“Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,
Alone, shall come fulfillment to our dreams
And our desires.” Wallace Stevens
They are immutable laws. Nothing stays forever and nothing is empty. Things end and we grieve, wring our hands and wonder how we’ll ever get along. But over time, we adapt and something new grows into the void. Whenever it happens we’re surprised. Things constantly change, what matters is our response. Do we cling to the past or cultivate the new growth.
The city of Rotterdam decided to close nineteen of twenty-five local libraries. Some citizens didn’t like this. Local libraries were important to a wide coalition of people (retired people, young families, low-income families, etc.).
Rather than protesting citizens chose a different tactic. They took control and reinvented local libraries. They found un-used spaces and brainstormed about what libraries should be. Then they created something new, that they controlled, better met their needs and no one could take away. It’s a wonderful story of community engagement and ownership.
This week I attended my son’s high school sketch comedy show. I did so as more than just a supportive parent. Extra-curriculars have been cancelled by teachers at his school in response to the imposition of contracts by the provincial government. This is happening all across the province and has caused much hand wringing.
We’ve had student protests, national newspaper stories about the critical value of extra-curriculars to learning and careers, legal action and lots and lots of upset parents. New premier Kathleen Wynne has made the resumption of extra-curriculars a top priority of her new government and is investing much time and effort in resolving the impasse.
This is insulting. Fundamental human rights have been trampled by the government and large sums of money were taken from private citizens without recourse. But all anyone seems to care about is whether there will be a prom.
I wondered how this sketch comedy show could be going ahead. Was there a rogue teacher? Administrators stepping into the breach? The truth was much, much better.
The sketch comedy team contains several grade 12 students who’ve invested years developing their improv comedy skills. This year’s show was to be a culmination of this. When they heard that the annual show wasn’t going ahead, instead of responding with anger and frustration they got creative and organized their own show. They rented the school auditorium from the school board and put on the show themselves. They did everything, along with assembling a coalition of volunteers (students and parents) to make it happen.
The result was terrific. The show went well and what it lacked in organization it more than made up for in authenticity. Students completely controlled the content and explored whatever they chose in whatever way they chose. And they probably did a couple of things they wouldn’t have been allowed to do if a teacher had been in charge.
The best part of the whole show was seeing the students after. They were exultant. They’d done what they didn’t know they could and they completely, 100% owned it. It was an authentic experience, not a ‘school show’ that people attended to support them but a real show. They weren’t students, they were performers. Discussions for the next show have begun and they may never go back. Why would they give up control when they clearly don’t need it?
This should be the future of extra-curriculars. Student controlled activities with community support. Not ‘opportunities to develop leadership skills’ but actual leadership with real feedback and the real chance of failure. Not a ‘parent engagement initiative’ but parents working with students to make real things happen.
Why not student controlled proms every year? Why not student controlled sports? If extra-curriculars are really that important they won’t die, they’ll adapt and grow in a different direction. That’s what I saw in the high school auditorium this week. And if they don’t, then they probably aren’t worth saving anyway.