The moving images of three videos I’ve watched over this break remind me that the noise in our lives can become at times so overpowering that we hear nothing. When we lose our capability to hear, learning slows, perhaps even stops.
Surfing channels, I discovered young teens, children really, garbed in the uniform of the ghetto pitching their poetry into the audience at the 2010 National Slam Poetry Teen Championships. There’s an irony in that the perfect words of Slam poetry get rewarded on TV and punished in the hallways of schools. I turned away from their images, HBOed into fifteen minutes of fame, and with eyes closed, absorbed these young poets’ spoken words of fear, anger, love, respect. They didn’t spout poetry about unicorns or rainbows but rather a poetry of life on the edge where mothers shoot smack and let their children starve while the Sunday TV preacher asks for donations to congregational causes that keep the preacher in a Cadillac and the right people in office.
I am renewed by the fresh images captured in the spaces for learning that these young poets seek and find inside and outside the school zone. Young people bear gifts for those who look beyond the filtering system we apply to them. They refuse to be invisible in a world that expects them to be. Poets live in all our classrooms. We simply need to shut out the noise and listen for them.
Imagine learning from hands that move in syncopated rhythm across the front of the A-Bomb Dome as they tell a family story of Hiroshima, a father lost for all time with only the lock for his bicycle and his gold molar found. I learned about projection artist Krzysztof Wodiczko, Director of the Center for Art, Culture, and Technology at MIT, from my son who is inspired by his work. Jason, a lover of moving image, tells me that projection art provides a different venue in which to learn, a different space to challenge one’s understanding. He shared a video to illustrate the power of projection art as a tool for learning, to help me grasp his own learning work as well as to explore a different entry point into learning outside the traditional boundaries of how we define education.
The bombing of Hiroshima touched lives of the innocent just as the attack, according to American military history, prevented the deaths of American soldiers trying to end WWII in the Pacific Theater. After watching the video documentary about the creation of Wodiczko’s project, I was caught by the power and passion of an artist to present the tension of multiple stories that evolve into differing interpretations of history.
Image has been used by humans since the beginning to tell the stories of our lives, stories that once past become our history. The stories told through the projected hands of bombing survivors demonstrate how technology creates a different version of rock paintings in the 21st century. I wonder why we continue to value the screed of our classrooms when there are so many intriguing and interesting entry points for our children to use to access the narrative of learning.
The English Patient
The English Patient has become over the years a museum of art to me, each image forming the portrait, the landscape, the poetry, and narrative of man and woman. Doorways and windows frame perfect oil paintings, a chance encounter with light cast just so to create one more scene for the artist to render into a setting. His brush strokes capture the nuances of sun on a kiss, the silvered pitcher caught on the edge of a tub, angled shadowing of window bars.
When I watched The English Patient this time over break, I was struck that technology simply allows creators a more varied palette of colors from which to choose. But, art springs from the soul, not from the technology. An artist must see ahead of the brush, the camera lenses, the screen to capture that which will move the audience. The English Patient represents an ecosystem of artistry at work; cinematography, score, narration, setting of scenes, dialogue. In my opinion, it may be one of the most painfully perfect films ever made, not because of the technology that allowed it to become a movie, but because of the capability of humans to make visible to others what they otherwise would not see.
In our lives as educators, we learn to filter others, to render some things invisible. The English Patient gives me pause to consider our capabilities to see each frame of the school day as an opportunity to create, to make visible that which we now filter, to activate a camera bag of lenses in our work. The technology at our fingertips can expand visibility, but it can’t force us to see.
Over this break, I have considered noise, listened to it unfold on channels that never cease pouring trivia of the world into our lives in a circadian rhythm of news and reality shows by which we tell time. I’ve also watched the noise we create on a social media path of circular logic along which we tell and retell the same arguments for and against just about everything.
As I sought silence along the edges of a town that sits on white sand, sand which lingered for millions of years under Jurassic ocean waters, I thought about the learning evolution of humans from image to oral story to pressed print to screen to search to image to story. The whisper of a teen poet on HBO, the ghostly hands of Hiroshima, and each perfect frame of The English Patient reminds me that when I subtract the noise, I rediscover the value of the silent, reflective pause as critical in the cycle of learning. That was the gift of this break.