This past weekend, I had the opportunity to fulfill a wish of mine I have had for several years. I got to be a bell ringer for the salvation army. It was amazing! The temperature was dropping to single digit wind chills, The first snowflakes of the year fell and I got to see people's generosity and kindness up close and personal.
The day raised money for the Salvation Army's benevolent services but it also brought out a few unexpected observations. It all began with a phone call I had with an old and dear friend. He sardonically quipped "Prepare to be disappointed in humanity" at my revealing of my new adventure. It made me sad, because not only was I NOT disappointed (people were awesome, generous and funny) but his reaction to volunteering was to assume the worst. To be fair, he has had some tough times as of late. Those times can challenge even the brightest of spirits not to give in to cynicism. The second reaction came from a man I do not know on Facebook. He commented on my post about how fun it was to be able to do this, that the Salvation Army was homophobic and I was supporting hate. Seriously, hate by raising money for the poor? I asked him to find me a perfect company that offended noone so that I could volunter for them. No reply as of yet but I'm sure he is working hard to find one for me. (wink)
As I was standing and ringing the bell, I had two hours to think. Being a teacher, husband, father and artist doesn't always give me lots of time to do this so I was loving it. I was looking at the Salvation Army motto "Doing the Most Good" and it got me thinking about the work we do in the classroom. Some of my ancestors were in the Knights Templar, protecting pilgrims from harm on their travels to the Holy Land. I have always looked at the roll of teaching in a similar light. I am trying to inspire kids to fight for their own futures. To have a chance to succeed and perhaps to rise above their childhood circumstances. We were told when I was first hired, 12 years ago, that you can't save them all. True. But unfortunately many people have become like my real and Facebook friend, cynical or overly critical of the problems in education.
It's true, there are lots of problems. A lack of funding, a lack of respect or understanding of what art teachers do, poverty and entitlement mindset in out kiddos, all making the job even harder. But NONE of that matters. In the end, I think the Salvation Army has it right. DO THE MOST GOOD! This is what we can do. It is what motivates us to smile at that disrespectful student who yelled at you the day before. It is this goal that makes us not give up when fellow teachers or administrators seem to have no concern or support for our programs. The arts have the potential to open minds and change a kid's life. Not just the artistic student but every student has the opportunity to understand that their ideas matter. What they love, are interested in, and care about is IMPORTANT! That is a powerful message for any child. But think about it in the minds of our underpriveledged or oppressed kids.
This is why, after 12 years of teaching I decided to switch to the TAB based classroom. It allows me to do more good by empowering KIDS to see the wonder in themselves. It lets them have truly meaningful and authentic art experiences in the classroom. It teaches tham that they can accomplish anything if they put in the effort, even something difficult like making art. It validates the meaning in their ideas and in their own culture (whether ethnic or pop in nature). They are amazing, with brilliant ideas and strong opinions but they need guidance. That is what we do. We help them to channel that energy in meaningful ways to produce awesome works of art. If we are lucky, they may even learn a thing or two about themselves and their place in the world.
You may not be able to save them all. But don't for a minute allow yourself to slip into cynicism or criticalness because of it. You the art teacher (heck, any teacher for that matter) have the opportunity to save a life. That is pretty cool in my book. Just keep your eyes on the big picture and realize that doing the most good is way better than doing no good at all.