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The Power of Reflection

This week I was awed by a shared storytelling experience hosted by the Salvation Army in Chattanooga. In A Walk in My Shoes, the stories of local people, many of them homeless, are shared and retold by actors and storytellers. This summary doesn’t really do justice to what the program accomplishes. Here is a link to a short video about the project:

If you see it, you should know that the man featured in the video is no longer homeless and he attributes this project, in part, for how far he’s come.

As an art educator, what struck me as I listened to Ms. Dye describe the work was that this is an exercise in learning and growing by externalizing our experiences and reflecting on them critically in a shared safe space. I don’t say safe in the sense of easy, but in the sense that we can look on our own experiences and choices externally with others who look with us at the experiences rather than at us.

I kept having flashbacks of very uncomfortable critiques of my artwork in my early years of college. I had to listen to all that was wrong with a given piece that I had not done so well and then share in the criticism.

I hear people say that we need to learn from our failures and provide situations where it is ok for learners to fail. I agree. But I agree in the sense that we need to provide opportunities for learners to REFLECT on their failures, their successes, and even those experiences beyond their control. I feel strongly that no work of art is complete until the maker has viewed it and reflected on it. Without response, the creative process is incomplete. And for students, that process needs to be facilitated.

The most profound things we can do sometimes are to talk with each other about our challenges, the snags and failures and difficulties we have overcome or been overcome by. I cannot think of any place in school or elsewhere that provides those conversations better than learning in the arts.

A voice from the founding fathers

From Benjamin Franklin’s proposal for an academy in Philadelphia:

BenFranklinDrawing is a kind of universal language, understood by all nations.  A man may often express his ideas, even to his own countrymen, more clearly with a lead pencil, or a bit of chalk, than with his own tongue.  And many can understand a figure, that do not comprehend a description in words, though ever so properly chosen.  All boys have an early inclination to this improvement, and begin to make figures of animals, ships, machines, etc. as soon as they can use a pen, but for want of a little instruction at that time generally are discouraged, and quit the pursuit.

Drawing is no less useful to a mechanic than to a gentleman.  Several handicrafts seem to require it; as the carpenter, ship wright’s, engraver’s, painter’s, carver’s, cabinet-maker’s, gardener’s, and other business.  By a little skill of this kind, the workman may perfect his own idea of the thing to be done, before he begins his work; and show a draft for the encouragement and satisfaction of his employer.