29 April, 2009

Curriculum of compassion

In Japan they stress conformity with almost a pathological strictness; they have a saying "the nail that stands out will be hammered down". In the animal world, predators look for the standout weakling - the old, the young, the lame or sick - to cull. But we are evolving beyond our animal nature and it is the "different" people - the smart, the compassionate, the gentle, the dreamer - who will save us from ourselves. Being warriors, grunts and conformists has served us reasonably well for several million years, but now we're strong enough and big enough to have fouled our own nest. Humanity ain't gonna fly unless we start acting with clear, rational thought, not herd mentality. This means that the nonconformists - the meek - shall indeed inherit the earth. We can start by giving them the respect they deserve, and teaching our children it's wrong to bully those who are different.

I'm weird and I'm proud. Get used to it.

05 April, 2009

Fascism, Free Press, and Digital News

I am sometimes struck with the realization that, if our "press" dies and information is all relegated to the digital realm, and our freedom of the press is what keeps government honest, then fascism will have a huge advantage if it owns all the power sources. Also if all our art becomes digital art, and the plug is pulled....


02 April, 2009

Success of the Imagination: Funding art in schools

Adapted from a letter I emailed to our new secretary of education.

The US Government's lack of preparation against the Sept. 11 attacked was made possible by what the Commission called "a failure of the imagination." A lack of access to creativity in our younger generation will lead to negative consequences: social disconnection, low graduation rates, underemployment, and a myriad of unknown roads left untraveled, brilliant ideas unrealized, beautiful realities left fallow. Failure of the imagination on a massive scale. I propose you take this moment to foster the success of the imagination.

I am an actively volunteeering elementary-school parent in Alameda, CA. Our budget has been cut repeatedly, like that of other districts. Alameda is one of the districts suffering doubly because, when our military based closed, we lost Federal funding. This funding has never been made up by the State of California. Add the un-funded testing pressure and draconian mandates of the ridiculous of No Child Left Behind... and most of our children ARE being left behind in an essential way: exposure to and practice of creativity. Although my concerns lie primarily with my home district, I realize this is a statewide problem; we teach the rote and expect a problem-solver. We teach to the test and expect a thinker. As first graders struggle under the thumb of pre-algebra, and fourth-graders are impaled nightly on the shiny pin of 5-page sociology reports, we neglect the very thing that makes school bearable: avenues to explore creativity, expression, and new ideas. Having presented the problem, I'd love to be part of offering a solution: an urgent request that you make a priority to fund arts education in all schools.

My daughter's school, Otis Elementary, has a very active PTA. One of our best efforts is the Art Docent program, where parents come into the classroom and impart lessons to the children about art history and world culture. Children are guided into their own interpretation of the medium, and make their own message. In my 5 years as a docent, I've had many children light up when they see me, clamoring: "are we doing art today?". I've had kids who are not allowed to "make a mess" at home show true joy and enthusiasm and pride in their amazing creations. I've seen kids shine who are frequently seen as trouble-makers or struggle with poor academic achievement. Since different kids have different learning styles, these small successes can help turn things around.

My PTA is not the norm. A number of schools in our district have no art docent program; no art at all aside from "cut out the blue square, paste near the red triangle". Supplies are limited; there is no exposure to different art forms and cultures; there is minimal creativity, there is not much of anything that would make a kid want to show up to school every day. And it's primarily an issue of funding: poor parents, no PTA funding, underserved students. I'm sure that, outside of our district, the same line of demarcation falls: kids of the working poor get the short end of the stick (or the dry end of the paintbrush). Their parents have no time to volunteer and may have language and educational barriers to helping out. Their parents may not have much understanding of art, and they may not value the creative thinking and problem-solving that art brings to the intellectual table. Their parents may even fear (like my Irish immigrant parents did) that studying art, music, theater, or dance means setting yourself up for a life of poverty. But in a culture that values the arts, a lucrative career is possible - at times in the animation industry, I've made more money per year than my father - an insurance sales executive. Ever single item you see around you was created, sold, and packaged by someone. Every movie you watch, every note you listen to, every book you read... artistic products. The arts fuel our economy; yet we give our children little training in artistic expression. We have no idea what these kids could do, because they barely have access to the concepts, let alone the materials.

I think that these under-served, frustrated kids deserve better. In these economic times I know it's hard to get funding for the arts, but with creative thinking, unexpected avenues open: teaching artists will often work for a reasonable stipend, materials can be donated, parents can be mentored to help not only their own children but those who share their classrooms and neighborhoods; teachers can access tools and support to easily integrate arts education with relevant curriculum.

If you fund the arts in schools, everyone wins. If you don't, everyone loses. Please use your own mind creatively, and give arts funding a high priority in the educational budget.

The Door is Open

I took this phrase from two sources:
the U2 song "Gloria", and my favorite Rumi poem:

"The Breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you
Don't go back to sleep
you must ask for what you really want
Don't go back to sleep
People are going back and forth
Across the doorway where the two worlds touch
The door is round, and open
Don't go back to sleep"

I have spent a fair amount of my life wide awake and dreaming, other times sleeping where my dreams were so vivid I wanted to go back and figure out how to make them real. How do I bring dreams into the waking world - dreams of creativity, of joy, of peace, of fun? How to take the shadow of my psyche and use it to heal myself and others instead of hurt?

I have eclectic taste - possibly insane taste - ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. I like silly humor more than I like sarcasm. I have a lifelong interest in why the heck the world is the way it is... cause and effect? G/d/s? Quarks? Who knows. Even if I thought I knew, that would be faith. The intersection between faith and knowledge - a dangerous and blurry place.

As the Firesign Theater states ".... a force that can only be used for good... or evillllll..." but I don't remember what they were talking about, was it a time machine?

I'm blessed with brilliant and creative friends; you'll find links to their blogs, art and ideas here. I'll add my own art and interests as time permits. Daring to put ourselves out there is one of the greatest challenges many artists face. Creating is easy, sometimes it happens all by itself. Communicating... hard.