Art in the Age of Understanding by Joel Worford

Art shifts with culture while culture shifts with art—making it difficult for us to determine which one needs to change first when we decide something needs to change.

The popular idea that the artistic community holds the progressive mentalities while everybody else lags behind is largely a misconception.

Consider this: the lead single from Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic contains the clearly misogynistic line “bad bitches and their ugly ass friends,” among others, yet that didn’t stop the song from winning Record of the Year or from selling over one million units in less than 12 months. Some would argue that the success of Mars’ music, along with the success of a number of popular Hip-Hop, Country, RnB and Rock artists who play large stadiums and sell millions of records every year, regardless of the antiquated stance their music may take towards women, or the problematic ways they may represent race and/or sexuality comes down to the difference between popular music circles and underground music circles. This idea falls apart, however, when one considers that, even within the independent music scene, artists tend to separate themselves by genre—genres built around cultures whose make-up often reflects the prejudices and racial distinctions of the United States’ socio-economic situation.

As art shifts and shapes with culture, its communities grapple with the cultural climate of the time, just like any other group.

So how are movements such as Black Lives Matter and #MeToo affecting artists? Surely the same musicians who perform at The Women’s March and speak out against bigotry and hate on social media are taking such ideas into account while they’re producing and presenting their art?

I believe the difference is small, yet substantial in the way that it manifests. I listen to Bruno Mars’ new album and enjoy the 90s throwback style quite a bit, yet as a working musician and singer-songwriter myself, I would never cover the song 24K Magic, because that one line about “bad bitches and their ugly ass friends” makes me uncomfortable. The reason it makes me uncomfortable is because I understand that it makes some of my friends who are women uncomfortable. This understanding is crucial, and represents the moment where the conversations brought to the forefront by Black Lives Matter and #MeToo begin to influence culture. As people begin to understand one another differently, culture will shift to accommodate, and so will art. When I listen to Bruno Mars’ new album, I skip that song, because the moments of misogyny take me out of the album’s groovaliciousness and remind me of the stories that my roommate tells about her negative experiences with men—some of whom surely mistreat women because they hold mentalities similar to the ones Mars glorifies in his song.

Skipping that song is my choice, just like it was Bruno Mars’ choice to write that line, record ’24K Magic,’ and include it on his album.

Both choices are valid—to regulate art and creation would be to regulate conversation, and such artistic stifling isn’t conducive to understanding. Our choices are just different, and reflect different ideas. I wouldn’t say that my choice is so much an act of protest as it is an act of necessity. Why should I listen to a song if it makes me uncomfortable? With that, you could ask—why should Bruno Mars change his song if he feels comfortable with it? Plenty of people, both men and women, love the song, and that line.

As society shifts in response to conversations on human rights and morality, the way we interact with each other will change, and the way we interact with art will change. Lyrics deemed bigoted or misogynistic will cause songs to fall out of the mainstream, and at that point, it will be the artist’s choice on whether to change with society, or to try and change it back.

___________________________________________

Joel Worford is a singer-songwriter from Richmond, Virginia. He currently studies English at Longwood University with a concentration in Creative Writing. Joel’s short story “The Naked Eye” appears in the 2017 edition of Good Works Review.

Joel.jpg

Creating Peace in Your Classroom- Three Things You Can Do Tonight by Amanda Baker

“Establishing peace is the work of education.”-Maria Montessori

We teachers love teacher movies. You know the ones I’m talking about- bad kids, low-performing schools, difficult administration, absent parents, and the rising star teacher who inspires the kids to “come together to learn and be their best selves.” And it works out every. single. time. “How do I DO THAT???” we ask from our post on the couch, covered in ungraded papers and potato chip dust. They make it look so good and so easy!

