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Theory and Practice On the Dance Floor Below are the 10 most recent journal entries recorded in the "Liz" journal:

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November 3rd, 2004
11:20 am


Some Ups from the Heartland
For those of you who don't know Moira, you should, and hopefully for you, you will. Without her permission (yet), I am reprinting her email message and my response to her.

Hey Mo,
Thanks so much for this email. We needed the consolation around these parts. I was thinking of you all night as a tiny dot on that state, working tirelessly.

I cried in the convention center bathroom when Andrew finally got me out of the house and over there but was able to surface enough to drink an overpriced beer and watch the monitors. I'm pretty much in shock and find myself almost as upset about Measure 36 (marriage amendment) as the presidency. I feel personally assulted, literally, somehow by these results.

Thanks too for including what your mom wrote you. As I try to cope with the way my parents are responding to this (I am dreading talking to my already down father), it's great to hear the voice of someone who is a longtime activist and understands that the struggle continues.

Will you be around this weekend for a phone martini?

much love,

--- Moira Meltzer-Cohen <griffinandsabine@hotmail.com> wrote:

> Greetings. By the time most of you read this, Kerry will have spoken from Fanueil Hall, and turned this country back over into the hands of a homicidal lunatic.
> Most of you know that I have been living in Ohio since early September. My primary activities since then have revolved around the Portage County for Kerry Headquarters, and I want to relate some stories, and try to find some meaning and hope in this increasingly awful mess. First, you should know that I have never seen such energy, and such committment (for those of you who will get this point of reference, it was at least equal to the formation of the International Caucus of the TAA). The Portage for Kerry office was full of people all the time, and they had over 5000 different volunteers who gave at least 20 hours each. There were many more who came in and volunteered for only a few hours. We raised money. We made thousands upon thousands of phone calls. We canvassed. And now, of course, we are heartbroken.
> But there were some things that happened yesterday that are worth talking about. First, when I went in to vote, it was 8:30 am. My precinct is home to a highly transient student population, and my mother, who has been voting there for years, told me that typically, when she goes to vote after she gets home from work in the evening, she will have been the eighth or ninth voter. At 8:30 am yesterday, we were the 87th and 88th voters. Our precinct had 90% voter turnout.
> Second, after I voted, I went down to Kerry headquarters, looking for something to do. I was teamed up with two young men whom I took to be college kids. When I asked what they were majoring in, they laughed, and told me they were respectively 15 and 16 years old, and they had begged their parents to call them off school so they could come out and volunteer for Kerry on election day. They said to me "Even though we can't vote, we feel we have a responsibility to make sure everyone who is old enough will get to the polls and vote for Kerry."
Third, we made phone calls until 7:15 last night. We drove people to and from the polls. When Cuyahoga county had to keep their voting booths open until midnight due to the length of the lines, some people drove from Kent to Cleveland to cheerlead the people standing in line, and to bring them coffee and snacks.
> I realize this is a dubious consolation. The point I am trying to make is that we are organized, and we are energized (still), and we will not stop fighting. I stayed up all night at a friend's house watching the returns. And I came home this morning to a note from my mother, that reads, in part: "It is up to me and you and the like-minded to hold fast to two thoughts. 1) The personal is political and 2) all politics is local. We must continue to expand the good fight. I will do more of what I do every day, and do it better. I will reach out to more people and I will be more willing to put my career on the line. You, too, can and will do that."
> We must make this loss meaningful. People's lives are on the line, and those of us in positions of relative power have to make whatever sacrifices are necessary in order to mitigate the damage. If we no longer have access to the organs of the state, we had better get our cultural shit together. I have sent this message to people in whose strength, motivation, creativity, and intelligence I have great faith. I hope that it generates some productive responses, and suggestions for concrete action.
> Struggle where you are, and like I said four years ago, in the words of Lee Hayes "This too shall pass... like gallstones." The hing is to make sure the gallstones don't take us out along with them.
> Moe

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October 25th, 2004
10:58 pm


Bad Boys (and Girls)
I started reading an enthnographic study called Bad Boys that was published in 2000. It's about the relationship between schools and the construction of Black masculinity.

