But with the shift, this is no longer my experience. This is the first time in twenty years of teaching I have not felt the pain of a child as my own.
They take a class called "Drawing," and we go through exercises which provide the practice, but also, the opportunity to use their voices, their eyes, and their hearts. I give them an opening to express what is important to them.
Courage is not often taught in schools. Normally, conformity, homogeny, and regurgitation are the models to follow. Kids are taught to blend in on a daily basis through humiliation, manipulation and other scare tactics that work just below the surface, so that they are angry at the end of each day, but they don't know why.
I try to provide opportunities within the exercise of drawing to open wide and sing, to stand tall, to laugh loud and walk strong. I don't miss a chance to let them know that they are more than they have been led to believe. I take every interaction and turn it into a giving. I turn engagement into a magic trick. I turn pencil, paper and eraser into a vehicle for justice. It is a subversion I am happy to create with them. After all, some of them still believe in Santa.
I only have one half of five days with each kid, but when they leave that class on Friday with a paper bag full of art, they also leave with a belly of hope, feet of courage, and the eyes of an optimist. It is my dream that some day, they will get the opportunity to change the world with a single act. That act might be art, but it might not.
That is why drawing is the vehicle for courageous education. It takes a special kind of courage to draw, and within that, another kind of courage to draw what matters, to draw what you truly care about, to draw something that might someday show a bit of the world that has never before been seen.
I ask each one of them to risk. I ask them to work through the fear of failure and ugliness. I ask them to trust that even if they make something bad, there will still be love on the other side.
I do this because when I look into the eyes of one of these kids, I can't help but see myself at that age, too scared to try, too paralyzed with emotional turnoil to even smile, and looking outward for the confirmation that I would be okay. I am trying to give them what I never got, but desperately needed. I am trying to teach them to pass this on, cheer it on, and keep it on.
I am teaching under the radar because I know that this behavior, what I am hoping to engender, is dangerous. I know that speaking out is becoming more of a risk. But I also know that the pain that results from denying yourself and blending in is too great, and what the world loses every time an individual gives up the fight cannot possibly be measured.
Now, we need kids with courage. We need kids who will go where we didn't. We need kids who will risk, even in the face of great failure. We need kids who will have the courage to be themselves.
When I am free of the pain of my childhood, I am free to risk with them. I am free to take a chance on each child, if that child can meet me half way. What a gift I have earned for myself, this freedom. I can only hope that my example will be enough to encourage risk. I can only hope that they will surpass me in everything I do.
Isn't that what we all hope for as teachers?