We want to create that sense of belonging in our own classrooms. We want to give our students that sense of peace that passes all understanding when they step through our doors. We want to be inspirational too! And so, we pack up our papers, adjust our ties and our attitudes, and head out in the morning ready to HAVE A GOOD DAY IN OUR CLASSROOMS AND CREATE OUR OWN PEACEFUL LITTLE COMMUNITY, DAMMIT.

And the same student that you normally have trouble with doesn’t respond to your smile and chirpy greeting of “Good morning! Welcome! It’s a great day to learn!” And the same skippers skip. And the same kid who is sullen is still sullen. That kid still got into a fight in the hallway. This kid still cussed out a fellow classmate. Your greeting didn’t matter. Your new lesson plan with an article about achieving inner peace, written by the Dalai Lama no less, and your carefully-crafted guided reading worksheet and thoughtful journal response flopped. Most of the kids refused to write the journal, and the worksheets had one or two-word answers that didn’t really make sense. You think, “If only this kid wasn’t in my room,” or “Uuuggghhhh… if those two kids were just different,” or instead of the awful “he’s/she’s a bad kid,’ we say the equally damning but more polite, “Well, she’s/he’s a ring leader, you know.” Insert extreme teacher eyeball roll here, add resigned slow head shake for full effect.

THOSE kids just RUINED it.

Relax. Take a deep breath.

One worksheet is not going to “fix” a decade or more of a chaotic home life, undiagnosed learning difficulties, substance abuse, physical abuse, neglect, or even a rumbly tummy from no breakfast and lunch.

Banishing one kid to in-school suspension every chance you get isn’t going to help your classroom climate more than temporarily. Blaming the classroom disruptions on one kid as the “ring leader” and wishing for their family to suddenly move away isn’t going to make your classroom Hollywood perfect either.

There are some things you CAN do, however.

Things that aren’t blinking neon arrows that say “HERE IS THE WAY TO PEACE AND HARMONY!” They are subtle and quiet, they don’t require you to chang e your seating chart (which we all know is a nightmare), or for you to send out “that kid” again.

1. Do some self-care.

Normally we teachers see this at the bottom of lists like these, as an afterthought. But you know that whole “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy” cliché? It works for classrooms too. If you, dear teacher, are tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and burnt out, your classroom is going to feel that stress, and your stress negatively impacts everything you are trying to do. The University of Groningen in the Netherlands did a research study on the effects of teacher stress on students. They found that teachers “…who showed higher levels of stress at the beginning of the year displayed fewer effective teaching strategies over the rest of the school year, including clear instruction, effective classroom management, and creation of a safe and stimulating classroom climate for their students, than did the teachers with lower initial stress levels” (Sparks).

So, whatever you do to get unstressed, do that. Use the “check plus, check, check minus” grading system for some minor worksheets if it helps you clear that stack off the desk. Ride your bike after class. Force yourself to stop grading by a certain time so you can have time for a bath and a book. And do not feel guilty about it at. all. If you’re less stressed, then you’ll be more at peace, which means that feeling will carry over into your classroom too.

2. Watch your mouth.

Sometimes, we are own worst enemy. I teach high school, and every year I hear stories about “the mean thing that Ms. So-and-so called me when I was in 3rd grade…” or a class reminisces about how they drove Mr. So-and-so to yelling in 5th grade and how red his face gets. Those throw-away words stay with a kid FOREVER. They internalize the “Oh my god, why are you so stupid??” comments. They never forget the “You just need to shut up” snap. The frustrated “What is wrong with you? It’s a simple word!” sinks into the deepest parts of them, and it trickles up to effect that student’s response to every teacher they have after that. It’s hard for us to look at ourselves in the mirror and think, “Ohhhh… I’m the problem here,” but many times, we are. In the article “When The Teacher Is The Bully," one teacher admits that he bullied his students, particularly special education students. He was eventually forced to resign because of parent complaints. It took him three years to come to terms with the damage he had done, and when he returned to the classroom, he said he hasn’t raised his voice even once. Your mouth can wreck a kid for life.

