Skip navigation

Category Archives: Laurel

seduced

 

Featuring: Deborah Randall, Founder

Narrated by: Rosemary Ligsay, Intern

Engineered and conceived by: Deborah Randall, Founder

Music by: Alan Scott

 

It was great to have a job that was finished by lunch time.  On the good days.

This one seemed to be good.  I taught four different classes that morning and it seemed to have a very positive impact.  Of course, from my perspective the determining factor was always leadership.  It was about the Principal.  And, this elementary school which stood in the shadow of RFK Stadium in DC, had a Principal who seemed to know the name of every child.  No matter he mixed the special needs kids in because he said, “when they get out of here and have to take their shirts to a laundry mat no one will care what their special needs are.  These kids live with their Grandparents.  No one is going to hold their hand.  We have to prepare them to survive.”  This led to having one young boy in particular who couldn’t focus jump around mockingly making my job nearly impossible.  He was the laughing stock and the teacher wasn’t allowed to tell me this was indeed a disorder and not a bad day.

Still.  This one was a success.

The feet always stood out to me.  These students wore uniforms to school.  So, even on a sunny day there would be these extremely colorful galoshes and pastel plaid heeled tennis shoes.  It threw me at first.  Then I realized.  The human spirit will express wherever it can.  And in this case, it was on feet.

Many of my students were out at recess.  This was a blacktop playground surrounded by a very tall fence.  Four or five girls came running over to me as I was walking to the car, “Miss Randall, Miss Randall!”.  “Great job in the theatre workshop ladies.”  “When are you coming back?”  “Oh, that was your last session. I’m done here.”  “For good?”  “Well, maybe I’ll be sent back here again soon.  You girls are smart you will have all kinds of fun people teaching you.”  One girl steps forward.  She grabs the fleshy pinky side of my hand and gives it a slight pull down toward her.  I lean down and look directly into her eyes.  She tugs.  “Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”

I drive home.  Sobbing.

And, that was the drill.  I either drove home with elation because the experience was so powerful and positive or I drove home sobbing because it was very difficult to step into the world of these children who absolutely deserved the best of everything and were mostly being screamed at and punished for much of the day.  Especially devastating were the times when I would get the students moving and doing the vocal work and their teachers would fly into a rage and take away recess because they weren’t being quiet and standing in a single file line.

I taught Seniors at Dunbar.  They had a top-notch English teacher and she lined up the required reading with shows in town that staged the stories.  This was brilliant.  She took her students as much as she possible could.  She was in her sixties and had been teaching for more than 40 years and had no intention of retiring anytime soon.

It was, “A Lesson Before Dying”.  Most of the students hadn’t gotten around to finishing it.  I told them, “Look we are going to the theatre next week to see this play.  I want to know what you think.  How can you tell me if you haven’t read up?”  Then, I used positive peer pressure.  So, the activities I taught were more fun when you knew the story specifically although they worked without knowing anything too, but it wasn’t as fun.  By the second session all but two of the students finished the book.  In one exercise, they were to use the characters from the play and place them in any setting as long as it had simple story structure.  So, one group decided to put the characters on the set of Jerry Springer.  Each character had their time to explain WHY they were behaving the way they were and complex relationship dynamics surfaced.  It was informed.  Intelligent.  It was HILARIOUS.  The entire class was in the library pod area chanting, “Jerry, Jerry”.  I’m sure this made the librarian fill with hatred toward me.

When we went to Round House to see the play we were seated up in the balcony.  I told the students to always read their programs, talked about the lights, pointed out the booth, and told them to pay close attention to the set.  I asked what that thing was on set under the desk?  They said, “just a bunch of old laundry or something.”  Once the show began, they were leaning it.  All of the students.  And, when the main character came rolling out from under the desk after being preset before house opened, the students could not contain themselves.  I’ve never seen an audience more engaged in a story.  Ever.

In my follow up session, they had so much to say.  They disagreed with some of the liberties taken and I agreed with them.  In particular, they couldn’t believe that two female characters had been blended into one.  They thought that was disrespectful to the original intention and voicing of the novel.  They were BRILLIANT!

