Share, Listen, Think

Art in Public Schools

In Art, Education on May 21, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Photo by Hannah Amodeo

Watching Mad Hot Ballroom is an eye-opening experience.  It’s a documentary about the introduction and implementation of a ballroom dance curriculum into a series of New York City public schools in the wake of 9/11.

Watching the faces of the 7th & 8th graders in class, as they learn and execute the steps is revealing and creates compassion for the innocence that’s still there in their little selves and the engagement with the subject matter that is evident.

What is healing and empowering about it?  About the physical expression, the movement?  About the accomplishment?

The grand goal is the end-of-year competition between schools.

Nerves show up, even though they’ve practiced their best.

Other education success stories?

The following movies (one based on an excellent book):

Freedom Writers — The story of a teacher who has her severely at-risk students begin keeping journals.  They explore in class together about the Holocaust, and related issues of judging and hating others because of differences.  Shockingly, only one student in a large class had ever heard before of … the Holocaust.  They are all angry and separated into their racial or otherwise delineated groups.  Writing gives them a chance to express themselves and examine hot topics.

Stand and Deliver — The story of a teacher who expects his disadvantaged students to learn advanced math.  Therefore he puts his gifted all into teaching them, and the majority of them pass their Calculus AP exams with such flying colors that it’s thought they cheated.

Dangerous Minds — The story of a teacher who matches the academic material (chooses quality literature) to students’ lives.  She gives them all an “A” to begin the year with and challenges them to maintain it.  Then does her best to equip them.

A Touch of Greatness — The story of a teacher in the 50’s in Rye, New York who exploded “out of the box,” in the classroom after realizing that he was bored. He proceeded to change his methods.  His quote below:

My first job as a teacher … I realized, ‘I’m not having fun … If I’m not having fun, no one in the room is having fun…’  There seemed to be a disciplinary problem day in and day out … Finally I realized there should be more play during the day.  By that I mean, more learning that is playful.  — Albert Cullum

One of his former students had the following to say:

Children are turned on by greatness, and bored by mediocrity … and so he gave us greatness.  Laurie Heineman – former student of Albert Cullum, 5th grade teacher

In every one of the above examples, the revolutionary teachers met resistance. Significantly, from their own school administrations.  Also, from some fellow teachers who felt resentment or jealousy.

Bonus: For an up-close look at a wonderful teacher as he does his thing in the classroom, there’s the French film To Be & To Have.


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