Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Sometimes the best learning occurs impromptu, and simply with letting kids talk and be real @sonyahuber

Yesterday, I hosted back to back workshops with  students in Kathy Silver's art classes. The task was to dig deeper underneath the layers of bullying and violence, so they could create projects that were more creative and insightful.

In other words, as artists, we asked them "How do you communicate what you mean? How can our images make others think and represent the complexities of what you are trying to represent?"

As I said to Ms. Silver after the workshops, "There's a point when you look out at the audience and see all the thinking, and it's scary. The kids get real quiet. They look at you as if you just offered them the richest secret they ever heard - they know what is being invested unto them powerful - but can't quite yet realize what they're to do with it."

This is how I felt, back to back,  as I led workshops to unravel the complex layers that every image holds. In short, I wanted them to think deeper about the culture, history, sociology, biology, and psychology that is behind everything.

These events, however, were secondary to what happened at the end of the last workshop. Several students from Sonya Huber's EN 11 course visiting the school, participated in the last workshop with students. They jumped right in and worked with kids. The bell rang too soon, students dispersed, and I looked to Sonya's kids and asked, 'Do you know where you're to go next?'

What happened next, however, was amazing. A young man, Amani, who was in Ms. Silver's room all three periods, I presented hovered behind. I didn't know who he was, except that he had really cool purple suede shoes that I complimented him on earlier in the morning. I'm not sure how it happened, but his eyes met mine and so I asked him if he would sit and talk with Sonya's students and I. Ms. Silver also joined us. It didn't take much to get Amani sharing his thoughts. He explained how, when he was a freshman, he hated Ms. Silver. He didn't know why, but he just did. Yet, he also knew he wanted to be a photographer one day and needed Ms. Silver's expertise. A grandmother interceded and Amani reenrolled in her art class again. In his senior year, Amani spends most of his time working in her room. He explained that if it wasn't for Ms. Silver and the art classes, he wouldn't have made it in school. Art is how he thinks and it's what he needs.

The conversation came naturally, so I began asking question, that Amani answered. Ms. Silver, too, offered insight, and the ethnographer in me thought, 'Drats! I'm not prepared to take field notes." But I succumbed to the naturalness of the conversation and asked more questions. The young woman from Fairfield listened with me (I found out -- and am stoked -- there's a Fayetteville-Manlius student in Sonya's class, too - Go Cuse!).

Amani and Ms. Silver's insight about urban education, growing up in Bridgeport, the need for whole communities to support a kid (including many assumed to be bad influences) was highly emphasized. "Friends may drop out of school," he instructed. "They may join gangs, have a record, and sell drugs. Yet, even if they do this, they know who amongst them has an eye on the prize and they will do anything they can to protect you and to see that you get to it. I'm lucky that the others where I live chose me and help me reach the dreams I've set for myself."

While Amani talked, I recalled each year when Danish teachers arrived to Louisville with 10th grade students. Lars, a principal at the school, taught me "Let's leave the kids alone, the Americans and the Danes, so they can talk without intrusion of pesky adults." His suggestion made me nervous - I thought I needed to have control of the room. But, I left my students with his. I learned at that moment that youth listens to youth, and if I was willing, I could learn a lot from them, too, if only I listened. I've been listening to them ever since. And now I ask, "Why be an authority when it is so much more rewarding to help them to see authority (authors) within themselves?"

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