During Drill Team today at Ockley Green Middle School, I spent part of the time at the back of the room with two boys who have been christened the team mascots, and allowed to stay in the class by the teacher, even though they don't really have anything to do but embarrass themselves and the girls. they're clearly bored and seem used to being bored.

One of them I know because he's enrolled in our art class as well. I've found him to be quite well spoken. As I was writing that sentence I edited it from reading surprisingly quite well spoken, and know that somewhere, unspoken, was the ending tag, for a Black boy.

They were really pestering and distracting the girls today and though I admire the young and energetic Latina teacher of the class, she was having more than enough trouble without their help. Of course my white, otherwise silent intervention was greeted by them with denials and frustration. "I didn't throw nothin!" But I was determined to stick it out and the second time, hung out with them in t he back of the auditorium, perched on a cafeteria table as one of them got more and more frustrated with my questioning. He was convinced that I was there to kick them out and I had threatened to do so. He was no fool to the fact that the teacher was the one with the authority (she said we could stay!) and wasn't having any of my, "I'm interested in hearing what kind of role you think you guys could have in here."

No, he could see right through that. The problem was that I really WAS interested in them developing a role in the class, partially so they don't have to sit on their asses the whole time. But I don't want to just give them something to do. And I don't want to just be their behavior monitor.

I did stick out his challenges and refusals and mutterings of his friends, answering to the fact that he was being disrespectful, backed away from him physically when he asked politely, and that I saw he was frustrated. Even in the midst of it, he responded to my, "You seem pretty angry, Eric" in exasperated giggles, as did his friends. "She said that just like a psychiatrist."

When his friend expressed interest in my name badge and I didn't shy away; responded by clarifying it, there was some kind of truce reached. I couldn't be anything but what I was--some interested white lady with a sentence structure like a hack, touchy-feely and still suspiciously authoritative. But I stayed there with them, even when they moved a respectable distance away. I allow myself to laugh when they are playing the fool too, instead of just being disapproving. for some reason that seems an important part of being real with them. But as I watched them start racing around the auditorium again, hide behind the curtains and even play fight, I refused to be the disciplinarian. That WON'T be my role there. But after awhile I got up and went onstage cause I was really feeling dumb, white and useless. I started half-dancing with the girls, interacting with them as they learned the steps, even if they wouldn't interact with me.

Tyisha ended up wanting to jump off the stage, holding my hands, and what the hell, I let her, twice. That and the fact that Abbie said hello to me today, unprovoked. Inch by inch maybe these girls will let me in.

I know it's an issue of being vulnerable with them. the question is how. Tomorrow I will help them practice at their lunchtime, all on my own. I am scared but determined to be with them. Even if I can't do what I'm supposed to do as a Youth Advocate because they won't trust me, I can still just be with them.

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October 24th, 2004
11:04 pm


Drill Team
I should say about Ockley Green MS drill team that it's my most challenging class. I'm supposed to be the Youth Advocate but none of the girls will talk to me. I am the only white person in the room. The teacher is young and knows all of the girls. She doesn't have many skills though she's got terriffic instincts. The class is often what would be called "chaos" with girls mouthing off, not paying attention and her often having to yell for it. At the same time, the girls love her and the class. They have little attention for me and I realized, with the help of the HSAA staff, with whom I took a risk and was open, that I was behaving the way I'd learned in my own public schools in Pittsburgh--how to be quiet and stay out of the way of the Black girls. Unfortunetly, that doesn't do me much good as a skill in this case. I feel very useless in this class, even after having had a good meeting with the teacher. And I feel a bit like an intruder, though less and less so. I dread this class and it took a lot to actually admit that to the HSAA staff.

