ARCHIVE - Who Are We Tricking? (5-26-14)

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When I was younger, my Mom was constantly looking for ways for my sister and me to eat more vegetables. She found a recipe for a new kind of mashed potatoes and gave it a try. All she needed to do was boil a cauliflower, mash it up, put a few spices in it, add butter, and voila! Mashed potatoes! Sitting at the table with a mound of what looked like mashed potatoes on my plate, Mom did everything in her power to convince us that these “potatoes” were no different than the kind we were used to. It didn’t smell like mashed potatoes, though. Reluctantly, I took one bite and loved it. But I knew this food wasn’t mashed potatoes. She couldn’t TRICK me.

I have seen, heard and read over the past several months many instances where adults have articulated that Arts in the classroom, or Arts integration, helps TRICK students into learning. Ive read it, Ive seen promotional videos where donors say it, Ive heard the term in conversation, and I’m sure I’ve even used this term at some point.

But this word TRICK is bothering me.

If we get used to equating what teachers, teaching artists, and artists do for students with a kind of witchcraft, then we are undermining the basic truth that Art in the classroom has an essential place there. By stating that students are being TRICKED into learning, not only are we apologizing for our work, but worse, were implying that theres some sort of secret we must keep from students. Why do adults seem to believe that if students know they are learning that somehow the learning will stop? Can it be that these same adults might have a hard time believing that the process of learning can be fun, different, difficult, challenging, new and exciting? This viewpoint implies that most learning is not fun, not different, and not exciting. I mean, isn’t that the hope of every teacher, teaching artist and artist out there- that his/her students are excited about learning, no matter the subject- and no matter the pathway?

Many of you understand the power of the Arts in the classroom, but this particular topic is important. There is no doubt that our field struggles when it comes to articulating a common vision to outside stakeholders. How do you make the case that the Arts are a cosmic connective tissue, linking the human experience with learning across age and gender, in a language the general public, business leaders, donors, and even school administrators will understand? It seems for many, the easiest argument is to say it’s a TRICK. We’re TRICKING those students into learning. Who doesn’t understand that? I need my son and daughter to eat more vegetables, and so I’ll TRICK them into believing this mound of cauliflower is actually mashed potatoes!

Mashed-Potatoes-with-Cauliflower-and-Roasted-Garlic

Amazingly, young people inherently know that Art belongs in the classroom. They don’t need to be convinced because, just like you and me, they live this kind of learning every day. What young person out there doesn’t want to be heard, understood and challenged in his/her own way?

My concern is with the word many adults seem to be selecting: TRICK. Humans use Art in its many forms to make essential connections to complex concepts. We need to. The human being uses Art to grow, to feel, to articulate, to have a voice in the world, to empathize. More importantly, Art assists that growth by co-piloting our journey through life. We develop complex friendships, articulate basic needs, gain emotional maturity, take risks, learn new things, and love. We cannot dumb down this power by calling what we believe to be an essential component to becoming a successful, contributing member of society a TRICK.

This is not a TRICK. This is not magic, witchcraft, or an accident. This is human. This is our identity.

So, let’s stop calling this vibrant pathway of learning a TRICK. This isn’t the mashed potatoes all of us have gotten used to it’s cauliflower. I know it and you know it- and guess what? It’s wonderful! Lets find other words to describe the deliberate immersion of the Arts into students’ lives- both personal and academic. If we don’t, I think the only people we’ll be fooling are ourselves.


 

Gary Minyard

Gary Minyard is the Director of Education & Engagement at Victoria Theatre Association in Dayton, Ohio (and AATE’s President-Elect). He is an award-winning director, educator, and movement choreographer, having studied at the University of Houston, Arizona State University and the L'École Internationale de Théâtre Jacques Lecoq in Paris.


 
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