Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Rigor and Vigor

What is the big difference between kids and grown-ups? Well, take your pick. My pick today is “energy!” Kids are overflowing with life’s abundant energy, running from one place to another just because. The last time I ran was to try to catch a bus and I was sore for three days afterwards. And missed the bus.

Out in the forest or woods or fields or villages, kids run free like wild horses and it’s all just fine. But put them inside a school building and things start to get weird. “No running in the halls” makes sense given confined space with crowds of bi-peds, but sitting at desks for hours is profoundly natural for all human beings— and especially children. It’s cruel and unusual punishment and why punish children for being themselves?

Is kids’ energy sometimes difficult for adults to handle? If anyone wonders, just ride in a car for three hours with them. (Again, confined space!) So it’s safe to say that parents and teachers and coaches and such need to find a way to maintain their own mental health without murdering the spirit of children. We want kids to feel the full measure of their vigor and we want to find a way for us to enjoy it, for us grown-ups to be inspired and infected by it and reminded to keep our own alive and well.

Enter the arts. The arts are the wild fields through which the child’s natural exuberance can roam freely, leap about with the full force of the imagination and the full energy of their expressive bodies. The arts are the places where the unbridled enthusiasm is given a bridle and saddle so that we can ride the horse of our passion and not be trampled by it. So yes, a bit of taming is in order, but get astride a horse and you feel its wild energy vibrating beneath you, ready to trot, gallop, leap, canter, walk, with you directing the raw impulses.

And so each art form combines a natural vigor with a disciplined rigor. There are scales to be mastered and techniques to be learned and sacrifices to be made to achieve higher levels of expression and control. This is the place where the adult leads the child, showing in their own accomplishment what’s at the end of such delayed gratification.

The sad fact is that schools forever (read Dickens) have tried to beat the child out of the child or damp that vigorous energy down in all sorts of ways. And the results? Well, walk into a school and see how well we have succeeded. Kids whose bodies are dull and unexpressive and voices flat and monotone and emotion dry— at least in the presence of adults. So even Arts in the schools can feel dull and flat, drama teachers exhorting children, those most feeling of creatures, to feel, art teachers encouraging kids to draw beyond the edges of their imagination, music teachers reminding kids that they have bodies that are necessary to the performance. It’s weird. We put them to sleep and then wonder why we can’t awaken them again.

And so a word to schools and teachers. Share your passion and vigor with the kids, enjoy and invite their passion and vigor. At the same time, demand focus and rigor, help kids move from raw impulses to coherent expression. The full range of kids’ energy expressed and celebrated as Rigor and Vigor dance together.  Yeah!

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