It was pointed out that the girls have seen very little of this vulnerablity, which back in the day, was the POINT.
So that will take practice.

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October 20th, 2004
10:41 pm


An incident
At Beach Elementary, Art class has recently begun meeting in the auditorium. As we invited the kids to sit on the floor, Aaron began to climb over the table. I called him over and we sat on the auditorium steps while Tina led the rest of the class in a circle game.

I asked Aaron why I might not want him to climb over the table, why that might be a bad choice. He said that he might not get hurt if he remained sitting. I asked him to repeat himself and then asked if he wanted to hurt himself. He replied yes, that in fact he wanted to kill himself. He rushed in that someone had tried to kill him in the afternoon, that there was a gun. . . a lot of rushed information that I took to be hyperbole.

We talked for awhile and in answers to some quesitons that I asked, he responded that he was feeling angry and that he had no friends at school, that people in the class would not in fact miss him; they hated him.

I feel that I've had enough experience with Aaron by now to know that his defense when cornered is to lie but this seemed rather extreme, even for him. During the conversation, at a lull, he would ask, "Can I kill myself now?" During this whole conversation, he was remarkably quiet, sober and still (not his usual public behavior.) He even acted out falling down backwards on the carpeted stairs, not in any way that would seriously injure him. . . he was certainly watching for my reaction and when I didn't react too much to his falling down, thinking he was fidgeting, as he often does, he climbed up higher to repeat it.

At this point, i took him out of class for a walk to talk with him further and also to look for school support staff. Unfortunetly, there were few present or available. We walked around for awhile in the school at which point he told me he had found a fork in the cafeteria that day and stabbed himself over and over. When I asked where on his body he'd done it, he said on his back, in his kidneys. Thinkiing he might just be throwing that term out, I asked him to show me where they were and he was quite accurate. At one point in this conversation, he said, "It happened in the backyard" seeminly at random. I asked him did he mean the fork stabbing happened in the backyard and what the 'it' was. He didn't want to answer and in fact said, "I just want to erase that. I erase it" and didn't want to talk about it further, even when prompted.

We eventually went back into the class and he slowly joined the circle, first not volunteering answers in the game we were playing and then whispering them to me only, then saying them aloud. he was quite withdrawn, at one point rubbing his eyes in a way that made me think he was crying. By the end of class he was less withdrawn, though said he was hungry and hadn't eaten all day. This was borne out by the way he attacked the snack at the end of class. (We are planning to switch back to offering snack at the opening of class, as many of the kids are hungry midway through.)

The second week of class, I attempted to get in touch with his family but ended up leaving a message with a child in the household. He told me that he lives with his mother and sister and that they used to pick him up but now he walks home 14 blocks.

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October 16th, 2004
11:31 pm


Classroom Management
I MEANT to blog more often than this, but it may just be once a week. You will just have to suffer.

One of my artists/teachers called an hour before her class to tell me she was sick and couldn't show. This is the art class at Beach which has gotten rough in terms of keeping the kids' attention focused. It was no different on Wednesday, when I was by myself. Also, the regular classroom teacher said the first day that she wasn't going to be around during the class. So far she has been for almost all of them. I'm embarressed in front of her that we can't "control" the kids, whatever that means. That they don't listen to us when we talk, that kind of thing. That they're doing their own thing.

I try to work against the idea that kids need to be silent and obedient at all times. After all, getting kids to sit down and stop moving and stop making any noise whatsoever seems to me to be pretty sick. It's just sick. What do kids at the age of 7 and 8 want to be doing? Running all over the place, touching stuff, asking questions, thinking and laughing. yet school works against this in multiple ways.

So within the framework I try not to hush them constantly. But it's hard when I DO want their attention. I mean it's hard to hold the view that I've just stated above and then have to function within a framework that's rows of desks, tons of stuff they're not allowed to touch and tons of CONTENT to get done. Yuck. This is why I am trying not to classroom teach.

