Joy and the Sublime: The Arts and Passion-Driven Learning Institute
Joanne Olsen spent several years working closely with Silkroad in a junior high school in Queens, New York. Although she and her fellow teachers hadn’t collaborated before, they made time to bring together social studies and math, English and music teachers to help children connect what they study in school to their own lives and the larger world — through the arts.
Now Joanne has joined a growing community of educators and artists from around the world. They congregate once a year at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to explore how the arts can inspire the kind of teaching that transforms requirements into passion-driven learning.
Students bring excitement, talent and dreams to the classroom. As educators, we need tools to channel their passions, and ours, into meaningful learning for the 21st century. What if the credo of Italian educator Loris Malaguzzi, to “do nothing without joy,” were etched in stone above the door to every school?
Peak Experiences: Bringing the World to the Classroom
Lame Deer Jr. High, on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in southeastern Montana, is hours from Billings and a world away from most American middle schools. The remoteness has precluded partnerships, limited educational resources, and prevented teachers from doing seemingly simple things, like taking students on field trips.
Enter three musicians whose backgrounds couldn’t be more diverse: a Japanese flutist, a Galician bagpiper, and an American percussionist inspired by distinctive sounds and global rhythm traditions. Collaboration brings the world to the classroom.
Silkroad teaching artists join producer, director, and arts advocate Damian Woetzel at Lame Deer through the Turnaround Arts initiative, a public-private partnership designed to help narrow the achievement gap and increase student engagement through the arts.
Side by Side: Workshops with Music Students
Many music students are passionate about their playing but have a harder time imagining how to make a career of it. Are there options beyond the orchestral model? Beyond the Western classical tradition?
While traveling, Silkroad musicians meet with music students, from high schoolers to members of pre-professional orchestras, to challenge their assumptions about music making. We ask them to turn around their sheet music or learn a new piece by ear, to prioritize expression over precision. We ask them to draw on all of their intelligences, senses, experiences, and intuitions, to discover what’s at stake for their audience.
We challenge our new friends as we challenge ourselves: to be curious, to be flexible, to meet “the other” in a new experience and question not only what makes it foreign but also what makes it familiar.