An Essay on our responsibilities as educators

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      benjackson
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      <i>An essay that explores what our responsibilities are as educators<br>

      Written by Ben Jackson</i>

      Alpha has obviously visited hundreds of schools now, since our first show in 2003. Curriculum is a funny thing, some schools are adamant that our shows are a MUST every single year, and they eagerly book on the day for the next year. We obviously concur with these teachers and schools, and believe that valuable and quality experiences like these are essential. Alpha continues to look for ways to make the shows even more diverse in their possible use in schools.

      The new shift we made in 2005 was to emphasise and highlight VALUES. We updated scripts, added extensive content to the Teacher Support Documents, and generally had an overarching philosophy of positive role models and values and using them to impact students.

      Many schools have a values or virtues program, and many more have smaller programs that are focussed around certain issues like bullying etc. Now there are shows out there that are specifically a ‘bullying show’ or a specific topic that targets an area of the curriculum, maybe science or literacy. This approach to Theatre-in-Education seems great initially, especially to a teacher looking to occupy their students for an hour and tick off a box in the curriculum. It takes a teacher that is able to go beyond the focus on ‘today’ to realise Alpha Shows are more than this basic idea of Theatre-in-Education.

      This is not to say you cannot just book an Alpha show very easily, have the show come in, entertain the children for 90 minutes and then continue on with normal lessons. However, our aim is to provide such outstanding value that the event of an Alpha Show spawns something new, and something that lasts for a long time. It may not be noticeable straight away, and it may not be for every student. It starts with the screams and excitability that is created in the students during the opening sequence of each show. It lasts for long after we’ve left.

      What is Education’s responsibility? Well, considering the diverse range of opinions and styles we have encountered over 3 years of touring, it seems there is no one answer. If I could sum up the best of the education community’s efforts, and be so bold as to say that it probably should be something like – <u>to create choices</u>.

      Choices are created by helping a student to increase awareness – obviously specific awarenesses about our world, mathematics, sciences, etc – but we can’t just stop there, as this will only give a partial understanding of the world and therefore limit choices. We then extend the education to the physical, to the metaphysical, to the intangible – like sport, music and art, and in some cases, religious studies. Even then we are left with an incomplete pacakge.

      So what next? There must be something that wraps everything up and provides experiential and subconscious changes in students. That moves them to a consciousness that enables higher level choices. In no way am I suggesting that Alpha Shows do this completely, but I do know this is our outcome, and as but a small part of your entire annual package of ‘teachings’ it is time and money well spent.

      And the great thing is, you also get to tick off a few of those boxes! Music, art, movement, dance, appreciation of the arts, theatre with audience participation, bullying, role models, values, social development, creative studies, fairytales unit, story writing, school musical tie-in…just to name a few.

      Dare I say it but there have been schools we’ve talked to over the years that blatantly tell us that our shows do not fit in to their curriculum. This puzzles me – is your curriculum different to other schools? I understand that each school has a different focus, as a general philosophy of the school and for each year. What saddens me most is that all schools have a rich and comprehensive sports program WITHOUT QUESTION and WITHOUT EXCEPTION. Australia is a sporting nation so it seems to be valued by our society to educate our children into this sporting culture. I don’t refute that, the point I would make is that:

      <b>If our responsibility is to give children <u>choices</u>, to empower them to make better choices, then it is our responsibility to expose them to as many experiences as possible.</b>

      Every child grows up with a thorough education in ‘sport’ and other areas. Does every child have a natural ability for sport? Does every child move into a career as a sportsperson? Does every child love sport? The answer to all three is ‘no’. But – is a comprehensive sports program still necessary at all schools? The answer is an absolute ‘YES’. Sports programs create choices – this is our criteria for whether something should be included in education – so therefore it is valuable (regardless of cultural tendencies).

      Children, therefore, have the right to choose once their education is finished, whether sport should be part of their lives. Theatre should be given the same focus, as should many other elements of Australian life. Melbourne especially has not only a rich sporting culture, but also a rich theatre and arts culture. We should support this by giving children quality arts experiences that enable choices.

      <u>However</u>, you cannot choose something you have no positive emotional experience to. Unfortunately, most theatre for children (not just in schools but everywhere) does little to create this opportunity for choice. Or, instead, it only creates the opportunity for choosing to <u>dislike theatre</u> – naturally, if specific theatre falls short and is just simply ‘bad’, then of course we should ‘dislike’ it. The <i>problem</i> arises when it is a child’s FIRST experience, and maybe ONLY experience, of theatre – and they continue to believe throughout their entire lives that all theatre is as bad and boring as that first experience. They will be unlikely to ‘try’ theatre again, therefore they have missed out on an important part of our culture. You can see that this is getting a little more serious! I’m sure we would consider it a failure if a student who would naturally love mathematics, and perhaps even have a strong talent for it, had a bad teacher early on in Primary School and from then on always hated maths because they had a bad ‘anchor’ to it.

