four lenses were found to be especially useful in focusing attention on different aspects of excellence in arts education settings: learning, teaching, classroom community, and environment.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Farewell, Pina Bausch

The beautiful choreographer of tanztheater, Pina Bausch passed away today at 68.

Pushing the boundaries between theater and dance, she has said she was "not interested in how people move, but in what moves them."

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Attention is the beginning of devotion

Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of the blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin-flowers. And the frisky ones–inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones–rosemary, oregano. Give the peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.

Attention is the beginning of devotion.

-Mary Oliver

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Making Room for Hope: Howard Zinn

I don't believe it's possible to be neutral. The world is already moving in certain directions. And to be neutral, to be passive, in a situation like that, is to collaborate with what is going on. And I, as a teacher, don't want to be a collaborator.
Have you watched Howard Zinn: You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train? If not, you must. Zinn, author of A People's History of the United States, reminds us that to be neutral is to collaborate with the status quo. Many people, particularly teachers, argue that teachers must remain neutral. No one is neutral. Neutrality, lack of questioning, and lack of action equate to agreement and endorsement of the current state of affairs.

Zinn's People's History reinforces the fact that, as teachers, it is not only how we teach (and the inclusive and inquiry-based practices that guide us), but also what we teach. It is in what we teach that we are able to offer truth or lies of omission and de-emphasis. In the film, Zinn spoke of viewing history as creative--history can either help us to imagine a new future if it allows us to see glimpses of the ability to achieve this future in the past, or history can paralyze us--make us hopeless. History can uncover hidden resistances to power and awaken consciousness within us. Equally important, multiple histories can allow us to see situations from the viewpoints of others'. Zinn inspires me to remember how important it is, no matter how risky, to live in defiance to that which we believe is unloving, unjust, and wrong.

Teaching Resources:
Definitely check out The Zinn Education Project above!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Spiraling into Arts Ed

Project AIM (Arts Integration Mentorship) provides a great framework for looking at arts integration (via ATA Blog). The program's brochure contains an awesome list of AIM Speak (vocabulary). Eric Booth, of the Teaching Artists Journal, writes the forward:
“As the arts continue the endless argument for a better place at the school curriculum table – more hours, more resources, more opportunity to transform lives, classroom communities, and school culture – the great experiment has begun. That great experiment is Arts Integration. There is something new under the arts learning sun. The gamble is that by bringing learning in the arts (through the arts) together with other subject matters, students can go further in both areas, and students’ lives and classroom culture can be transformed in the process.”

We Make the Road By Walking

“Even when teachers develop new conceptions of what it means to learn mathematics, they are, in general, working within a culture in which good teaching is assumed to mean ensuring that students get right answers.”

Somehow, this way of teaching (math) has become the dominant paradigm for most, if not all disciplines. How do we change course?

Budding Conversations

NEW PARADIGM: Walks up to Old Paradigm. Hey, I’ve got some new information for you. I think we can work together. I know that you like precision and finding answers. I think we can get there, but with a little bit of a different route.

OLD PARADIGM: What do you mean we can get there using a different route? I’ve been taking the same path to and from the problem to the solution, and I’m just fine. This is the best way.

NEW: Well, have you ever tried another way?

OLD: Sure. I tried the road that goes over the little hill over there. It was rocky, there were other travelers, signs, and lots of distractions. It was too difficult, so I turned around and came back. This good old path does me just fine.

NEW: I see, I see. Well, what if we tried again? If we know that the road is rocky and that there are hills, many signs, and lots of distractions, we can come prepared. I’ll go with you. We’ll wear the right shoes, plan our route, and bring the appropriate supplies. I bet that we can even ask questions of other travelers along the way.

OLD: Eh, I’m pretty sure that the arrangement I’ve got here on the Old Road is pretty good. Anyways, it doesn’t matter how I get we get to the solution, it just matters that I get there. To the right place. Every time.

NEW: But Old, honestly, that must get a little boring.

OLD: Boring? Yes, a bit. But safe. Definitely safe.

NEW: Okay old, let’s try another path, just once. If it doesn’t work, you are free to turn around.

OLD: Okay, fine, fine, fine.

