There is no shortage of irony here.
I am striving to bring interactive creativity and fun into places where these things are spoken of highly but rarely practiced; myself, creative, yes, but not having much fun.
The program I’ve already implemented is capable of injecting some encouraging news into the depressing discussion of American education, the non-discussion of real participatory democracy; I am a marginal participant not actively discussing the issue with anyone who cares.
The program is therapeutic, I saw haggard women with chronic disease transformed into laughing girls at the end of our sessions; it gratified me, but, burdened with logistics, I was not laughing with them.
I’ve solved dozens of logistical and psychological problems so far, though some very large, possibly insoluble, ones remain. With the best of intentions, as I try to maintain my focus on promoting this inclusive, participatory program, I have somehow become a kind of hanging judge.
Nuance has become harder for me to discern; holding multiple truths in mind, and choosing the one that casts the best light– not always possible. I listen to the prosecutor making his relentless case, nod my unsmiling head. Fine, I think, give the guy the chair, let the Court of Appeals worry about it, there are many worse tragedies happening everywhere. Bang the gavel, next case.
I’m not always able to refrain from doing what was so hateful to me watching my father do it: reducing a person to the sum of his faults. We are flawed, all of us, and gracefully accepting the flaws of others is an important part of being a decent person. Whipping a fucking goat? Really? I take pride in not being the sort of person who inflicts harm, particularly on those with limitations. Lately I couldn’t rest until I’d given a particular animal a hard kick in the ribs. The thing was perhaps less than perfectly thoughtful, or even characteristically oblivious, but in either case, why the need to kick it?
The seventh stage of Erik Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development is called Generativity vs. Stagnation. Being productive, successful and involved in the world during the middle and later stages of adulthood versus being isolated and removed from the world, dogged by feelings of failure and hopelessness. The eighth and final stage, Integrity vs. Despair, takes place at the end of life, looking back, when one feels satisfied at a life well and authentically lived or is bitter and full of regrets.
I embarked on a project of encouraging expression, using free play as an educational strategy. I undertook this ambitious project knowing nothing about how to plan and build a business, how to run an HR department, how to secure funding to hire professionals needed for several live or die jobs. I have no connections or friends who can fill these gaps.
The program is a success, as far as implementing it in five minutes anywhere, as far as how easily it does what it purports to do. The student-run workshop vindicated my best hopes for how it would work. The creativity and competencies of young kids, and ailing adult women, for that matter, exceeded my expectations. Yet, not having a network of people in a position to participate productively… so far enforced stagnation.
Those who don’t understand what I am striving for, or who take no interest in it, who now quite sensibly avoid the subject, I can’t help thinking of as partial jerks, even as I know I have only a passing interest in all the details of their working lives. I was surprised and touched when a hard-working friend took a few moments to enquire about the progress of my program a couple of months ago. I told him the program itself, curriculum and all, works smoothly and wonderfully wherever we’ve done it, and that now I am focused on packaging, promoting and selling it.
I described my initial hope– that kids would work together to produce original animation in a workshop setup where adults would set things in motion and step back as children learn and teach each other. This big taste of autonomy fosters students’ confidence, brings out peer-mentoring and leadership skills. It has happened quickly every place we’ve done the workshop, about a hundred times so far.
Now that the program itself works smoothly, I told my friend, I am wrestling with the crucial tasks of packaging and promoting it. I told him I’m optimistic that someone in di Blasio’s administration would be quite interested in the presentation that I have recently put together, that is just about ready to roll.
He told me he now understands the important goals I set for the program, the workshop’s many great applications. He said he was impressed by how well thought out it was, acknowledged the tremendous amount of work I’d done and the ingeniously simple design of the program. He wished me success, strength to my arm and told me he agreed that di Blasio’s people would be very interested in a program capable of producing a cadre of peer-teachers entering Middle School.
This reaction was as wonderful as it was rare. We have but one measure of success in our society and until friends read about the program in a NY Times piece, or hear a well-crafted moment about it on NPR, it is a dream I am dreaming alone as I sleep my fitful sleep.
One more note in the polyphony of my imperfect sleep: my attempts to avoid bitterness in old age seem ironic to me much of the time these days. These attempts are hampered by the difficulty of living by words I have written on pages many times with various calligraphy pens, words I must inscribe in my heart as I find ways to become more actively and productively involved in the world: cultivate mindful empathy. Everybody we encounter is fighting a hard battle against killer odds. Just because somebody almost never keeps their word, for example, is no reason to write off the rest of their virtues.
Now, if you will excuse me, there are some kittens in the garden I have to go be sarcastic to.