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Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ~Pablo Picasso

Thoughts for the Teaching Artist is devoted to an ongoing exploration of the role of the arts in education. I believe that the arts are an integral, essential part of every person's education. Arts education develops 21st Century Learning Skills, supports all core subjects, creates empathy & builds bridges, and helps develop voice & vision.

The views expressed in Thoughts for the Teaching Artist are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other persons or organization.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Censorship Conundrum

There is a fine line between censorship and good taste and moral responsibility. ~Steven Spielberg

Every Teaching Artist who has been in the field for any length of time has most likely had to make decisions involving censorship. As Teaching Artists, we spend a good deal of our energy helping our students to silence their Inner Critics and encouraging them to produce raw work first and apply critical thinking later.  However, this method of work can be fraught with peril.

 I often tell my older students that censorship has less to do with what is "allowed" and far more to do with understanding the audience.  I especially emphasize this point with student playwrights.  You may write anything you choose, I tell them, using whatever language you think the play requires.  I promise that I will read whatever you have written, and I promise that I am unshockable (yes, sometimes I have regretted that promise.)  I promise to give you feedback. But what I can't and won't promise is that the play will be produced, or even read aloud in the classroom.

In a similar vein, the canon of dramatic literature is filled with important prize-wining plays that simply cannot be produced in a school environment.  The merits of any one of these plays can be debated at length, but it ultimately comes down to this: a student may read a novel under the guidance of an English teacher that contains adult language, situations and themes that are considered appropriate for that particular student in that particular school, depending on grade level, overall curriculum, community norms, etc. But put that same material up on stage, performed by student actors, and suddenly everything changes.  A dramatic version of many novels routinely read by high school freshmen would quickly ring down the curtain (and probably leave the director looking for another job.)

Simply put, the power of "acting it out" changes the dynamic of how the material is perceived, both by the actors, and certainly by the audience.  A clear understanding of this fact is essential for those Teaching Artists who work in schools.  Ultimately, this concept is at the very heart of why art matters: art affects us deeply, and often in ways that are difficult to understand or even express.  As Teaching Artists, we must remain acutely aware that we are working with powerful stuff. We must not take that responsibility lightly.
(For more on this topic, please see my post The Power of Enactment.)

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