Sure enough on Wednesday I found myself taking emergency steps, doing triage to keep the class going the directions I wanted it to be going and in the process shutting down kids right and left. It really hit me when a kid who always pesters for another snack (USDA supplied sugar bombs, often) was pestering me for another snack and I said no only because I didn't have the time/ability/wherewithall to stop what I was doing and go get him the snack at the front of the room (let alone deal with others who would want the same.) So I said no. And he goes, a bit whiny, "but I'm huuungry."

And it hits me like a goddamn ton of bricks. The kid is fucking hungry. (Many of our kids are not getting fed enough at home) What is the point of my program? Just what the hell am I doing there anyway?

Luckily, at the staff meeting the night before, Yvonne had had us read out loud the mission statement.
The mission of the Higher Stages Arts Academy is to involve underserved kids in challenging experiences with professional artists, immersing them in the crafting and performance of art while comprehensively addressing their academic, social and behavioral needs. The intention is to promote high self-esteem and resilience, encourage positive behaviors and to develop craft and life skills

The conclusion I'd basically come to is, the hell with the art. The art is the VEHICLE, it's the method (and a damn good one) by which we practice social justice.

I'm not beating myself up to much for this. In fact, I'm barely beating myself up at all, but LHF standards. It was really more of a wakeup, a realization that I don't HAVE to classroom manage, I don't have to be locked into this system. We are to help the kids gain self-esteem partly by letting them know that someone cares about them. I don't have to feel inadequate in front of that teacher cause I am not trying to be her.

I decided 2 things right then and there.
1. We are going to move into the auditorium. It's a bigger space, more opportunities for creativity, no teachers looking over shoulders and the kids can sit at a cafeteria style table and actually see each other.
2. We are going to take a full class and do community building exercises. I realized the other day that the kids don't even know each others' names. Not the point of why I am there. I picked Yvonne and Suzanne's brain for a list of such things and am going to look for a book on them (like one of those 70s books that told me how to build a hammock out of plastic six-pack holders.) If anyone knows one, or games that are useful, please tell me.

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October 9th, 2004
11:19 pm


NonViolent Communication
One great thing about being part of a quality, growing organization is that they provide training. Today was one such training in NVC, or nonviolent communication as well as leadership and that dreadful phrase, 'classroom management.' LaShelle Charde led the training, and she was just fabulous. As Andrew and I were discussing later, one amazing thing about being exposed to new paradigms like nvc is the incredable, unshakable power that one suddenly realizes is accessible.

For example. One thing that really struck me was the way that we listed, late in the training, the buttons that kids push for us. One person said lying, another said rudeness. We spent a fair amount of time talking about that sound of sucking teeth, or smacking, most commonly done, in my experience, by black teenage girls. (You know the one.) After we listed five or six, LaShelle passed out a sheet of paper that was a list of Universal Needs. They included food water and shelter but also things like acceptance, trust, joy, belonging, mourning, independence. What she said was that when kids are communicating in the ways we'd named, they are trying to get one of these needs met.

It was a big ah-hah moment for me and one of the major ways that talking about teaching has helped me feel that the burden of enforcement can be lifted. Of course the kids are trying to get those needs met; we all are. It made room for compassion, this realization. It's certainly tricky, trying to 'guess' which need the kid wants met and to ask the kid too. But that encouragement to be articulate is major, and is a road into self-reflection, which it seems to me students are crying out for tools for.

We went through the list, calling out things that we thought the kids were trying to accomplish through these behaviors. Once again, as I've talked about with Michael at HS, it's about the kids. (I need this framed, like Carville did for Clinton. And then right underneath, another plaque, reading, "It's not about me.")

At the same time, I do want the kids to see me as a whole person, to avoid that teacher-in-the-supermarket shock. When I saw twins with their mom (out of school context), who are in my Beach drama class, I didn't say hi to them, cause I was nervous that they wouldn't recognize me and that they would be embarressed not to remember my name and they didn't even know my name cause we hadn't had our shit together my shit together to do introductions, etc. on the first and only day of drama so far. Though I did (straws here) introduce myself to the mother.

