Here be Dragons!

A guest post by Rob Levit, founder and Executive Director of Creating Communities

When lacking information on what was known beyond the visible world, ancient maps were inscribed with the words “Here Be Dragons” and frightening images to warn travelers to stay away. To be a creative individual and a master educator however, we must train ourselves to move beyond our own fears, limitations and perceived weaknesses to find the beauty and freedom in what I call “The Undiscovered Country” where our old models of teaching and doing don’t hold up anymore.

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A perfect example of this in “real life” is dealing with a difficult student. From our “Here Be Dragons” perspective, we may shut down or, gulp, admit that we don’t like the student. We can even come home after a long day feeling exhausted and depleted and have it affect our personal lives. But what’s the cost – to ourselves and to the student – when our energy is expended on staying away rather than navigating through? Anger or resentment can build up toward ourselves and the student. Why?  Because we care, and because we are human. The problem with this is that it may not be the child – but our own lack of tools, insights, and strategies to reach a child that desperately, and perhaps silently, wants structure – even though their behavior shows otherwise. The master educator recognizes the amazing and at times exasperating avoidance techniques that failing and/or troubled students unknowingly practice. It reminds me of the famous quote: “The child who needs the most love will ask for it in the most unloving ways.” That’s where personal creativity and arts integration come into play. To navigate successfully into “The Undiscovered Country” we must first have mastery of the conventional, tried and true techniques. This requires personal honesty, assessment, and practice.

Beyond that, we need new approaches like improvisation, creating poems and songs on the fly, being confident and enthusiastic about our hidden talents, and embracing that our most difficult students need new ways of learning that are hands-on and experiential. I thrive on being a guide to “The Undiscovered Country” and equipping teachers with confidence, tools, encouragement, and new skills to reach students. It’s amazing – once teachers grab onto these approaches, breakthrough after breakthrough happens in the classroom and our difficult students, although still struggling, begin to emerge because we have recognized opportunity, freshness, and possibility in them.  What once looked like a frightening dragon turned out to be the harmless shadow of ourselves. 
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-Rob Levit

Rob Levit is an acclaimed educator, creative artist and community leader. He has created award-winning, innovative “Life-Skills Through The Arts” programs for hundreds of at-risk youth and adults. Levit is the founder and the current Executive Director of Creating Communities.

Register now to join us for Levit’s workshop and many others at the 2016 Joan Oates Institute, June 27-July 1, 2016.

Automat

I was in New York for a few days and while there paid a visit to Lunch Hour: NYC, an exhibition running through February 17th at the main branch of the New York Public Library. This is the elegant Beaux Arts building on Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets that has the lions, Patience and Fortitude, flanking the entrance. You can go on-line to check out their excellent teaching resources.

Lunch Hour is about how New Yorkers have thought of and eaten lunch for over 100 years. In modern America, weekday lunch is rarely a family affair and in New York it is often a time when people rush, talk, and bolt down their meals while staying in high-pitched work mode. But it is also a time of escape, of shared confidences over a counter, and of eating outside in your private patch of sun. The NYPL has an enormous collection of menus, from fine restaurants to the lowliest diners, that reveal changing tastes (and prices) over the years. These and the many photos and objects on display give you a sense of the social and cultural meaning of food in urban American history.

The exhibition includes an enclosed space that reproduces the look of an old-fashioned Automat, a staple of New York dining from the early 1900s to the 1960s. Above you can see an original Horn & Hardart Automat wall of little compartments that once held enticing servings of food, all available if you put the right number of nickels in the slot. As a child I found it hard to decide where to invest my fortune. This slot or that one? Chocolate cake or lemon meringue pie?

These days we have Art-o-mat, a company that converts old cigarette machines into art-dispensing machines. The art costs more than a few nickels but at $5 it’s still a pretty good deal. Like the Automat itself, Art-o-mat offers an inexpensive, democratic way for people to get what they need, what sustains us physically and aesthetically.

New York artists have always been attracted to the Automat, the setting of so many late-night conversations and brainstorms. Berenice Abbott photographed one in 1936 and Edward Hopper’s 1927 painting ranks as one of the great works of American art. Many have viewed the solitary woman in Hopper’s Automat as a symbol of urban alienation and loneliness, but I prefer to think of her as mulling over some big decision. Marry or not? Stay or go? Coffee can make these decisions easier.

Think of the impecunious writers and artists who found inspiration in the Automat while sipping their third cup of five-cent coffee, of the novels and paintings we owe to cheap caffeine. These folks didn’t need fancy coffeemakers, and maybe we don’t either.

Liz