Saturday, April 7, 2012

Teaching as Preaching

How come we don't build public schools with the attention to beauty and serenity that goes into the architectural design of places of worship? I've always wondered that. 

Meanwhile, I was listening to a podcast by Alain de Botton, called Atheism 2.0. (I love TED Talks!) de Botton, really feels that teachers, museum curators and anyone working to educate the public, can learn a lot from religions and how they operate, because many religions do a brilliant job of relaying their message in a convincing way, teaching, organizing and inspiring people. Many religions use ritual and routine, and repetition as a way to draw their congregations to their teachings. 
And then I was like "Hey! I always try to do that!" Teachers and Preachers, we have more than a little bit in common, I think. 

For example, whenever I hear African American Spirituals, or New Orleans Jazz or a Baptist congregation singing and clapping as their way of praising the Lord, I get all choked up, and feel the music resonate on an emotional level, and I'm not African American or a Baptist. Or when I walk into a Buddhist temple, remove my shoes and sit quietly in front of the shrine and listen to the monks chant in Tibetan, I feel and appreciate the essence of what they honor even though I don't speak Tibetan and am not a Buddhist. I am drawn into the experience via a passionate, sincere delivery, thoughtful attention to atmosphere, environmental design and a positive group dynamic. Isn't that what effective teachers try to do and create for their students? 

Sometimes I wondered how much I could get away with creating what I like to call a "Peaceful Place" in my oh-so-secular little public school art studio, since a lot of my inspiration came from my experiences in Buddhist and Jewish temples, Muslim Mosques, Christian cathedrals and churches and non-demonminational places of worship. (oh--if I didn't mention it before..I was raised Unitarian Universalist or UU!)The chime I use to gather children's attention isn't affiliated with any church bell, that I know of. The small table I have near my rocking chair has objects of interest and beauty on it to attract the children's attention and interest, but it's not a Buddhist or Hindu shrine. The art and messages around the room speak of world peace, the beauty of nature, friendship and good citizenship, the bright colorful drawings on the windows are not stained glass (although that would be really pretty! Hmmm...idea for a lesson...?)

I studied and taught as a Montessori teacher and know that Maria Montessori, a devout Roman Catholic, scientist and Doctor (and little bit of a rebel), based her philosophy of educating young children on a belief that you didn't need to force education upon a child, but that integrated into a child's spiritual nature was a hunger to grow and learn... and all we (teachers) have to do is to create an environment (we are a part of that environment) that nurtures and supports this innate desire. I really like that. That underlying attitude is what attracted me to Montessori education, because it requires you to have faith in children.

It's really hard for me not to notice that so much of the art that comes out of young children, unbidden, is truly about love, joy, faith and humanity.

The great thing about teaching little ones is you get a lot of "love notes" but this one from kindergartener "A" really caught me off guard. No picture, just the simple words, in an envelope, on my desk. He's in 5th grade now...I am debating on whether to show this to him, or spare him the mortification.

Children express so much in their art. Emotional nuance through color, composition, subject.  I think this sun expresses such a lovely serenity!

This is a painting inspired by the life and work of William H. Johnson.
I'm sharing this because it illustrates how art and learning about the lives of artists can inspire young children. This student seems to respond to his art in compassionate, empathetic way, even though I never told the kids that his end of life was pretty tragic. 

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