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A Reflection on my core assumptions about teaching

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Nombre del proyecto

Esta es la descripción de su proyecto. Haga clic en "Editar texto" o haga doble clic en el cuadro de texto para comenzar.


Nombre del proyecto

Esta es la descripción de su proyecto. Un breve resumen puede ayudar a los visitantes a comprender el contexto de su trabajo. Haga clic en "Editar texto" o haga doble clic en el cuadro de texto para comenzar.


After a decade as an arts professional and a college instructor, I started my path as a public education teacher with what I thought was a clear idea of how to train youngsters and a bunch of what I considered severely unused or underused tools to train in the intersection of education and the arts. I found a much different world than expected. Over the time I spent at a public school, the realization that education had become an engine of opportunity only for the rich became a repetitive note, then a constant drumming, then an unavoidable tune.

I began to articulate the problem when I realized I could look at a student for a week or two and figure out what grade they would get in their classes at year’s end. I was not the only one--everyone in the school could do that. In fact, the few of times some student would surprise us it would be spoken in the hallways as that, a surprise--rare, elusive and totally suspect. Few of us mentioned the inevitable conclusion--if the end was known, why were we there? We were no more than some kind of absurd notaries of a human being's position in society. Students were handed to us sorted, and we continued the ratification process.

I began to understand that, for good or evil, I needed to get these kids into college to give them even a chance. And did my colleagues laugh at that point. Many of them looked at me with pity, as if I was just not yet aware of where I had landed. "These kids don't go to college," became the common refrain, spoken like "the earth revolves around the sun." Fait acccompli. No questioning. They could barely read. They were marked. Refuse.

Of course, all this was wrapped in the blanket of compassion, like missionaries wrapped their conversions of savages. Of course these kids were worthy of love; they could reach their full potential--if their potential wasn’t just so limited. Their fulfillment was curtailed by their station.

Those first years hit me like falling through ice. My father learned to read at fourteen, my mother never finished elementary school—they were children of the Franco era in Spain. Still, I had received a superlative education, attended some of the best American colleges. I honestly had never spent much of my adult time with beings the world considered "below average."

The difference between my own outcome (and that of my generation in Spain) and these students gnawed at me. It lead to a thrust to explore, test, and peel open ways to reverse the tide towards demographic destinies. I wanted to find ways to allow students to engage in their own creativity and fulfillment, with their own voices in a way they were heard, not condescended to, not carefully catered to, then put in a box and left to showcase good intentions. It became brutally clear the engines of social mobility did not want my mostly poor, immigrant students--not without some freakish talent useful as a display case of how inclusive we have become. So I started to experiment in multiple fronts.

If I had to choose just one example of those many ways in which I attempted to change the inevitable, it would be a devised project we developed in 2014. The collaborative process needed to devise theatre requires the kind of generous give-and-take which is very hard for all of us humans to embrace, so I hesitated to explore such a process in the fragile formative years, fearing failure (theirs and mine) and mayhem.

I approached the project as a series of problems to be solved by all of us, including what to do with my now empty syllabus. From the very beginning, students were drawn to the subject of their own education—a subject they found was rarely discussed within the system that provided them with one. These teenagers had been in the education system for most of their young lives and they had something to say about it. Armed with a series of questions, these students attacked the research process with a vigor I had yet to see in any other circumstances. They self-organized; they secured interviews with teachers, parents and politicians that then they meticulously transcribed and documented.

The result was The Education Project, successful beyond the scope of a typical high school, mounted and remounted for years, taken to New York City, to a full-fledge professional festival, award-winning (click here 1for a small Education Project trailer, and here 2for a segment on a devised piece I created with McCarter Theatre). While I was proud beyond belief of the final product, the process greatly impacted my pedagogical approach—it empowered students, turned them into learning machines and provided me with a methodical way to allow teenagers to present their voices, to interact with the community, to gather information and subsequently, to learn how to edit and present written material and to successfully create art that is rabidly their own, minimally curated by adults.

Experiments like this one have allowed my students to get accepted into colleges—100% of them for the past seven years. My goal is to research the core structures of these experiences, to question and explore the tenets upon which I based my original decisions, and to map out the pathways that allowed those students to so richly benefit.

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