I went to a conference this weekend sponsored by the journal for my Graduate School, UGA’s Language & Literacy Education. The name of the 2014 conference was “Literacy for Social Justice” It was eye-opening to rub shoulders with like-minded people. I met dynamic leaders from all over the world who care about young people’s voice as much as I do! It was totally worth the 150$ after all.
Here is the description of the first break out I went to on Saturday morning,
“How can we share stories in ways that the experience of telling and listening leads to action, healing and restoration? Do stories have the power to become the catalyst of social change, or embodied wisdom that leads to the elimination of suffering and injustice? This presentation will introduce a unique and powerful way of storytelling…”
This break-out was led by a Hungarian by the name of Csaba Osvath. Check out his AMAZING story/Bio on his website here. Csaba first went to seminary and earned his doctorate in Theology & Art and then worked in the NIH’s hospice for children going through chemotherapy. He used stories from both the Gospel and Hungarian fairy tales to create an “Invisible Theater” where the sick children would experience the story with their senses, blindfolded before they underwent treatment. After they experienced the heroic epic, their spirits were raised so they believed they could tackle the “monster” of chemo. When Csaba Osvath strayed away from only using the stories of the Bible, he received some backlash from the minister who was the head of his organization. Still, Csaba felt it was vital to use both myths and the children’s stories to lift their spirits. The chaplain tried to fire Csaba, but the nurses and doctors surrounded him and gave him their support because of his success rate with the children.
After Csaba spoke I went up to him because I didn’t know he was a believer yet, and I felt I had to explain that I believe the Gospels story inspire us all to tell OUR stories. After all, in the “last chapter” of the Bible, the “bad guy” is defeated by the “blood of the lamb” AND the word of OUR testimonies. I thought it was absurd that the Chaplain wanted to fire Csaba for using the children’s testimony as part of his ministry. Testimonies are fundamental to the ministry of Jesus Christ on this earth. No surprise, he agreed. He also reminded me that Christ is the WORD become FLESH. In other words, He was God who become a story and fleshed-out the poetic nature of Jehovah. In this way, we are also to FLESH out Christ now on this earth. Poetry incarnate.
Walt Whitman says it best,
“This is what you should do: Love the earth and sun and animals, despise riches, give alms to everyone that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward people… Reexamine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, dismiss what insults your very soul, and your flesh shall become a great poem.”
Stories change the world – heal, touch, inspire – when they are experienced by ALL of people’s senses and not just their ears. God did this for the world by becoming man.
I love to make WORDS flesh. I love to make stories appeal to our present-day senses.
When I worked in Ocean Grove, New Jersey, I was given the task of speaking one Sunday night in the Chapel to the students during our weekly youth service “Freestyle.” I decided, for whatever reason, to create a modern day temple in Jerusalem. I went into the basement of Grove Hall and found objects to form a living temple right in Ocean Grove. That way the temple curtain literally tore in two right in front of my student’s eyes. This demonstrated the powerful way the temple spoke as a prophetic symbol to the Jewish people about the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
I can’t explain to you my immense joy when I prepared for the reincarnation of the temple in New Jersey. I realized as I scoured through the Grove Hall basement, that I live to fashion temples out of junk. I loved to teach through theater, through demonstration and simulation.
The coolest part of the whole process of recreating the story of the temple is how much my team supported me. Everyone jumped right into the act and played along.
Dave Nichols, Lauren Ramsey, Leslie Rosario, Jeremy Keating, Noah Prickett, Becca Lebrun and Jordan Whilden helped simulate and recreate the temple mount for the students of Ocean Grove. I felt a community of people acting with me and supporting me in my creative explosion.
It was messy. It was over-the-top. It was LOUD. I bit off more than I could chew… but I’ll never forget even Noah Pricket helping me in the madness.
It was the “invisible theater,” living poetry and it was EXPERIENTIAL GOSPEL. It was one of the days of my life I felt most alive.
During my Masters Degree, I’ve studied under Dr. Navarro about how to teach the world about hunger and poverty through simulation. I spent the month of February 2013 creating a hunger banquet that could teach students the multi-layered aspects of poverty.
On Saturday, I found out there’s other people who do this sort of thing, LIVING STORIES THROUGH THEATER, as their profession and part of their academic study. I started to think of all the ways I could make stories and poems appeal to my students senses, right in a public school classroom. Some teachers may think I am CRAZY but I know it would teach literature and writing like nothing else could.
Last week during class, I was trying to explain how frightening the process of selection was for Elie Wiesel in the Auschwitz. I gave three sticky notes to three students and they had to write down a number and keep it on their left hand. They all three ran at full speed past Mr. Dowling and I and if I could write down their number they got sent to the “gas chambers.” I was NOT able to write down Markel and Javious number, but I was able to write down Chastinee’s, because she didn’t run fast enough. My students understood the story of Elie and his father running at full speed past Dr. Mengele so they wouldn’t be exterminated in the gas chambers.
This story appealed to their senses right in front of the classroom. The one girl, Chastinee, was to weak and she was chosen by me to “die”. Most shocking of all, my hardest-to-teach class willingly watched and learned. It wasn’t a struggle to jam that information down their throat. They listened.
This is why I have an aversion to desks. They restrict this type of learning. I hope next year that I’ll be able to hide the desks somewhere (where does one hide 33 desks?) and I can go and buy lots of couches at Goodwill and will create a living room for storytelling & educational theater. Low-lighting. Pictures from all over the world. I can’t wait to have my own space EXPLODING with color. Someone once told me, “color is my inheritance.”
The classroom I work in now is disorganized and stifling. I can’t wait to spice things up FOR REAL.
People like Csaba and a teacher by the name of Paul Ayo helped me believe this weekend that this type of out-of-the-box teaching is possible in schools right here in Georgia. I approached Paul Ayo, the keynote speaker and director of “Art as an Agent for Change” and introduced myself after one break-out called “Writing Hope.” As we ate lunch together, he told me that learning to be a creative, successful educator and poet requires “defense against the dark arts” in public schools. He told me practical ways to teach literacy well and creatively and still be permitted to do so by administrators
He told me how to avoid envy and comparison by other teachers.
He told me how to deal with problem students who are a poison in the classroom.
He reminded me of the importance of boundaries and “me time” while teaching at-risks impoverished students.
Paul gave me books and encouragement and confidence to be the teacher I want to be.
Who knew? There are other people out there who are using art to tell stories in very creative ways. There are other educators who are using art as an agent for change in the world.
I’m ready to get back to my students after a long snowy week apart. I’m ready to finish up telling the story of Night. I’m ready to end well.
I hear Ms. Ohm, my theater director’s words ringing in my ear, “Tell the Story.” It’s simple. I got to get back in there and tell the story of Elie. I have NINE days left teaching my students.
I need to go out with a bang. I need to be proud of myself when this whole crazy process is complete.
Thank the good Lord for community. I’m grateful for the editorial board of #Jolle_2014