Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ruby Bridges to Today

In my second grade special ed classroom, we've been studying school integration. The texts we've been using include The Story of Ruby Bridges, Through My Eyes, and Remember.

The kids get it. One of my students said, "I think I know why there were laws that made life for white people better. I think it is because all of the people in the court were white."

My kids see our school as integrated because there are many shades of black and brown. But we're still not there at all. Here's a great story from Village Voice, Inside a Divided Upper East Side School.

If you're a white student and you arrive at the public elementary school building on 95th Street and Third Avenue, you'll probably walk through the front door. If you're a black student, you'll probably come in through the back.

Friday, February 19, 2010

pre-school paralysis

Just got around to reading The Junior Meritocracy piece in a recent NY Mag. Love what the head of The Calhoun School has to say:
I want a school full of kids who day dream. I want kids who are fun to be with. I want kids who don't want to answer the questions on those tests in the way the adult wants them to be answered, because that kid is already seeing the world differently. In fact, I want kids who are cynical enough at age 4 to know that there's really something wrong with someone asking them these theings and think, 'I'm going to screw with them in the process!'"
Aren't these many of our special education students? He also says:
You have to play with blocks. You have to make up stories. You have to muck around. Arithmetic and decoding language aren't life---they're symbolic representations of other things. And education is being diverted into focusing on these symbolic representations of the very experiences kids are being denied.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Love, Love, Love: Part 6

Thanks to ATA Blog for making me remember that I haven't finished sharing on this topic.

This post is about Facilitating Challenging Dialogue in the applied theatre, with love.

Here's the background: 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
Find the links to the previous posts here.

Here's my bit on Facilitating Challenging Dialogue...

To engage in true openness, listening, and dialogue to represent love in action, we must risk spaces of discomfort. In examining power and privilege, oppression, marginalization, abuse, violence and other topics, applied theatre work often ventures to places that are uncomfortable for facilitators and participants. As practitioners, we must embrace this space, but maintain its safety.

In “Choosing the Margin as a Space of Radical Openness,” bell hooks identifies the margin as a space for resistance. She notes that the margin is “much more than a site of deprivation…it is also the site of radical possibility.” Yet, embracing marginality may be a space of uneasiness for some—but discomfort can be the most radical place for learning. Dr. Christina Marin of NYU's Educational Theatre Program challenges participants to acknowledge that through discomfort, amazing possibilities can be uncovered:
If you are willing to be uncomfortable, which I believe is one of the best places in which to explore, if you’re willing to, and you don’t try and put the band-aid on it, you don’t try to cover it up, you don’t try and dismiss it and negate it, you don’t try and get past it to get to the comfortable part too quickly. Sometimes we have to sit in that zone of discomfort because that’s where we can examine how we can find the road together.
Michael Rhod (of Sojourn Theatre) points out that it is the facilitator’s responsibility to maintain a safe space throughout discomfort, to “be aware and fiercely observant, proactive, porous, and at the same time recognize that there are some moments that you have to let tumble forward…” When the facilitator is a part of the circle, rather than outside of it, the facilitator demonstrates risk alongside participants. With this courage to risk, facilitators and participants engage in the vulnerable and courageous act of love that McLaren (1997) and Antonia Darder characterize as radical love.

Throughout the applied theatre experience, the facilitator is responsible for creating and maintaining a safe space in concert with participants. The artists’ responsibilities amplify when applied theatre work results in performance where there exist implications with the way we represent the other.

Looking Closely at Harlem Children's Zone

City Limits' March issue takes a little bit more of a critical look at HCZ.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Maxine Greene, my love

via ATA Blog:
An excerpt from How Do We Think About Our Craft?, an essay by Maxine Greene published by Teachers College, Columbia University.
"Gradually becoming aware of all this, we are beginning to recognize that every young person must be encountered as a center of consciousness, even as he or she is understood to be a participant in an identifiable social world. Each one may be encountered as a being who is at once a distinctive individual and someone whose consciousness opens out to the common, an intersubjective world in which he or she is inextricably involved."

Learning Love

Thanks to Michael Wiggins of the ATA Blog for sharing this quote about love!
In his book, The Art of Loving, philosopher Erich Fromm writes:
"The first step is to become aware that love is an art, just as living is an art; if we want to learn how to love we must proceed in the same way we have to proceed if we want to learn any other art, say music, painting, carpentry, or the art of medicine or engineering.

Could it be that only those things are considered worthy of being learned with which one can earn money or prestige, and that love, which "only" profits the soul, but is profitless in the modern sense, is a luxury we have no right to spend much energy on?"

Emotions, Memory, and Learning

I was recently skimming a book on what teachers should know about how the brain works. (I need to find the title--I know I wrote it down somewhere.) The part that really stood out to me (even though it makes total sense) is that we are more likely to remember something/put it into our memory if there is emotion tied to it. We are likely to remember that with which we have an emotional connection. Duh.

Still, this makes me think about how the arts can be so crucial in learning. Experiencing a process drama about Ruby Bridges' and school integration vs. reading about it. Listening to or learning music from the Civil Rights area. Problem solving using Forum Theatre. All of these evoke emotions as a tool and a way of learning, and an avenue to remembering.

Here's a quick read on Educational Leadership: Brain-Friendly Learning for Teachers.

Our brain pays more attention to stimuli and events that are accompanied by emotions. We remember the best and worst things that happen to us while forgetting emotionally neutral events. Do you remember what you ate for lunch two weeks ago last Thursday? Probably not, unless it was a special occasion or the food made you sick. In either case, the accompanying emotions enabled you to remember it.

How we feel about a learning situation often affects attention and memory more quickly than what we think about it. In most adolescents, the brain region that processes emotions (the limbic area) is fully operational, whereas the regions responsible for thinking, reflecting, and controlling emotional reactions (located in the prefrontal cortex) are still developing. This is why middle school students overtly display emotions inappropriately in the classroom (through pained sighs, rolling eyes, and blank looks).

And another: The Role of Emotions in Learning. This one talks mainly about the way that fear/joy can affect our ability to learn and open up avenues to learning.

Here's an article on Memory, Music and Emotion in Learning.


Great, great, great Susan Engel & NY Times.

So important to recognize that what we teach and the way we teach is not aligned to what we know about child development.
Our current educational approach — and the testing that is driving it — is completely at odds with what scientists understand about how children develop during the elementary school years and has led to a curriculum that is strangling children and teachers alike.

In order to design a curriculum that teaches what truly matters, educators should remember a basic precept of modern developmental science: developmental precursors don’t always resemble the skill to which they are leading. For example, saying the alphabet does not particularly help children learn to read. But having extended and complex conversations during toddlerhood does. Simply put, what children need to do in elementary school is not to cram for high school or college, but to develop ways of thinking and behaving that will lead to valuable knowledge and skills later on.

So what should children be able to do by age 12, or the time they leave elementary school? They should be able to read a chapter book, write a story and a compelling essay; know how to add, subtract, divide and multiply numbers; detect patterns in complex phenomena; use evidence to support an opinion; be part of a group of people who are not their family; and engage in an exchange of ideas in conversation. If all elementary school students mastered these abilities, they would be prepared to learn almost anything in high school and college.