"[I]f I had to live my life again, I would have made a rule to read some poetry and listen to some music at least once every week…The loss of these tastes is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature." --Charles Darwin

Monday, September 28, 2009

What is drama in school for, anyway?


This is from a recent run of the high-school themed comic strip "Funky Winkerbean." (You can click on each one to expand it and make it more readable.) A young new teacher is being questioned by parents about her selection of the play Wit which depicts a woman battling with brain cancer. I admire the strip for taking the subject on and dealing with it fairly well, but the writer of the strip has, in my opinion, missed the essential point. School drama is for students, not parents, not adminstration, not even faculty like me, who spend many hundreds of hours on a given project and is therefore tempted to select projects for his or her own gratification or personal development. The justification for the production of ANY play has to be the educational progress of the students.

This is not to say that one must always produce plays which are considered Art. There is a great deal to be learned doing a Neil Simon play (which at one time was considered the baseline of crass commercial theater). Every musical certainly teaches something about coordinating a large group effort which employs many different talents and skills toward a common goal set to a firm deadline. But personally, I was very proud of our choice last year to do Working, which is a show about how real people lead real lives. I know for a fact that our students learned a lot from that show--and a lot more than how much fun it is to paint stuff on Saturday and learn to sing in harmony.

Parents' role in all this (and I know this as a teacher and a parent) is to applaud the effort, no matter what. They are not there to be entertained. They are there to enjoy and appreciate the result of the long learning process involved in putting on a play or musical. You don't criticize the aesthetic value of your kid's matchstick replica of the George Washington Bridge. You say, "Good job! That was a lot of hard work. I'm proud of you." Same goes for a play. You want entertainment, get HBO.

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