So long STL...
After preparing to come to St. Louis from Cape Canaveral, Florida, I arrived in St. Louis on July 2nd - I was ready to offer my crafted, condensed 3 day workshop in one elementary school for the last three days (3 days) of summer school. The company that I was contracting with (not an employee) placed my picture and description of what my program was like on their web site. Though preliminary conversations were had, I was told one very important thing by the executive director : that "they did not have anything like this" in their arts program. I felt hopeful.
In my program I focus on EI (EQ in some circles). Emotional Intelligence. I have developed, over the last 7 years, a methodology that I have implemented in the classroom which creates an optimum environment and situation for students and their teachers to experience emotional balance, learn to set healthy personal boundaries, become an active imaginative listener, safely express hidden difficult feelings and finally blossom into a person who has empathy - can listen to and make space for others. These, as I teach, are things to practice - they are character competencies. I really don't think there is anything like this in education. I put a fun spin on the learning. There is a learning to draw The Little Bucket. I even created a new character called Count Blah Blah Blah Blahkulet! He comes out and tries to drain water from all buckets! In one exercise students express a feeling and another student listens. "I feel....." and the other student reflects "I hear that you feel......did I get that right?" I create an imaginative listening story time where I tell my second story, The Little Bucket Deep Space Meeting, and invite the students to draw something that they hear IN THE STORY and that they see in their imaginations (an increasingly difficult ability to find in young students). I teach "splish, splash, giggle and laugh" in The Ballad of The Little Bucket song. I create an imaginative listening environment where students can, in a playful but serious way, discover the hole that is inside of their own bucket.
Well, I went through this experience, and pouring my bucket out sincerely with the teachers and staff at the school (and there were at least two significant learning moments) and into these three classrooms. On the last day, in the last 30 minutes, the director showed up. He watched as the students, at the very end, were learning to draw the bucket. They were laughing and I introduced him. At the end, he gave me some constructive feedback. He said, "That you were kind of going through the drawing of the bucket a little quickly. " I was drawing on my iPad that was connected to the board so they could see what I was doing. Anyway, he saw nothing else and I got the feeling he was distant. He was hesitant. "Whatever," I thought. He seemed in charge and because of his comment - and not being around to see anything else - came across as controlling.
The director called me on the phone and simply said, "We are going to pass."
"Um, pass?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, " pass."
"I mean, what happened? Why are you passing?"
"You've obviously gotten the wrong impression about us." I was dumbfounded when he said that - and he was not able to clarify. And then he said, "You're program is not quite developed enough. Needs some more work."
That was all he could say - all he could muster. He didn't give me any data or information. He (and his two co-workers) simply made a judgment on this robust and creative offering of which he only saw 30 minutes.
Upon further reflection, my sense is the my work to develop The Little Bucket into a social emotional learning model is bigger than what any organization can hold or maintain. It needs to stand on its own. This organization was not big enough, or mature enough, to collaboratively work with me to bring it here. They got scared - their actions revealed fear, power and control. I would not think this if they would have been able to have a professional conversation with me when they decided against it. And I know now that they feel in competition with me and with the vibrancy of what I am talking about because all they could do was judge my efforts and say that they "were not developed enough." Emotional intelligence is not well understood - but is what was required in this last exchange which I had with this "creative, critical thinking" arts organization. Who you are anywhere, is who you are everywhere. Since they were not able to give me professional respect or courtesy at the end, I find it a relief that I was not invited to participate in their organization - after the dust has settled. The Little Bucket could have been absconded and sabotaged within this organization. It was a hard lesson.
Now, it could have been that my presence and the way I showed up with the students to lead them in participating in the message of the story, and in the storytelling event, put some of the teachers off. I don't know because I didn't hear anything. And even then, if there would have been complaints, I would have loved to know what they were. But, even these weren't forthcoming. Too many secrets and too much closed lip-ness here within this "arts organization" suggests to me that there were no complaints. The only complaint was the anxiety that was produced in this organization as a result of the kind of support and encouragement I am AIMING to create, and the possibilities for bringing social/emotional learning to the classroom. "I mean, this guy is only an artist. He's supposed to be a little more compliant, a little more passive!" When you're not compliant, complaint arises. Well, I got news for you. Complaints come from fear - not courage. Complaints come from control - not creativity and art. This is an artistic and social emotional learning model that helps students. If adults want to complain my sense is that they have a "hole in their bucket" and they want to see it in others, blame others for it, and avoid it for as long as possible. And they do it by complaining.
