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Sunday, 29 July 2012

Education Through Art


Education Through Art

Education through Art, sounds impressive but what does it mean? What is Art? Painting, dancing, music. These are the Arts. But what is Art? Art is creativity, imagination, something from nothing, of no practical value - these are many other definitions. But more than all of these, Art is the passion. Art is the soul of the machine.

Long ago Western man decided to understand things by taking them apart. If you could grasp the function of each of the pieces then you would understand the whole. Body became separated from Mind. Physical from Mental. Reason from Faith. Practical from Artistic. For generations in sciences, philosophy, and education, we have analyzed and struggled to understand what makes us work, as individuals, as societies, and as a species. The problem lies in that only some parts are reducible to components. So we studied those parts, the body, the physical world, reasoning patterns, practical applications. And we learned how to pass these on to our children. Through formal education.

For the rest, the intangible, the soul, spirit, or whatever term you choose, we left that to the spiritual leaders, to traditions, to culture. And as a species we have been doing okay. Except recently. Now we have a breakdown of these support networks. Most families no longer have a spiritual counselor. Many have left traditions and family networks far behind in our global wanderings. So we look to our source of learning. We look to our scientists and our educators. And we ask them to take care of our children. To find the best practices for teaching. And they do their best. They use the system that they have always used. They emphasize the practical, the applicable, the concrete. Our children learn to use machines. They explore the world through their fingertips and electronic impulses which bring everything they need to them. The world is on the screen before them and they are all knowing.

No, they aren't. They don't know this information; they merely have access to it. In order to learn children must have the skills to learn. They must know how to think and use their minds in multitudinous ways. To see things from different perspectives. To imagine that which they cannot see or access. To stretch themselves. But teachers cannot help them to do that if they do not want to learn. We call them "reluctant learners" and they are a growing epidemic.

But all children learn all the time. They can't help it. It is basic instinct founded on survival skills. Knowledge keeps you alive and allows you to flourish. So what are they reluctant to learn? The very things that the scientists and educators keep telling them they need to know. They are reluctant because they are not engaged. There is no passion in their learning.

What is Art? Art is passion. Art is the realm of engagement. When you educate through art you inspire the spirit to crave the knowledge. A chemical reaction becomes a dance. A math theory becomes a thing of structure and beauty. A history lesson comes alive through the full experience of empathy. The children dream of gladiators. They wince at slavery as they read, write, draw, perform. They engage with the information and then they know it. Their passions are ignited and they are inspired and they learn.

Education Through Art.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Vision or insanity?

One man's vision may be another man's insanity.  Recently I finished Irving Stone's biography of Vincent Van Gogh, Lust for Life.  I also saw "Secretariat", the Disney movie starring Diane Lane
 and John Malkovich.  Each piece speaks directly to the theme of a personal intense passion.  In these two cases the passion produced a monumental masterpiece, or masterpieces.  In each case we have a person obsessed with one idea and that obsession eventually leads to greatness.  It is easy to see the value of following one's passion by looking at these great historic events.  As they say, hindsight is 20x20.

But what about when the past was still the future?  Van Gogh's family considered him a monumental failure, the son who could never hold down a job, never learn any business, kept bouncing from passion to passion.  His society considered him a madman and a danger.  And the other artists generally considered him to have no technique or skill.  Penny Chenery, the owner of Secretariat, arguably the best race horse ever, risked the financial future of her entire family, her own children, and her marriage for the sake of an unproven colt.  She was considered crazy by her brother, her husband, and most of the racing industry.  History has proven them to have been right.

But what about all those passions that never worked out?  Never had books written about them or movies made about them because they didn't work out?  What about the Vincents and Pennys of this generation?  How can you tell the difference?  The truth is that you can't.  The problem is not that we can't tell the difference between passion and obsessive madness.  We are asking the wrong question.  The question that we should be asking is - Does it matter?  Van Gogh's society judged him and found him wanting.  Only future generations appreciated what he did.  I wonder if he had been living now if he would have ever painted what he did.

We are so quick to analyze and label that which is different.  We want everyone to be happy.  On the surface, a lovely sentiment, but underneath it reeks of Brave New World.  Just give everyone a happiness pill and humanity is dead.  Humans need to feel passion.  They need to be allowed to pursue their passion no matter how crazy it may seem, no matter how little "success" they may achieve.  Because success is relative.  Success is socially determined and is not the same for all or for all times.  Van Gogh and Chenery succeeded because they didn't care what others thought.  They followed their own inner voice and they risked greatly in order to achieve greatness.  They did not strive for greatness.  They merely went where their passion took them.  The rest followed.

(Just an aside, I, of course, am not condoning any obsessions which lead to the damage or destruction of others.  That should go without saying.)

Just think carefully about the world that you want.  A world of "happiness" for all or a world full of passion.  And then think about our children.  Do we want them to be happy or do we want them to be all they can be?  Passion is not about happiness or success.  Passion is about strong feelings, immense energy, and a roller coaster ride of a life.  With pain, failure, stress, anger, but what a high!  We would no longer need drugs or extreme adventures to feel truly alive.  When you follow your passion you are complete.  That is a world of which I would like to be a part.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

I am a Gardener; I am an Artist

I am a Gardener.  Those who know me, know that I am not a gardener of gardens.  In fact, most plants seem to wither and die under my care.  No, I am a gardener of children.  (A Kinder Gartener!)  I take whatever young growth comes to the school and nurture it.  I give it the nutrients, water, soil, and sun that it needs to turn into whatever blossom it is going to be.  There is a video going around Facebook and YouTube about a young man named Andrew De Leon who is exactly the kind of flower which would prosper in our school garden.  He dresses like a Goth and claims to be a failure at everything and yet he has this amazing voice.  Until America's Got Talent, he was treated as a weed, someone who did not fit in the ordered, one-size-fits-all society of the masses.  Daily we see repressed, misfit children reveal hidden talents and amazing gifts.  So I am a gardener who sees a school not as a factory, which churns out productive citizens on a fixed and rigid system, but a garden where students can grow with the support and guidance to be whatever they can be.

I am an Artist.  Again, I can't draw at all, but I am a writer and I know the power of imagination.  We use the student's own imagination to gently allow them to explore, in all subjects, yes, even including mathematics, outside their box.  Out of their tiny, often fantasy, where they escape from the world,  comfort zone.  Breaking out of their shell and taking flight.  Yes, I am mixing metaphors and as an English teacher I should know better.  I do.  But the garden analogy can only be stretched so far.  Because the students may be nurtured by the concrete physical world.  We give them a safe launching pad with daily doses of mental and physical exercises.  But the final goal is to allow them to soar above the garden.  To use their imaginations, their self-confidence to pursue their passions, with firm roots in the here and now.  To dream is one thing; to realize that dream in this present world is another.  It is irresponsible not to teach them the tools they need to turn that dream into a viable, financially sound reality.  So we are a garden of flower birds. 

I am a Teacher.  I till the soil and watch them soar.  I couldn't imagine a better job.  This is my passion and I soar each day!