I left college teaching so I could teach in juvenile corrections. What I brought was an arts-based approach to teaching and learning–and what developed has been more than a decade of wonderful relationships with incarcerated kids and with staff inside the facility. If it were not for new state and local strictures which actually forbid me from spending any time in arts instruction “inside,” I’d have a hard time actually letting go and retiring. As it is, however, for the last two years, I’ve been censured and restricted from doing any instruction, and particularly and always, arts instruction. It seems that the new fashion is more and more “answer-the-questions” worksheets–as if half a century or more of research has not proven that to be ineffective at best and perhaps harmful at worst. The research shows that arts-based instruction enhances intellectual capacity and creates positive reinforcement for academics–but evidently the juvenile-corrections educational administrations just do not care. I see arts instruction as a way of opening lifelong doors to rehabilitation and permanent change, and the facility staff has always agreed and supported it. I have tried to be compliant with the educational administration, but just weeks before my retirement, I don’t so much care anymore. What are they going to do, fire me? Of course, I still work to support their educational goals by making sure the book work gets done, but at the same time, I always include some kind of art, music, rhythm, movement or other activity.
Last Friday, after several days of learning basic body percussion a la Keith Terry,
which I learned at a Body Percussion Conference a couple of years ago, I showed them a wonderful YouTube video by a favorite group, Molodi, and then I taught them a short sequence I learned during the workshop (a brief disclaimer: it was hard for me to learn everything Molodi taught in the workshop, since most everyone there was under 30 and as you can guess, I am certainly not, but taking such risks is what helps me be a better teacher).
The sequence was a little hard for them, too. We had a good time practicing, laughing, and learning. Afterward, when we settled back down to the books, they started talking to me.
“You can’t retire!” they were saying. “I will give you $100 if you don’t retire! Who is going to teach us if you retire?”
This is about art, music, rhythm, and love. This is about changing lives. This is about relationships. This is sad indeed. But in the long run, retirement is probably the best thing for right now. If you could have been in the meeting where the administrator said, I kid you not, “Teachers, there will be no more teaching!”, then you would know that there is no hope for me left in my juvenile-corrections class. Hopefully after retiring, when we move to warmer climes, I can find another, more supportive venue, to bring the gifts that I have.