Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Buzz in the Room

There is a rhythm to the days that has me in its embrace. The morning routine, the three hours of inspired teaching, a rare and welcome two-hour lunch break back in my hotel room that includes a short mid-day dive back into my novel. And then back to the next three hours of pure joy. The rhythm of this schedule builds and has me feeling like I’m hitting my stride, it carries me along and each day, new ideas, new revelations, new “A-ha’s” from myself and the students alike.

Years of doing this work has me attuned to the tone of the room. The exuberance of small-group creation, the thoughtful silence when I lecture, the deeper silence if I recite a poem (this in the English-speaking situations), the pleasant murmur of the Orff Ensemble playing its elemental lovely music. But today, I released a new sound in the room which had the air abuzz with such a spirited and joyful energy.

Their “homework” last night was to bring back some traditional Chinese children’s games. During en earlier discussion, one woman lamented that it was hard to find them these days. I suggested interviewing the grandmothers. But judging from the games people brought, I’d say that this generation of young teachers seemed to know a healthy repertoire.

But back to the buzz. While they were practicing, there was a new feeling in the room. I suspect three reasons why:

1)   Dealing with the new material in different languages with new ideas of how to develop the material, the class has been enthusiastic, open and engaged. But the brain can only take so much novelty before it longs for the familiar and now here they were, back in their home language, in their home culture, some playing a game they knew as children and all the pleasure that brought back. To put it simply, no matter how open we are and excited about the gifts of other places, peoples and cultures, there’s no place like home.

2)   The excitement of sharing games that their classmates knew added to the bubbling effervescence in the room. They were re-joined with their fellow classmates/ country-people. Though China actually is quite multi-cultural with various ethnic groups and particularly people in Shanghai often come to the city from another place, still the connections between them is much stronger than an American group of hyphenated Americans. The sense of shared identity was palpable.

3)   Finally, that mysterious thing I feel so strongly of the presence of Ancestors when the old songs, dances and games are brought up. It’s hard to feel them in the mall, on TV or even in the Asian jazz club, but they were there in the workshop room today, adding a presence that was like a hidden melody in the buzz and chatter in the room.

Truth be told, I don’t what the heck I’m doing bringing this work to some 48 different cultures, each with their own definition of culture, community, education, the child and the human being. All I can offer is my own vision of each thing in that list above and if it resonates with someone, all well and good. If not, that’s fine too. But by offering joyful, welcoming, affirming experiences, there’s a chance people can feel from the inside what I’m advocating for in the work with children. I want them to question their culture’s assumptions, their own assumptions, widen their viewpoint and expand their vision. But the starting and ending point is affirming the beautiful parts of their culture and the beautiful parts of their culture inside them.

And sometimes just playing children’s games is enough to do that very thing.

(Feb. 7)

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