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Cheerios
Eating cereal with finger-taped sticks. Cheerios diversity class.

Dear Kim,

Although it is not unilaterally the case, there is something compelling about your assertion that we are how we believe that others see us.

We were talking about that in the office just today. One of our current projects is to teach a playwriting project at an inner city high school .Working with VSA, a disability arts organization,we are focusing on disability as a way of finding story lines for the play as well as to help the students to learn more about that culture.

Last year, we taught the class at an elementary school. This year, we thought it would be interesting to teach the class at a high school and to see what it would be like to work with the students at that level.

The experience has been eye opening.

Last year, the home room teacher yelled at the kids and described various classes to us as "good" and "bad."

This year, our teaching artists were warned that the project has little chance of success. This one was a troublemaker, that one was not very bright, etc., etc. In other words, our experience was prescribed for us on some level before it even happened. And the kids were categorized and put into boxes that left little room for growth or individuation.

Much to her credit, Sarah who works full time at Uppity saw this dismissal of the kids as a kind of gauntlet. She has spent hours designing fun exercises to stimulate the kids and make things more interactive. We brought in members of The DisAbility Project to talk with them. We did a simulation, taping popsicle sticks to their hands and asking them to try to eat a bowl of cereal. And rather than focus on a more traditional style of writing by using pen and paper, we have been doing story circles and improvisation to emphasize a natural and easy orality.

It is working.

But Sarah comes back to the office dispirited by what she sees going on and the prevailing attitudes of much of the staff at the school. I tell her there is a world of difference between working full time at a school for years and teaching one class. That the teachers have their own experience and perceptions which for them may be valid. They are most often overworked, underpaid, dealing with situations in which there is often little parental support and a lot of economic stress. And many are burnt out.

Sarah is on the side of the kids. She says that if the teachers are burnt out and communicating expectations for failure, they should leave.

Her argument is a compelling one. This kids have been doing great work with her and Jackie. Because they are well prepared and inventive in their teaching practice. But also because they believe and expect the kids to do well. Because that is how they see them.

Later,
Joan
Thursday, Dec 15, 2005
12:01 AM

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