      Alpha’s mission is to do the opposite of this – for any child (or adult that didn’t get the chance as a child!) who is a natural arts lover, potential performer or potential theatre enthusiast will now have that choice. And just like with sport, we can’t know which students will benefit from the theatre or sports programs so therefore all students should be exposed to both programs.

      Additionally, as our criteria for an educational experience is whether something creates choices, Alpha Shows qualify as part of the curriculum, without any doubt. And this is accomplished not by focussing on a ‘curriculum box’, rather, by focussing on something that transcends this administrative requirement – something that focusses on a child’s evolution as a human, on their development into a person who goes beyond the averageness of existence.

      I can tell you with absolute certainty that Alpha events create that experience for children – it is, as we say, theatre that they can get excited about. It gives them that freedom of expression, the permission to do it. Too often children believe it is ‘cool’ to withhold expression, to be cynical, to be subdued, indifferent and lethargic. Unfortunately this is the side-effect of culturalisation of our children, and is mostly the example we set as adults, so that’s why they mimic these behaviours (because all children, like adults, naturally have the desire to ‘grow’ and for most this translates to ‘grow up’ or ‘grow older’ rather than ‘grow better’ or ‘grow in giving’).

      So after this discussion, we can now see the expanded criteria for experiences for children in school:

      • It must create choices

      • It must move them emotionally

      • It must move them to a higher awareness

      √¢‚Ǩ¬¢ It must reinforce or create neural connections in the brain that move the child to positive behaviours that lead to positive results in theirs and other people’s lives

      • It must play some part in preparing them to be a positive contributor in our world; to become aware of how to gain true fulfillment

      There are many positive side effects from our shows also:<ul>

      • The Theatre Industry in Australia is supported because more children will develop an appreciation for theatre and arts which in turn supports these industries in the future.

      √¢‚Ǩ¬¢ Young performers get to do what they always dreamt of doing and be examples to younger students of what it ‘looks like’ to be pursuing and realising a dream (anything we can do to encourage people to follow their dreams, to discover what gift they have to give the world, is what we try to do).

      √¢‚Ǩ¬¢ The children in the audience naturally move into what we call a ‘peak state’ for learning and creativity – it just makes your life easier as a teacher.

      √¢‚Ǩ¬¢ Some students make choices about theatre in the other direction – they realise that even though they can see that this is ‘quality theatre’ they realise they hate it! You’d think we’d try to ‘fix this’ but whilst I have never heard of any child coming to tell us they hated the show, I have an inkling that we help some students make this choice. I honour and celebrate this – it means they can focus instead on what does get them passionate, what does get them excited.

      √¢‚Ǩ¬¢ It’s actually just great entertainment for all ages. The stories are classic fairytales, myths or literature and generally connect with our soul, to the innate archetypes within us all. This simply just moves people, and emotional experiences are always beneficial.

      √¢‚Ǩ¬¢ They’re a lot of <i>silly fun!</i> Laughter is another expression of the soul, so we simply try to give people the permission to laugh! (even if it is at a poo joke!)

      • It moves students away from passive and socially disconnected acitivities like video games and TV

      √¢‚Ǩ¬¢ It brings together a community – it is our purpose on earth to ‘connect’ and realise the wholeness of humanity in our own gifted way. Alpha Shows go a little way towards doing this, to bringing people together for a positive experience. If you haven’t had one of our shows it is hard to explain – we’ll talk to you after a show and see what you think then! Actually, come to ‘think’ of it, it isn’t about ‘thinking’, it’s not a ‘thinking’ activity at all – it’s about the expression of the soul. If you’re thinkin’ about it, about the cost, about the ‘relevance to the curriculum’ – then you’re not getting it. You’re stuck in a non-imaginative place. So be open to feeling that connectedness, as your students universally and quite surprisingly scream at silly and made-up events on the stage as though they were life and death, and then have a life changing experience as a result (if they choose to!).

      • It will be easier to get real, flowing and creative writing and drawings from them, especially higher year levels (the Preps always love to draw!).

      √¢‚Ǩ¬¢ It will just give something common to share, as one teacher put it, ‘there was a buzz at the school for weeks after and they were still talking about it a year later!’ (when we returned for another show).

      If you would like to chat more about this topic, feel free to give me a call. Usually I’m available on our office landline 03 5978 5789, however, whilst I nowhere else put this number anywhere on the site, you can always reach me on my mobile 0419 347 327.

      Below is the discussion page I wrote a few years back. It still has some other specifics that I didn’t include above. It’s actually interesting to read – back then, even I struggled to put into words what this was all about, and simply cobbled together some ramblings about Drama Unit 1 and the benefits of our shows.

      I thank you and look forward to meeting you at your school.

      Ben Jackson

      <b><u>Managing Director</u></b>

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