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).