After small groups created a dance to a Slovenian song, we sat down to discuss the details of how we arrived at a satisfying creative experience. The guiding principles and steps that are the very themes of my new book I’m still working on between 40 miles of biking or six hours of teaching a day. But just like my biking trip, we found ourselves leaving the main road of flat, tarmacked riding along with the crowd and working our way through the dirt-pathed back woods where too few venture to travel.
In short, a question came up, how I don’t remember, as to how such a child-like, mean-spirited, ignorant human being could have risen to the top position of power in my country. And why is he still there after such proven incompetence and determination to feed our worst selves and topple the pillars of democracy? Something we’re all trying to understand.
Being a teacher talking with teachers, I focused on the failure of our educational system to create citizens capable of critical thought, caring, compassion and knowledge of history. Even though Canada has a different history from the U.S., there is much in common (treatment of native peoples) and much that is simply universal—power, privilege, money taking priority over people, justice, environmental economics. The conversation bounced back and forth between what is and never should have been (our past history) and what yet might be (our future possibility). Many inspiring stories were shared, like the boy who was bullied for wearing a pink T-shirt to school and some classmates bought 20 pink T-shirts and wore them in solidarity the next day.
The conversation went on for one hour. I repeat. One hour! In most places I teach in the United States, people would be shuffling uncomfortably or getting angry that we weren’t talking about Monday’s lesson plan, thinking that they had come to the workshop just to get some “cool stuff” and why did they have to think about the greater dimensions of what we’re training our children to know, to think, to feel, to imagine. For this willingness and interest, I praise Canada! They seemed to understand that our detour is actually the main road of our profession, much more important than the 4 steps of teaching a cool folk dance (though that’s definitely an important part of the conversation). Some of the points from our courageous conversation:
Important lessons from history
Watch out for people in power who are:
• Purposely manufacturing fear to protect power and privilege.
• Purposely promoting ignorance to keep people uninformed.
• Serving money over morality.
• Duping people who they’re marginalizing to convince them they’re part of the winning team (The history of creating “whiteness.”)
• Tell the stories from all sides. Incude what the history books
and mainstream news leaves out.
• Change the narrative that excuses and normalizes atrocities and brutality.
• Create opportunities for proximity, getting to know the “others” by working
and playing together.
• Humanize abstractions and euphemisms. Give a face and name to people
killed under the heading of “collateral damage”
• Teach children the importance of speaking out, advocacy, being an ally.
• Learn to connect history’s lessons to current times.
• Look for and praise the beauty in each child so that they don’t feel a need
to insult, harm or hurt others.
I’m writing this on the 4thof July, when our fear-inducing “leader” is bringing out the tanks to celebrate, defining our independence as military power instead of visionary thinking, I’m ashamed that I had to go to Canada to have conversations like these. Of course, more and more of my fellow Americans, Orff teachers and beyond, are stepping up and at the same time that I’m critiquing us, I want to affirm and encourage the growing number of people waking up and speaking up and taking action. Of which perhaps the most important is to think about how to bring the children into this all.
And now back to Step 3 of our Slovenian dance.