3. Create a space for peace to live in your room.

“Flexible seating” is all the educational rage right now, and I am lucky enough for the first time in fourteen years to have a classroom big enough for a loveseat, a rug, and a pretty floor lamp… and thirty desks. You might not. But a rug under your desk, a glider rocker in the corner, and a nice desk lamp might be do-able. Pinterest is full of ideas for small classrooms spaces. The point is to create a physical place that the kids see, can access if they need it, and offers peace and quiet when needed. That bit of peace in your room might be the only peace they experience all day. And for a kid to know day after day, week after week that that space is there for them to use when they need it gives them something special to look forward to in your room. Montessori schools are experts at creating peaceful, safe spaces for their students. Their entire model is based on the “prepared environment” that makes for peaceful, productive learning. Make time to go check out one someday and see how it’s done.

Dear Teacher, you are the author of your own peace and the peace of your classroom. I’d like to say that my classrooms are always peaceful, but they aren’t. I teach teens, notorious for outrageous language and fights and rebellions, but every grade level is challenging for different reasons. I will say that I have very few arguments even though we discuss tough and controversial social issues. In fourteen years, I’ve had only two scuffles in my room. I do yell sometimes, but it’s mostly “STOP TALKING!!!” five thousand times. Last semester a kid gratefully threw their bookbag on the floor and sank in relief onto the couch and said, “I am so happy this couch is here. I really needed it today.” You and I can’t control what is going on at home. We have very little say in what they do from 3:30pm to 8am, sixteen hours of NOT us. In many schools, teachers aren’t allowed to touch their students at all, never mind give them the hugs they so desperately need.

We have a small window of opportunity to model for them what life CAN be like, what they can create for themselves and their futures, the endless possibilities of peace for all of us. Don’t waste it.

_____________________________________________

References

Kelmon, Jessica. “When The Teacher Is The Bully.” Great Schools, October 2017. https://www.greatschools.org/gk/articles/when-the-teacher-is-the-bully/

Miller, Alice Lawson. “Cultivating Peace In The Classroom.” Montessori Services, 2011. https://www.montessoriservices.com/ideas-insights/cultivating-peace-in-the-classroom

Sparks, Sarah. “How Teacher Stress Affects Students: A Research Roundup,” Education Week Teacher, June 2017. https://www.edweek.org/tm/articles/2017/06/07/how-teachers-stress-affects-students-a-research.html

________________________________________________

Amanda Baker is a member of the Central Virginia Chapter of Writing for Peace. Mother, teacher, daughter, friend, writer, Amanda has been teaching high school English for fourteen years and in two states. Currently living in Southside Virginia, this Yankee transplant has been a waitress, a technical writer, a truck driver, a business owner, a corporate secretary, and an educator. In addition, she volunteers for the Halifax Dog Squad helping to rescue and transport dogs, and in the summers, she helps to sew costumes for The Prizery's Summer Theater Celebration. 

Amanda.jpg

GOOD READ: Your Turn: 4 Things You Can Do to Honor Martin Luther King in 2018 by Carlos Galindo-Elvira (from The Arizona Republic via ADL)

(From ADL--This article originally appeared in The Arizona Republic)

"As we head toward another day of remembering Dr. King, his own words are most suited for the moment: “We cannot walk alone. And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.”

4 tangible things you can do

"King's work is far from over. Here are things to do in 2018:

1. Work in a bipartisan effort with state legislators to codify a standalone criminal provision for hate crimes. The law should be more inclusive and comprehensive, covering hate crimes based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and disability......

2. Support a clean Dream Act – one that gives “dreamers” a path to citizenshipwithout other stipulations attached, such as border-wall funding. It's a moral imperative.....

3. Ask Congress to support the full restoration of the Voting Rights Act.....

4. Shrink the space for extremists to grow and thrive......"

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

Learn more about the Anti-Defamation League Here

 

mlk.jpg