October 17, 2012
“Schools for growth—ones where developmental learning occurs—are much more like theatrical stages than classrooms.”
I wrote those words, in 1997, as the opening sentence of my book, Schools for Growth: Radical Alternatives to Current Educational Models. Fifteen years later, I believe it even more strongly. As school becomes more product-oriented, regimented, stressful and non-developmental, it seems to me that the only way students and teachers can make use of school for their growth is by deciding to perform it.
How to make the discovery that you can perform in school and other life settings? By being related to as a performer. By performing. By realizing you are performing and that you can create new performance choices, continuously. For some people, this realization comes with being on the theatrical stage. For others, through a performance-based approach in an after school program or more informally with family or friends. And even as conservatism tightens its grip on educational institutions around the world, many innovators are finding ways to bring performance into schools.
All kinds of people are playing with theatrical play—K-12 educators, university faculty and adult educators among them. I got to meet some of them at the Performing the World 2012 conference sponsored by the East Side Institute and the All Stars Project, October 4-7 in New York City. A good number of the 500 people from 38 countries gathered at the conference work (and play!) in educational settings, and I took part in as many of their presentations and demonstrations as I could. To my eyes and ears and heart and head, there was developmental learning going on in their very varied projects—improv in ESL classrooms in Japan and STEM education and research in the US, children diagnosed with autism doing Shakespeare, middle school kids creating their own musical on the conflicts of American youth, developing a language of performance in Ugandan schools, teaching economics through theatre in India…(for these and other projects, see the conference session descriptions).
These people and projects are taking important steps to transform classrooms into theatrical stages upon which students and teachers can together perform their learning-and-development. The bigger question is whether this can happen on a mass scale. It’s a very daunting task! Because such a transformation requires that it be performed—not intellectually argued. And few educational reformers, researchers and policy makers seem willing to perform their way out of their comfort zone where they behave as if they know what’s going on and what to do about it.