Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed, 1 Mar 2000 06:37:36 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: The Arts

The sounds, the sights, the movements. For three consecutive classes, the place was swinging. The place was rocking. History had been read, discussed, digested. Now it was put to original lyrics. History was put to music; history was sung. Blues, jazz, coffee house, rap, pop, t.v. themes, reggae, calypso, rock 'n roll, even classical. Drums, guitars, pots and spoons, karioki, synthesizers, tapes, disc, costumes. Supporting and encouraging hand clapping, finger snapping, foot stapping, bodies swaying to a beat, joining in on the chorus, hands rhythmically drifting in the sky. Theater majors, music majors, art majors tapping their talents, abilities, strengths and bringing them into a history class. There were smiles, surprise, laughter, wonderment, appreciation. Wings spread, students soaring. The walls bulged from the pressure of excitement. Students left that classroom with an excited "wait 'til I tell....." on their lips. There was a heck of a lot of learning going on: history, self-exploration, self-discovery, self-expansion.

It was the Bruce Springsteen Project. It's the first in a series of projects by which we learn history. This project is simple. The students in each triad have to read the assigned material, decide what they consider to be an important issue, write and perform a three-minute song containing original substantive lyrics discussing that issue.

After the project was completed, we debriefed and I asked them what they felt and thought: "It was different. At first I thought it was stupid, but I had to understand a lot before we could even think about a song." "It looked simple, but it was anything but simple." "It was a more dangerous place than where I really wanted to be. It would be easier to just read, memorize and take a test." "It was fun, but not really stupid fun. There was a lot of deep stuff going on." "You didn't control us and had faith in us, more than we did ourselves." "I didn't think we had it in us. Maybe that's what scared me at first--not much belief and faith in myself." "Some of us used our talents in other things that we don't normally use in the classroom or outside the Arts Building or our rooms." "Man, there was a lot of creativity in this room!" "Our group found stuff between the lines what we weren't looking for at first." "It was hard being patient with ourselves and each other because we thought it would come quick in a flash." "We had to know the material a heck of lot better to pull this off than if all we had to do was study for a test." "I learned more than history." "Took more damn work than studying for a test or just writing an essay." "It took a lot of discipline to pull it off." "It was a challenge to look at the material in a different way from way I always had." "It was a lot more complicated than it sounded at first."

As I strolled the dark streets this morning, I was thinking a lot of those comments. Since then we have into the Dr Seuss project, the Broadway project and the Madison Avenue project. The student comments held true as I took them into different worlds of expression and expanded their world beyond their accustomed verbal one. We are about to engage in the Salvador Dali project. And, I am nervously thinking about experimenting with the new Nureyev project.

The arts always seem to budget cutters and turf warring departments as a vulnerable, expendable luxury. Unlike brawny, gladitorial sports, the arts come off as "frilly", the sissy emotional world of wimps and high brows that can be sacrificed in the name of fiscal responsibility and professional training. I think it is a shame that when the bean counters pick up their axe, the first thing they chop away are the arts. I think they do it without any reference to an educational philosophy other than an education's purpose is to score high on national tests and make a student potentially more marketable by cramming in as many white collar vocational courses as possible. Yet, I think there is more to the arts than becoming a high brow or acquiring something undefined as culture.

I incorporate the arts in most of our classroom projects, for I have come to believe that the arts are a lot more than scribbling a bunch of lines and paint on paper, more than tooting or strumming or banging out a few sounds, more than saying a few words and making a few gestures. In fact, I have come to believe after watching students use art, music, dance, drama to learn history in the classroom, they learn much more than history. They are exposed to their own wholeness.

Seeing how often students start with an insecure "I can't" and end up with an amazed confident "wow," the arts are a powerful tool in the building of personality and the development of character. Don't think so? Go on an empty stage, stand before a blank canvas, sit in a silent orchesta pit. See how threatening it feels to face that empty canvas and have to fill it with meaningful shapes, lines and color; see how intimidating it feels to fill in time and space with meaningful words, movements, and gestures; see how frightening it feels to fill the silence with a variety of sounds. Think of the challenging questions: what will I choose to create? How will I create it? How will others judge it?

So let me tell you what I think are the values of the arts and for incorporating them into individual courses and into the general curriculum. The arts are a place for individual self-expression; the arts are a place to think, feel, and act creatively; the arts are a place to stimulate and inspire; the arts are a place to create what you visualize; the arts are a place to dream and experiment; the arts are a place to explore; the arts are a place to share what you feel and believe; the arts are a place to learn balance; the arts are a place to gain independence; the arts are a place to put more structure and discipline in a student's life; the arts are a place to put more flexibility and adaptability in a student's life; the arts are a place you can use your body, different senses; the arts are a safe haven for ideas; the arts are a model for teamwork, mutual trust and respect and belief; the arts are a place to be intuitive; the arts are a place to be challenged and to learn about yourself; the arts are a place to develop character; the arts is a place to experience your own originality; the arts are a place to learn about options to solve problems; the arts is a place to sharpen reflection, introspection and expression; the arts are a place to be creative and explore possibilities; the arts are a place to see that there often is no right or wrong answer; the arts are a place to be courageous, to step outside the way you normally think and try new approaches; the arts are a place to express your uniqueness; the arts are a place to learn more about who you are; the arts are a place to learn problem perceiving and problem solving; the arts are a place to be free in spirit and action; the arts are a place to take risks; the arts are a place to explore depth of character and potential.

Now if the arts could be integrated into the curriculum in a lasting engagement......

Make it a good day. 


Louis Schmier           
Department of History    
Valdosta State University
Valdosta, GA  31698                        /~\    /\ /\
912-333-5947                       /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
                                  /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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