Old and New begin down an alternate path. Things look very different. They run into other travelers along the way, some walking, some skipping, some hopping, some dancing at different speeds down the path. Occasionally, they skip, hop, and dance together---sometimes in a funky combination. Sometimes there are barriers in the road—a fallen tree, a rocky path—but the travelers help one another along. At first, Old seems a bit uncomfortable and anxious. He keeps glancing back towards the Old Path, but it continues to get smaller and smaller in the distance.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Summer Reading

Adventures in Peacemaking
Adventures in Peacemaking includes hundreds of hands-on, engaging activities designed to meet the unique needs of after-school programs, camps and recreation centers. The activities teach the skills of creative conflict resolution to school-age children through games, cooperative team challenges, drama, crafts, music and even cooking. The guide includes easy-to-implement strategies and tips for providers to both reduce conflict in their programs and to intervene effectively when conflict does occur. Parent Connection Handouts are also available for purchase through Educators for Social Responsibility.
Creative Conflict Resolution
This classic conflict resolution guide offers more than 20 proven conflict-resolution techniques. Examples and more than 200 classroom-tested activities and games provide constructive responses to your students' problem behaviors.
Becoming Educated and Habits of Mind by Deborah Meier
1. Evidence: How do we know what's true and false? What evidence counts? How sure can we be? What makes it credible to us?
2. Viewpoint: How else might this look if we stepped into other shoes? If we were looking at it from a different direction? If we had a different history or expectations?
3. Connections/Cause and Effect: Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before? What are the possible consequences?
4. Conjecture: Could it have been otherwise? Supposing that? What if?
5. Relevance: Does it matter? Who cares?
Remember: The Journey to School Integration by Toni Morrison
Toni Morrison has collected a treasure chest of archival photographs that depict the historical events surrounding school desegregation. These unforgettable images serve as the inspiration for Ms. Morrison"s text--a fictional account of the dialogue and emotions of the children who lived during the era of "separate but equal" schooling. Remember is a unique pictorial and narrative journey that introduces children to a watershed period in American history and its relevance to us today. Remember will be published on the 50th anniversary of the groundbreaking Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision ending legal school segregation, handed down on May 17, 1954.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Commentary on NAEP Arts Assessment

"Name That Instrument! The State of Arts Education" on The Takeaway.

Creating and Exploring Peace with Art

I have always believed that the opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.

The opposite of life is not death, but indifference.

The opposite of peace is not war, but indifference
to peace and indifference to war.

The opposite of culture, the opposite of beauty, the opposite of generosity is indifference.

Elie Wiesel,
Nobel Peace Laureate

Resources for building peace:

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Journal!

Eastern Michigan University's first issue of PowerPlay: A Journal of Educational Justice. It's online and free!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

NAEP Arts 2008 Assessment

It's out: The Nation's Report Card: Arts 2008 Music & Visual Arts

Theatre and dance were not even surveyed due to budget restrictions...

Racial/ethnic and gender gaps evident in both music and visual arts

Although the results for music and visual arts are reported separately and cannot be compared, some general patterns in differences between student groups were similar in the two disciplines.

  • Average responding scores in both music and visual arts were 22 to 32 points higher for White and Asian/Pacific Islander students than for Black and Hispanic students. The creating task scores in visual arts were also higher for White and Asian/Pacific Islander students than for their Black and Hispanic peers.
  • Average responding scores for female students were 10 points higher than for male students in music and 11 points higher in visual arts. Female students also outperformed male students in creating visual art.

View Duncan's response.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process

Choreographer Liz Lerman's Critical Response Process is a widely used method for responding to artists' work and a great tool to introduce to students.

The Process engages participants in three roles:

The artist offers a work-in-progress for review and feels prepared to question that work in a dialogue with other people;

Responders, committed to the artist’s intent to make excellent work, offer reactions to the work in a dialogue with the artist; and

The facilitator initiates each step, keeps the process on track, and works to help the artist and responders use the Process to frame useful questions and responses.