Then came Anacostia.  On one side of the road was a complex that was state of the art.  The classroom was almost sterile.  We were prepping for “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” and I was struggling with the content, or lack thereof, of this particular selection as an educational device.  But, it ended up being flawless.  On the other side of the road was a school that had me sobbing on every break.

Driving up to this place you hardly knew you were at a school.  It was cold outside and there were sheets of ice on the sidewalks.  I watched one student go down quickly smashing the back of her head into the sidewalk after her feet flew up just in front of the steps to her bus.  She tried to get up and walk it off.  She was hurt.

This place.

There were bars on the windows and constant flooding on the lowest classroom level.  The heat did not really kick in until the sun was up a bit to help it.  So, the students met in the cafetorium each morning.  Wearing their coats and scarves.  Getting lectured.  This Principal had some unresolved emotional issues.  Once the day got moving along and there was movement through classrooms it seemed that the Principal would get into a screaming match with one of her students about every 45 minutes.  Physically threatening them.  I always said that I refused to yell at children.

To my great sadness I found that in this environment, without screaming you did not exist.  Finally the Counselor and I hung out and chatted.  She explained to me that these were the “crack babies of crack babies”.  And, she said, “not even that anymore because the drug has changed.  These kids don’t stand a chance.”  These kids physically could not hold a focus or stop bouncing in their shoes.  The counselor told me the story of a 3rd grader.  She said most of the Dads were dead or in jail.  She said this one little boy wanted to come to school so badly that he drove himself.  His Mom took to the streets so he dressed himself and set off each morning.  He loved coming to this hellhole.  He got up in the morning and got behind the wheel of his Parents car and found a way to drive himself in.  Once they found out about it he was expelled.

It was unimaginable, this place.

I had been threatened at other schools.  One time, while I was standing beside the Principal and a boy was repeating “white girl” over and over through the microphone and the Principal was laughing with him and giving me the death-glare.  Another time, the teacher was largely absent and I don’t know who the man was sitting in but he sent his assistant to buy him a sandwich and soda at 10am and we all watched him reprimand her for not giving him the proper change back.  Then we watched him eat.  The we watched him leave.  And, I sat in a room with some older students who did not like me cutting into their social time.  They pulled out a pair of scissors.  I told them, “I am supposed to leave.  This is dangerous.  You’ll have to decide how this is going to go.  Listen, I get paid no matter what.  So, if you want to spend your time talking over me and threatening me I can just go and finish my coffee and read a good book.  I get paid the same no matter what.  Your call.”  And, the best result I got that day was getting these students to put away the scissors and sit in a circle exchanging ideas for 10 straight minutes.

But, this Anacostia school was beyond dangerous.  Beyond devastating.  During one exercise a 7 year old mimed rolling and smoking a joint.  Very specifically.  One male teacher spent so much time threatening his male students I thought I was going to watch him have a heart attack.  He was so threatened. He HATED those boys and they laughed at him outwardly.  On the inside though, a rage had to be brewing.  He was so abusive.

What was going to happen to these kids?  The disparity from one school to another was shocking.  Shocking!

On Capital Hill there were some great experiences.  One student named Russell tended to talk over me.  So, I’d say, “Who’s the director?  You or me?  You have to show your director respect.  You’ll get a shot to share your ideas, I promise.”  I found myself right inside of it with these kids.

After that session ended Russell’s teacher asked if there was a way I could be there permanently because it was a very successful experience.  I was flattered and had too much on my plate to figure it out.  She explained that Russell was just about to fail 10th grade and the he would not show up to do his make-up test for science and didn’t seem to care about anything.  It was clear that even this very positive place had written this kid off as apathetic.  She said, “He never missed one of your workshops.  We need our students that invested.”

I explained to her that while they saw a problem child, I had the great advantage of being a visiting artist which lent me an entirely different perspective.  To me, Russell was a natural leader.  Sometimes overenthusiastic but it was clear that his peers naturally followed his lead and that he was a brave individual and incredibly smart.

“Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”

Then came the assignment in Columbia Heights.  This was one for the record books.  Metal screenings at the front door to ensure safety.  Every class was gender divided.  Either all boys or all girls.  This confused me at first.  I had my own judgement around it.  Then, I went in to teach.

