Thursday, April 30, 2009

Childhood, Art, & Healing

"If we want to look at children's drawing with pleasure and profit, we must first silence our wishes and requirements about form and content and gratefully take what they have to offer... The arm is the maximum freedom of the child, their free choice of expression according to their mood.... Everything must be left to the child. At most, they should be given a subject, an impulse." -Friedl Dicker Brandeis

Today, I was browsing in a book store and came across Art, Music, and Education as Strategies for Survival: Thereseinstadt 1941-1945.
This volume collects six new essays spanning a variety of disciplines, as well as memoirs and related source materials, on the history and the arts of the Theresienstadt ghetto from 1941 to 1945. The book was assembled with the cooperation of the Jewish Museum in Prague, the Simon Wiesenthal Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., the Leo Baeck Institute in New York, and others.

Featured throughout the book is the work of Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, a multitalented Bauhaus artist, who produced work in theater, architecture, textiles, graphic design, drawing, painting, and sculpture. In 1934, Dicker-Brandeis was arrested by the Gestapo for anti-Fascist activities and fled to Prague, where she taught art classes for Jewish refugees. In 1942 she was sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto. While there, she secretly taught art to the children, gifting them with the tools for the expression of their fears of hunger, disease, and death within their midst. Dicker-Brandeis and thirty of her students perished in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1944. Before she was shipped out, however, she hid thousands of works of child art within the walls of Theresienstadt, preserving for posterity a powerful and enduring indictment of the horrors of genocide.
The story of Dicker-Brandeis and her work gives me chills. Her insight on childhood & art is eloquent and rich:
“Why do adults want to make children be like themselves as quickly as possible?… Childhood is not a preliminary, immature stage on the way to adulthood. By prescribing the path to children, we are leading them away from their own creative abilities and we lead ourselves away from understanding the nature of these abilities.”

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


A new study from the Alliance for Childhood: Crisis in Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School.

New research shows that many kindergartens spend 2 to 3 hours per day instructing and testing children in literacy and math—with only 30 minutes per day or less for play. In some kindergartens there is no playtime at all. The same didactic, test-driven approach is entering preschools. But these methods, which are not well grounded in research, are not yielding long-term gains. Meanwhile, behavioral problems and preschool expulsion, especially for boys, are soaring.

View the 8-page summary.

It's a great resource for drama educators!

Other books on play that I recommend:

Friday, April 17, 2009

Issue of Rethinking Schools focuses on Duncan

The spring issue of Rethinking Schools focuses on Arne Duncan. There's also "Silenced in the Classroom," an article on the Kahlil hibran International Academy in Brooklyn, and Deborah Meier's "Reinventing Schools That Keep Teachers in Teaching."

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Get this book: Studio Thinking

Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Arts Education is a great book for any arts educator (across disciplines). Created by Harvard's Project Zero, The Studio Thinking Framework includes 8 Habits of Mind:
  1. Develop Craft
  2. Engage & Persist
  3. Envision
  4. Express
  5. Observe
  6. Reflect
  7. Stretch & Explore
  8. Understand the Art World

Lucia Brawley on Arts Education & Social Justice

Luci Brawley has a great article on Huffington Post about arts education: Mordecai's Metamorphosis: Why Arts Education is a Matter of Social Justice and Why it will Save the World.
My musician friend, Derrick Ashong - who was born in Ghana, raised between the U.S. and Middle East, went to Harvard, and now speaks internationally on the nexus of art, justice and peace - says:
People often forget that at it's heart, artistry is human communication taken to the highest possible levels. The power in art lies not only in its ability to inspire, but also in its capacity to expand the boundaries and quality of other forms of communication. The truly educated person does not consume art as a mean of diversion from the world but rather as a tool for learning how to better engage it.
Check out Part 2 of the article as well.

Voicing Pain: Students at a Queens School Talk About Immigration

Students at the International High School work with Judith Sloan, creator of “Yo Miss! Teaching Inside the Cultural Divide” and EarSay to create a performance piece based on the immigration experiences of their families. (See the full NY Times article.)

Sandup, 14, said speaking his lines made him proud. “It feels like I’m telling the public how I’ve been struggling,” he said.

He pointed to a favorite line: “My homeland screams, ‘Don’t forget me!’ My new life says, ‘Come and get me!’ ”

He said he and other Nepali teenagers spend a lot of time speaking English and having fun, not thinking much about what their parents went through to bring them here.

“I don’t want to forget,” he said.

Teens Re-Writing America Through Poetry

Brave New Voices documentary series on HBO follows teenagers creating and performing their original poetry in this teen poetry slam championship. On the HBO website you can watch the first episode and see performances of the teens' amazing works. B. Yung of Team New York City writes:
I can't stomach being whipped or stripped because of the color of my skin so every time I write a slave poem my paper bleeds.
More and more, I think poetry is such an amazing and liberating tool for expression and a great entry point to creating theatre--particularly physical theatre and movement pieces.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April: Happy Poetry Month

I've been reading Jonathan Kozol's Letters to a Young Teacher (which I highly recommend). He references a Yevgeny Yevtushenko poem that I find to be quite beautiful and profound. In today's schools, we often "choose" not to approach particular subjects or even affirm or believe that the troubles our students and their communities face a real and legitimate. Perhaps these are lies of omission. Something to think about...
Telling lies to the young is wrong.
Proving to them that lies are true is wrong.
Telling that god’s in his heaven
And all’s well with the world is wrong.
The young know what you mean. The young are people.
Tell them the difficulties can’t be counted,
And let them see not only what will be
But see with clarity these present times.
Say obstacles exist they must encounter
Sorrow happens, hardship happens.
To hell with it. Who never knew
The price of happiness will not be happy.
Forgive no error you recognize,
It will repeat itself, increase,
And afterwards our pupils
Will not forgive in us what we forgave.

Looking for meaningful children's books?

The Jane Addams Childrens Book Awards are given annually by the Jane Addams Peace Association to children's books that promote peace and social justice. It's an excellent list of books. I know I often have trouble finding children's literature with a social justice foundation.

One book that caught my eye:
Poems to Dream Together=Poemas Para Soñar Juntos, written by Francisco X. Alarcón, illustrated by Paula Barragán, and published by Lee and Low Books, Inc., has been named an honor book in the Books for Younger Children category. In nineteen short and heartfelt poems in Spanish and English, Alarcón encourages and inspires us to dream alone and to work and dream together, as families and communities, in order to make our hopes for a better world come true. The stylized paintings of Paula Barragán colorfully extend and interpret the theme.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Awesome Resource for Lesson Plans

Check out Educators for Social Responsibility's Connected and Respected: Lessons From the Resolving Conflict Creatively Programan elementary curriculum on conflict resolution and social and emotional learning.