Speaking at UMich School of Social Work re: art w/'at risk' youth



Had the opportunity to speak with students in a class that focuses on getting college students out in the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti communities, working with kids in after-school programs.  I've presented several times in professor Deb Gordon-Gurfinkel's class and each time I've had the honor of presenting on the same day as spoken-word artist/slam poet/hip-hop artist Walter Lacy.  Here's a link to a performance he gave at U of M a couple of years ago:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hnNMUEbPuUU 

Walter works with students in the after-school programs Deb coordinates, giving them a voice and exposing them to writing and making their personal experiences come alive in a way that empowers them, understanding their connection to the universal.  He's also a powerful performer of his work - it's something to be in a small room with the artist.  Intense. 

Poet Natalia Gamble Harris also spoke and performed.  She bravely shared her personal journey from Muskegon to Ypsilanti/Ann Arbor and beyond.  The only thing she was missing was her own, personal super-hero costume!  Her poetry performance packed the same power Walter's did - the room was speechless.  We should have dimmed the lights and spotlighted the poets.  (Couldn't find a youtube video of Natalia - darn!)

We took a break before I spoke.  We needed to wipe our eyes and collect ourselves.

When I spoke to the students, I first asked if any of them had ever sewn their own clothes.  I took out a pattern, the directions, and made the point that, if you follow this set of prescribed directions, by the time you get to the end, depending on the fabric you choose, and a few other variables, you'll pretty much get what the picture looks like.  It's pretty predictable, the outcome.   Then, I tore the pattern up and said, " teaching kids - it's nothing like following a pattern.  You can walk into the classroom with the best lesson plan - the best of intentions - and there's a room full of  15, 25, 35 or more variables and each one of those variables has it's own set of variables.  The variables become exponential!  Imagine teaching 'drawing' or 'art' to these variables - these kids.  Say, "I'm going to teach  you how to draw" and you've immediately got half the class who's checked out, and the other half look scared to death! 

So, I 'teach art' by teaching it as 'problem solving'.  Say to a class, "I'm going to present a problem to you , and we're going to figure it out together.  You can each have different solutions and they can all be right."  Immediately takes the 'freak-out' factor out of it and presents it in a way that curiosity is celebrated. 

 'k' from Alphabet 09, carved redwood, ink

'k' from Alphabet 09, carved redwood, ink