On the wall of one of the classrooms hung three huge lined sheets of paper.  Each student in each class had written their greatest dream and hope in one sentence down the sheets of paper.  “I hope I won’t be raped.”  “I wish everyone could be nice to each other.”  “I wish my Parents had a lot of food and didn’t argue.”  I couldn’t stop staring at these words.

After speaking to one of the teachers I found that there were incidences of rape on this combined campus.  Rape.  So, they separated the boys from the girls.  The all male class I had was…wow.  The teacher was an incredible woman and she was at the end of her rope.  Again, I saw her physically grab students and slam them against the wall saying, “TUCK IN YOUR SHIRT BEFORE YOU COME INTO MY CLASSROOM!”.  I couldn’t figure out why she was so physically abusive and why she was treating children like criminals.  I couldn’t figure it out until one boy untucked his shirt.  That’s all I can say about that.

In my mind I can’t leave them there, you know?  I have to set up a structure.  A program.  A way young people can get the tools that were easily given to me without anyone even giving it a second thought.

So, the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities has released a report entitled, “Reinvesting in Arts Education”.  After reading the 88 pages yesterday these stories from working in DC haunted my dreams.  It leaves me with a singular conclusion.  We need adults.  We need leaders.  The children should be the ones under 18.

“…students with high involvement in the arts…performed better in school and stayed in school longer than students with low involvement… Low-income students involved in band and orchestra outscored others on the NELS math assessment…in drama showed greater reading proficiency and more positive self-concept…”

This is something I could see only short-term.  But, to see how it affects the longevity of success is a stunner.  It got me thinking about going through the public school system in Prince George’s County in the 70’s and 80’s.  We caught the end of busing.  We had students from the projects, from mansions, and every blue collar station in between.  So, when I read Arne Duncans words about this being the Civil Rights issue of our generation it was the only thing that made sense.  It is unacceptable that the gap between quality education is directly proportionate to the class divides.  This flies in the face of decades of strife and good work.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan:

“Nothing -nothing- is more important in the long-run to American prosperity than boosting the skills and attainment of the nation’s students…Closing the achievement gap and closing the opportunity gap is the civil rights issue of our generation. One quarter of U.S. high school students drop out or fail to graduate on time. Almost ONE MILLION students leave our schools for the streets EACH YEAR. That is economically unsustainable and morally unacceptable.”

Hearing about the crisis in general is upsetting.  But, when we break it down to kids who have fathers that are either dead or in jail.  Kids that are born addicted.  Kids that get expelled for driving themselves to school because they’d rather be learning than picking up street life.  It shatters emotionality.

“and, for some demographic groups and geographic areas, the statistics are far worse. By some estimates, approximately 50% of male students from disadvantaged minority groups leave school before graduation…An estimated 2 million students attend a high school in which fewer than 50% of the students graduate-schools that have come to be known as drop-out factories…Studies about the reasons for these trends provide a remarkably consistent picture: students report being bored…show the signs of risk for dropping out as early as 6th grade…”

For those who make it through.  Who find a way to show up and pass the tests.  We are failing them too, and all of the sobbing in the world won’t change that.  It will be changed by a new social understanding around the right of every American to have a quality education.  This should have nothing to do with the class divide.  This should have nothing to do with racial discrimination.  Segregation should NOT exist in 2011.  Every child is sacred and this is simply unacceptable and intolerable on a human level.

“The narrow focus on only teaching the basics clearly has not been the answer. Many high school graduates lack the skills to make them successful in post-secondary education and later in the workforce….problem solving, critical and creative thinking, dealing with ambiguity and complexity, integration of multiple skill sets, and the ability to perform cross-disciplinary work.”

It was affirming, liberating, and uplifting to discover that there is a term, a phrase, a way to describe it.  Creativity Crisis

He was amazed by a boy who, for a class science project, rigged a tracking device for his moped with parts from a cell phone. When faculty of a major Chinese university asked Plucker to identify trends in American education…“After my answer was translated, they just started laughing out loud,” Plucker says. “They said, ‘You’re racing toward our old model. But we’re racing toward your model, as fast as we can.’ ”

It is also devastating.

I put together a video with hopes that the Prince George’s alum would begin to step forward and speak.

And, I’m offering two for one camp registrations.

I’m responding to a very simple request.

“Don’t leave me here.  You can’t leave me here.”