So what is this book?
It is more than one book, actually.
The subject of each has been dictated by the world, each book is needed to demonstrate my point. These are entwined but distinct points that need to be separated out. Let me try to disentangle and prioritize them, make them less abstract, seem less the ravings of a madman.
Book One — to convince the reader of the obvious: how important careful listening, participating and empathetic feedback are in learning. Make the case for why I care about these things so deeply, why others should too.
This is a fraught book, perhaps more than the others. It is a do or die attempt to sell, more than my name or skills, a big idea I’ve already invented the machine to demonstrate and have put into practice dozens of times in classrooms in New York City.
The world has largely moved away from these quaint values of care and appreciation, at least on a mass level. If I’d make a business out of helping kids learn these old-time, hand-made type skills, I have to tell the story in a way that will engage and excite. I need to find the way to inspire a creative and caring sector of a world that values, far above everything else it also espouses, competition and the metrics of who is wining and who sucks.
Until I find the way to tell this story compellingly enough to get it funded, or finally give it up as a bad job and find something else to do, I continue to lose the only competition everyone readily understands. Quicksand, my friends, in which I swim in extreme slow motion.
Book one, the detailed and compelling case for wehearyou.net, (or whatever you want to call it) an interactive workshop where public school kids’ imaginations run the show as they work together to master the interlocking skills needed to produce original stop-motion animation. This is clearly the hardest of the three books to write.
There are two easier ones that come to mind– the easiest would lay out the devilish details, fleshed out by memory and imagination where the world has wiped away all trace, of the destruction of the roots and trunk of my family tree by centuries-deep hatred that finally had the technology to carry out its ultimate goal– killing every last one of the fuckers, everyone like me.
This had happened before, has happened many times since, has tangled roots and a million implications. It has haunted me since I learned of it as a boy, applies over and over as we read the news today. Who gives a shit about this story? Probably a few middle class people here and there. It is a story that will mostly have to wait, it would appear, or show up as a long article in some journal somewhere, along with my research into the unfathomably sad, sick history of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.
The third book is the tip of the iceberg, really, the iceberg itself being the preceding book. Or, picture, instead of the iceberg, the fruit of the destroyed tree, if you prefer another cliché. To understand how somebody of great intelligence, humor and charm can act like a cornered rat, lash out viciously at loved ones, you need to picture the exact circumstances that put the rat into his dreaded corner. This would be the most interesting of the three, perhaps, and require the least by way of imagination.
But let me tell you a little story that might be the best way to set the stage for the first book, the story of my most tangible real-world quest.
In a region of Italy ravaged by World War Two, in a village called Reggio Emilia, the first thing the parents built, when peace finally returned, was a school. This school was built in a charred landscape, for children who had known only war. The parents wanted a better world for their children and their first priority was imbuing these poor devils with a love of life, a deep appreciation of the wonder of creativity and every hope for a beautiful future.
To that end they made the school beautiful, had the children plant and tend a garden to make the blackened earth blossom. When the plants in the garden were cared for, green leaves magically sprouted and their fruits ripened in the sun. These delicious ingredients were harvested and lovingly cooked. Kids and their teachers prepared and ate the things the earth produced, the things they had brought forth from the earth.
Colors, flavors, scents, everything that could excite the senses of young kids was brought into play. The childrens’ excitement guided the things they studied. Adults carefully listening to the children nurtured their creativity, childish intellectual curiosity and everything else that makes students into life long learners.
I was told of this program by a friend who’d encountered it in San Francisco. It reminded her, she said, of my program, since it placed adults listening to children’s ideas and discoveries in the forefront of education. She believed it was now a worldwide movement, that there was probably a Reggio Emilia school or two in New York City.
I was delighted to find a couple in New York City. You will not be surprised to learn who the children in these Reggio Emilia schools are– they are children whose parents can afford the $35,000 a year tuition for their kindergartner.
Below is what Reggio Emilia says about itself (see ruptured appendix 1). Here is what a writer for a major magazine has observed– a fairly obvious point about which children need this humanistic approach to education the most.
Which completely ignores the question of how these creatively engaged kids do on the life or death standardized tests designed by testing corporations to measure learning and guides us back into the crippling cul de sac that I must somehow leap out of if I am to proceed, if my long-stalled program is to go forward. In a world of limited resources, whose children will get the rare, difficult, precious thing and whose children will get the predictable, easier, more crippling one?
If you will excuse me now, I have to go bash fucking City Hall in the face and get back to practicing so I can find my way to Carnegie Hall.
ruptured appendix 1
At the heart of this system is the powerful image of the child. Reggio educators do not see children as empty vessels that require filling with facts. Rather they see children as full of potential, competent and capable of building their own theories.
Children have the right to be … active participants in the organization of their identities, abilities, and autonomy.. . “better citizens of the world”… (this system) also credits children, and each individual child, with an extraordinary wealth of inborn abilities and potential, strength and creativity. Irreversible suffering and impoverishment of the child is caused when this fact is not acknowledged [my emphasis– ed].
“Tell me and I’ll forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I’ll understand.” Chinese Proverb