We are the music makers...

[Ed: Misha Penton is a teaching artist who spent the fall 2009 semester working at Grady Middle School as part of a program sponsored by the Department of Education.  Here's a blog entry she originally posted on her chron.com blog.]

Since I have been in the schools as a teaching artist for HGOco - Houston Grand Opera’s education and community programs department - I’ve stumbled upon some surprising (to me) insights.  I hadn’t expected this teaching experience to be revelatory - I didn’t know what to expect - but it has become an insightful adventure in many ways.

There are several students who are fearless and it is exciting to hear their creative writing explorations come to life when they read before the class.  Others are too shy to read aloud their work, but will come up to me afterwards and say, “What do you think of this?”  And it is amazing work, as well.  But it isn’t about what I think, or what their parents think, or what their teachers think.  It is about what THEY think of the possibility and value of their own ideas.  The arts can teach children that their ideas are valid, that they do not need permission to be expressive, and that ideas can change their perspective.  That’s how we change the world.

I am surprised by the presence of students’ exceptionally loud, Inner Critic.  I know middle school is an age full of awkwardness and inhibition, but there is an underpinning of judgement and fear - of not doing something “right.”  This did not happen overnight, and it’s poison to Imagination and Creativity and toxic to Possibility.  We can teach children without (silently and insidiously) instilling a fear of failure - fear of doing something perceived as “wrong” because everyone around them is judging their “performance.”

If we do not teach children to trust their vision, we will not only discourage future Mozarts and Nureyevs, but we will not have visionaries in any field:  teachers, medical researchers, parents, city planners, technology developers, citizens invested in community…

I remember myself as a child having few inhibitions and a sense of wonder and creativity that I now, as an artist, rely on.  My own creativity is initially fueled by an un-edited process. I simply do not let my Inner Critic have a say in the developmental stages of my work.  Everything becomes a creative possibility.

Our imaginations are where ideas grow.  All sorts of ideas. But to nurture Imagination, we must develop an Imagination Praxis - and for cryin’ out loud, let us not squelch it before the 7th grade or then all is, very truly, lost.

[Ed: Misha has her own work, unrelated to HGOco.  To find out more, feel free to visit her blog.]


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