I see now, writing this, that it was about me. I was embarressed that we hadn't done that introduction stuff. God, it's the thing about moving, it's exhausting, so I can't push through my piddley fears as often as I'd like to. What was that about compassion. . .?

Anyway, I gotta get me some more of this nvc shit. It rocks.
Also, the Kennedy School here. What a cool place!

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10:46 pm


From my mother
I adore my mother, for those of you who don't yet know, though it is rather funny that she is the technology coordinator but was having trouble with LJ. Ah how do the mighty disillusion us. I was so excited about her comment that I posted it here, so that we don't all have to wait until she's got time to figure it all out.

Read and be edified:

"In my first month of teaching "technology" to 1st through
4th graders at an Episcopal school in an affluent part of Washington
DC, one of my first observations was that in each of my classes there is
one black boy who tends to be a little more sullen and stubborn than any of
the other children, or a little more active and distractible, or
sometimes both. He's usually the largest child in the class also.
Then I noticed that the black girls (also one or two in each class)
could also be described in this way, but I noticed the boys first
because the black girls seem to be stubborn, active, and distractible a
little less disruptively. Or maybe it was just sexism on my part. It
got me thinking about what qualities minority children have to have to
survive in a white school. Even in this humane, family-centered,
conscientiously inclusive school--and I do find this to be a wonderful
school--minority children must have to bring a strong sense of
themselves. When a child is too stubborn to stop what she is doing
promptly and come sit on the rug with the others, could that tenacity
be the flip side of an important survival quality for her? I can easily
see my black female students growing up into the powerful black-mama
stereotype that is widely admired by both blacks and whites. And I can
easily see my black male students growing up into the troubled
black-malcontent stereotype that is widely feared by both blacks and
whites. We (including myself in the white priviledged majority) can
tolerate self-assertiveness better in black women than in black men.

Two more little observations: At today's faculty meeting, a handout
for future discussion on diversity describes "'white talk' tactics for
avoiding responsibility and maintaining the status quo" as including
"colluding with each other to create a culture of 'niceness' that makes
it very difficult to discuss [racism]." Hooray, this school is really
trying! And the other observation is that several of my black male
students have used their time in my classes on the computer to do some
remarkable art. Art is really important! One boy, using the "paint
can" feature (as he was assigned to do) to fill in a geometric pattern,
produced a remarkably intricate and subtly toned mosaic of textures,
and was very stubborn about exiting the program when it was time to leave.
Another, with the same assignment, chose an outline of a castle,
proceeded to fill all the spaces with glowing red textures, declared
the castle to be on fire, and scribbled over it with broad strokes of blue,
explaining, "He's still alive in there, and this is the water putting
out the fire." He cheerfully walked away from the computer, not
really caring if his work was saved or not. " -ACH, known on LJ as annewithane (when she gets it up once again.)

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October 8th, 2004
08:43 am


Characters In Order of Appearance
This is a little intro to Higher Stages Arts Academy. You can find most information you might want at our website. My role in this whole shebang is as a Site Coordinator for Beach Elementary School, where I oversee a Drama class and a Visual Arts class and as Youth Advocate at Ockley Green Middle School, where I work with the students ina Drill Team class and in a Visual Arts class. I am also preparing to take over the reins of not one but two positions (the previous 2 will drop away) the Operations Manager and the Volunteer Coordinator. This blog serves as both a record of experiences and a place to meditate and hopefully discuss with y'all the issues that come up in administering a nonprofit arts-in-education program whose goal is student success and social justice.

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08:43 am


Week One of arts programming
After much discussion and trainings galore, my schools' programming finally began this week. Despite the fact that on the first day, my artist was almost late, things started off well. Beach Elementary school is just a wonderful, supportive place to work, and I had forgotten how supportive other teachers can be, and understanding of the chaos that results from trying to deal with organizing kids.

