Thursday, January 20, 2011

give and take

After my dreams of underground rock cult band fandom and starting an awesome Dischord/pre-lame-o-SubPop record label were shattered by the cold reality of lacking mad songwriting skills and business sense, I had dreams of being a high school art teacher, the kind with prints by amazing artists on the walls, a chaotic yet creative environment where awesome music would be playing at all times, where misunderstood kids could express themselves and all the other cliches brought on by even a sparse knowledge of cinema. Of course, I could've have ended up like this too, which would have been sad.

Instead, I majored in English, minored incompletely in art, and did a year of library school and get irritated when people say "Oh you must feel so accomplished to have a master's degree" because so far it's been worthless and almost kept me from getting employment in the first place.

I knew I'd get burned out if I had stayed in art school land or went into the bureaucratic hell that is education anywhere, and let the teacher side out in other areas, which has led to scam-tastic part time gigs where the pay was good but the overlords a particular kind of evil, and general volunteerism that resulted in getting profoundly burned out by being one typical naive cracker attempting to singlehandedly help an entire refugee community.

I soon realized that there were just too many people, that I was enabling instead of empowering, and that being female and unattached meant that I was still considered a rather grown-up kid who had a driver's license but ultimately wasn't taken seriously and there's a difference between helping your kid with homework and helping you with incomprehensible bureaucratic paperwork and giving you rides to places that you can walk to.

So I jumped back into tutoring realm today, doing a couple hours each month in the mornings I go to work late at a tiny charter school around the corner that works with kids that the school system has pretty much given up on. I don't believe that one system of education is the ultimate, having bounced through every educational structure available, but I like what I see here, a kind of rich creative chaos... books that are actually interesting, the basics that one needs to function, and then the good stuff I thrived on as a kid, jars with specimens of bugs and such, the walls covered with Calvin and Hobbes comics, science diagrams, masterpieces of artwork, sayings of Martin Luther King.

They do art and literature in the mornings and math/science/social studies in the afternoon and this morning, each kid got one-on-one time. The other volunteers are high schoolers from Ignatius, college kids from Oberlin, and retirees who decide to share their skills with the next generation.

He introduces me to the kids and tells them that I got arrested once which evidently establishes some street cred or something because they were all much more interested at that point. I get to work one-on-one with three kids at different levels and the see the excitement that comes when poetry isn't just something you read but something that you understand and relate to.

I pulled up pictures of fiddleheads and lichens when we talked about a nature poem, attempted to explain what being on a boat feels like when reading 'Wynken, Blynken and Nod,' told stories about Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad and how it wasn't just history that happened somewhere else, that it cut through Cleveland and Oberlin too.

At the same time, it's the best feeling in the world to see one girl read a Gwendolyn Brooks poem about feeling trapped in the city and longing for the country and tell me that's how she and her mom felt when the lived in the projects around the corner, and then to struggle through names like Penelope and Agamemnon to see her get hooked on Greek mythology. I never learned this stuff in grade school until my mom taught me a few years and was stuck reading boring readers full of stupid didactic stories about not doing drugs or something.

Three hours went by like nothing and this is why I loved majoring in literature, because it encompasses everything about the world, with a creative window onto infinite cultures and perspectives and periods of time and history and science and religion of all types. Unlike people I was in grad school with, I don't think that teens need to read about themselves or Gossip Girl all the time. If you give them something more culturally rich and make it interesting, it'll be so much better for everyone.

1 comment:

Randal Graves said...

See if they'll let you show the old Harryhausen Clash with the late, great Burgess Meredith. Very educational.