Now, I realize what I am offering to educators is very different than what is now being offered. I would agree with the director that this organization had "nothing like this." I also offer to you that what I am offering is so very important as an asymmetrical learning opportunity that it may seem frightening. It is not a program from within the box of what is already happening. That is, in this historic moment, I am offering what the culture -and what education - needs. I see what I am doing as being related to classical learning - learning through story and reflection. Because the algorithm of what I am sharing seems to not be what you are comfortable with - you reject it. It is so often the failure of a culture and civilization to reject the things that are the very best for them. If the temperature of those in "charge" goes up in fear or anxiety and it is employed, it chooses control and structure to keep the heat in - not the release of the imagination, or the creativity of those involved so that something new can happen.
Why are we delaying addressing the emotional well being and the artist competencies of our children when we know that they are starving for something asymmetrical and new? Why, if we know that they are starving, do we just keep feeding them the same old things? Why are the adults - even those with Piled Higher and Deeper degrees - standing in the way of evolution and consciousness? Why? I think that the PhD's who are in charge (or who think they are) are really, deep down, afraid to let go of power and control. They are strangling the system to try and keep everything nice within their capacities - because, why? Well, they want to retire someday. In the meantime, children suffer. Children suffer from a lack of the kind of attention and creative engagement which my process (and perhaps others whom I don't know about) could offer to them at school. Adults too easily scared, who lack artistic depth, are ringing their hands and holding on as tight as they possibly can.
The result of all of my meanderings up here in St. Louis is that it's been an overwhelmingly growthful learning experience - and one the compels me further and deeper into my mission. Now I know that Arts Organizations who claim themselves to be arts organizations can also be averse to creative, imaginative and enriching solutions to the human situation. They can dismiss, discredit and ignore a truth that is right in front of them. They can be run by people averse to self-criticism, and be run on the strength of their egoic sense of power - "we're gonna pass."
I felt, really, from the first meeting, after the director told me "we have nothing like this in our program," that there was something of a distance in the voices and eyeballs of the people with whom I spoke. It was like they were not "promising me anything." And indeed it turned into a sideshow of none effect. When I first arrived here I stopped by the office. My program was already listed on their web site so I wanted to see if I could meet anyone on the day I arrived in St. Louis. I had driven downtown to meet another friend and was coming back by on I-64. I stopped in. They welcomed me with open arms, though I didn't want to interrupt. I wanted to see the office. I reminded them that I had an appointment to discuss my program face to face the next day. What I got out of this meeting with the director was this: "Don't be overly excited about joining for summer school. This is just a trial!" He made that clear. I was fine with it and said to myself, "I am just going to do my thing!" I didn't care about the results - other than it was an opportunity for me to do what I have been doing for free and make money doing it. I was grateful for the opportunity to make money doing what I am loving doing as an artist. Creating deep discussions and helping people feel seen and heard. I'll still be doing that by the way. I don't need anyone's permission nor do I cave into fear based judgments.
If there was any reason for a person to be discouraged and not care anymore, it would be me. With this "set back" it would seem I should just "throw in the towel." It would be that I have every reason for all of the wind to go out of my sails. But, that's not the case. I realize that people are asleep and they don't know it. Especially people who are running organizations. I realize, now, upon further reflection, that this organization is part of the sleeping realm - part of the non-solution to our global, social, political, economic transformation. They say that they represent "critical thinking" but did absolutely none of it with me - they simply "dismissed me." This, as I have suggested, is a sign of fear - of not being able to have a professional, complementary conversation, or invite me to a meeting where we could discuss options, possibilities - where then it could have been decided that The Little Bucket was not a good fit in their organization. BUT SINCE that is NOT what happened, I am left to only draw a different conclusion. Since they were not able to give me professional respect, they reveal a low level of organizational confidence that is based in fear. They are running an empire not an enterprise.
Wow, am I glad that I didn't get sucked into this organization. I almost did. They gave me a gift because again, you never know until you try. By being secretive and not forthcoming they revealed that they have other agendas for the arts. These agendas, perhaps, are to comply within the system that is broken and is in the process of breaking all of us. Children may have fun with the arts, but not learn with the arts. That is part of the problem.
Basically, they didn't want a high powered program so they tried to "put it out." The director's comments were self preserving - he said them out of fear. I know that my conscience and intention was honest and pure and I wanted to work with them - to be enthusiastic in my presentation and to give my time to the students and teachers when I was in the classroom. This is exactly what I did and how I showed up.
Well, for this organization, it wasn't good enough.
The reality is that I was probably "too organized." I am good enough. What I am doing and what I am talking about is more than good enough. There is a way to address anxiety and fear. All you have to do is be willing to look inside of your own bucket and stop looking into the buckets of others. Even organizatons can learn this. I tell The Little Bucket story and I see students "light up". Adult fear can put out the light - or at least dismiss it - instead it chooses control, power and domination. And it will even tell a lie as to "why" you weren't good enough.
I am good enough.
You are too.