The major thing that I am realizing at Beach is that our structure of first-come-first-served does not necessarily function efficiently, despite the valiant efforts of the office administrator to date the registration forms to the minute (see what I'm saying about Beach?!) as they are turned in. Somehow things still got confused and mixed up and the 4th and 5th grade forms got into my box in a bunch 2 days later. Let alone the fact that fcfs does not allow for issues of demographics--gender, ethnicity, etc. Are those things really important in a class? I have to say I really think they are. Let alone the fact that some kids have participated in our programs before, and some not. If we're building relationships with the kids, then shouldn't we focus on keeping the same ones in the program? But then what about the new, needy kids who come in? And some will just drop off/out of it as they get older, ruining our whole consistency-through-years-of-school goal. this is something we need to discuss.

Beach is an real dream kind of school in terms of its diversity too. There are seem to be a strong smattering of kids whose families function in another language and a good percentage of black students, of varying class, from what I can tell. There are also a few poor white kids and a bunch of middle/upper-middle class white kids. When I was at the Open house, I was really impressed by the dreamy mix. This might be rose-colored starter glasses, but everything I hear about Beach seems to confirm this.

The difference between Beach and Ockley Green is rather pronounced. To OG's credit, I think it largely has to do with the difference between an elementary and a middle school. In elementary school, the parents can still be still all over their kids and in love with them. When they hit 11 or 12 and start pulling away, doing, saying, wearing and listening to things that the parents are surprised by, parents can tend to get a bit more reticent or stricter, about being involved in their kids' lives.

But also, Beach is on this nice quiet street and even with the hulking green water tower in the background, the place maintains a sense of remove yet rooted in the blocks of houses and subtle apartments around it. OG on the other hand, takes up a block at the corner of Interstate and Ainsworth. Interstate is a large, two-way street with a MAX line running down the center of it. There are billboards and industrial stores. Recently, an adult video store moved in across the street which is apparently legal because the area is still classified as industrial. Someone put an installation of a sculpture of trees to which OG students contributed, on the corner but it backfires, looking like rusted industrial waste in that context. (Maybe that's a little harsh.)

The difference between the Elementary school (ES) and Middle school (MS) will no doubt be an ongoing theme here. As part of my job, I move between the two in the same afternoon and it takes somewhat of a mental and emotional shift on the ride over (of 5 blocks.)

One of the major differences between the schools is that OGMS has a SUN school which is administered by SEI. Higher Stages is "partnered" with the SEI SUN school, which means we are contracted to provide arts services. From what I can tell, the partnership is effective but somewhat strained. I can see the idea of having nonprofits administer Multnomah county money, but in practice it seems a bit inefficient, especially if the schools run themselves differently. See here is a major problem: does one set things like applications, fliers, etc, city-wide, or allow the particular SUN administrations to respond to the particular needs? I would usually go with the second option but when there is a turnover of 4 SUN school coordinators in 3 years at a single site, some kind of set continuity is to be desired.

Continuity, is of course, our catchword. That's what we want for the kids. Sometimes I wonder how much of my anxiety issues stem from a lack of continuity in my childhood. There's no doubt that some of these kids are effected that way. As one prospective volunteer asked, "Well if they don't have anything to eat at home, why are they taking a video production class?" While this question misses the point of what we do, it's a valid one. Being involved in this program makes me constantly (consistently!) check in with the value of the arts. for me personally, I think it ends up being a good thing, as I have to reaffirm the value in a context, not just in my own poet-brain. That is, I can't fall into the complacent idea of art for arts sake alone because my job relies on the fact that art skills and life skills are firmly intertwined.

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April 29th, 2004
10:53 pm


that friend you'd all love
. . . directed me to this resource: www.rethinkingschools.org. anyone know this? seen it before?

Current Mood: accomplished

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