The Critical Response Process takes place after a presentation of artistic work. Work can be short or long, large or small, and at any stage in its development. The facilitator then leads the artist and responders through four steps:

  1. Statements of Meaning: Responders state what was meaningful, evocative, interesting, exciting, striking in the work they have just witnessed.
  2. Artist as Questioner: The artist asks questions about the work. After each question, the responders answer. Responders may express opinions if they are in direct response to the question asked and do not contain suggestions for changes.
  3. Neutral Questions: Responders ask neutral questions about the work. The artist responds. Questions are neutral when they do not have an opinion couched in them. For example, if you are discussing the lighting of a scene, “Why was it so dark?” is not a neutral question. “What ideas guided your choices about lighting?” is.
  4. Opinion Time: Responders state opinions, subject to permission from the artist. The usual form is “I have an opinion about ______, would you like to hear it?” The artist has the option to decline opinions for any reason.

Learning from Experiences in Arts Ed

On issuelab, a special collection of case studies on arts in education:
This special collection of Arts Education case studies and evaluations reveals the lessons, benefits, and pitfalls of existing and past projects, providing vital information for program staff at organizations running their own Arts Education projects.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Economy & Education

On Bridging Differences, Deborah Meier comments concisely on what I agree with as the connection between education and the economy:
The connection between schooling and the economy interests me—but for different reasons than the usual PR-linkage (you’ll make more money). As long as there are jobs that pay poorly there will be “the poor,” but a well-educated underclass will have a better shot at defending their social and economic interests—as citizens. And a well-educated citizenry in general will give us a better shot at a healthy economy. Maybe. It depends on what we mean by being “well-educated.” And the latest headlines about 46 states joining together to decide year by year school curriculum (and tests) is not the way to decide this.
Will a better educated population alone change our economy? No, not if we still have low-paying jobs that pay salaries that can't make ends meet. If we neglect to teach about social issues, social justice, and social change in in our curricula, we run the risk of allowing underclasses to stay where they are. But perhaps this is in the best interest of many who make the policies and run our schools...

She continues:

The leaders of business and industry (of which there are not many left) may have messed up our economy, but they still have enough money left over to bring the same mindset to schooling. The masters of manipulating symbolic goods—money in all its varied forms—are now designing our schools with the same manipulative mindset.

But “if they work, Debby,” say a few of my critical friends, "why not?" But what do we mean by “it works?” Oddly enough, even on the measures they have chosen, the answer is, “they don’t.” But it wouldn’t convince me either way. How kids do on school tests that measure (at best) school learning is petty compared with…. It’s not a good stand-in for achievement. I want to see how those kids “produce”—the books they write, the movies they make, the cars they invent, the families they raise, the gardens they plant, the medicine they practice, the songs they sing, the fast train system they put into place, the better ways they show us to grow food, to produce energy, and on and on and on. I want to see graduates coming back to see us who are good cops, teachers, nurses, architects, furniture-makers, inventors of new products and new ideas. (And powerful, noisy, feisty citizens.)

Recommended Reading: Keeping the Promise?: The Debate Over Charter Schools

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Plays for Young People

When I was younger, I acted in I Never Saw Another Butterfly - a play by Celeste Rapsanti based on the poetry of Jewish children from Terezin. I can still remember the words of the title poem:
I never saw another butterfly . . .
The last, the very last,
so richly, brightly, dazzling yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears sing
against a white stone . . .
Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly `way up high.
It went away I'm sure because it
wished to kiss the world goodbye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto,
but I have found my people here.
The dandelions call to me,
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.
That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live here in the ghetto.
I often think of the play and how it was simultaneously beautiful and horrific--wishing that I could see it again as an adult. The book, I Never Saw Another Butterfly, highlights the art work and poetry of children in Terezin.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Teachers Can Lead Too

City Limits shares an interesting piece on the lack of teachers in leadership roles under Bloomberg and Klein.

Rothko Was a Kindergarten Teacher

Did you know?

Rothko was a K-8 teacher for a time. In the "Scribble Book," which was never published in a complete form (and is more of a collection of scribbles), Rothko shares his thoughts on art in education. He comments,
the "creative act is a social action and that intrinsically it justifies its own existence."

Rothko describes art as "of the spirit," and argues that the art teachers task is not to produce artists, but seems to advocate for the encouragement of experiementation.

Rothko quotes Fritz Kunkel, a German psychologist (1889-1956): "We must never break the courage of children."

Finally, he comments that "Progressive education is the expression of liberalism."

What is our education today an expression of? Positivism? Conservativism? Anti-intellectualism?