Friday, April 11, 2008

Your Daughter is a Dancer

Many of you may be familiar with Sir Ken Robinson and his powerful thoughts about the future of creativity in our world. If you have seen his TED talk, which is a must (Really, see it now if you haven’t.), then you are familiar with the story about the young girl who had trouble sitting still in her class. Her principal called her mother in for a conference and, in a rather eloquent way, informed her that her daughter was a dancer. I’ll try not to spoil it for those of you that haven’t already seen it. Suffice it to say that this week I had one of those moments in my classroom.

Frequently I worry that I might be the major factor in a child’s life that could potentially keep them from pursuing their hearts desire. This year I have had a student, who on more than one occasion has pushed my patience to its edge. She is not at grade level, frequently her attitude pushes other children away from her, her mother has enabled her for fear of hurting or damaging her self esteem, and completing anything, and I mean anything, takes longer than one would think humanly possible.

Today I had a parent bring in a special snack for our class in honor of her daughter’s birthday. One of the young men in my class volunteered to sing happy birthday for her, so I took the liberty of jovially putting him on the spot. It was all in good fun, and inevitably he laughed himself back to his seat in a slight fog of embarrassment. Of course when there is any possibility of limelight, you’ll find that multiple students, frequently ones that you might never have expected, will jump out into the forefront.

As I was weeding them back to their seats several of my students pushed to have my difficult student remain as a standout. In all of the din, I elected, simply, to sit back and see what would come. It was very quiet at first, but then her voice found footing, and I found myself quietly... amazed. Here was power and confidence. Justified confidence bubbling over.

I thought of the multiple conferences that I have had with her mother. All of the interventions and strategies, the hand wringing and frustration, and this child in the midst of it all. Clearly frustrated. Her own patience worn terribly thin because, how long can you be told that you are not doing what you should be doing before you give up. What should be a reasonable expectation for our students when it comes to reflecting on what we have deemed to be their shortcomings. How do you show perseverance to someone who struggles to read the word, or better yet, in this student’s case, refuses to write it for fear that she will inevitably misspell it.

Were it not for the current state of education, I would have called mom, this afternoon to set up a conference. At the conference I would have shown mom, what it is likely that she already knows. “Ma’am, your daughter is a singer. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?”

Sadly I cannot do this.

Though I am sure that mom would be very appreciative of the compliment for her daughter, we live in a world of high stakes expectations. Her mother lives in a world that has told her again and again that, for her daughter to succeed, she must meet a specific set of criteria. For her daughter to succeed, she must expect to attend college. Success will be achieved if her daughter is able to command an assessment that proves something to someone somewhere. There is no measure for creativity. There will be no benchmark that qualifies an individual for college because they can paint an impressive landscape.

And so here I am. Up late at night on a Friday, pondering the notion of my own failures for this child, who I fear is set on a path to failure. Sometimes it makes it difficult to sleep.

* * *

For those of you who are interested, Ken Robinson has a book out currently titled:
Out of Our Minds: Learning to Be Creative
I am currently reading it, and yes, it is as powerful as his talk.

“You say you want a revolution...” -- John Lennon 1968

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