Tuesday, January 6, 2009

This I Believe

I have been working with my 12th graders for the last several weeks to create essays for the NPR series This I Believe. They are working on a portfolio of belief, and will soon submit their essays and perform them aloud as part of a live "radio" show somewhere on campus (the ambiance committees are still deciding where). Two of them asked me if I was going to write an essay, so I did. I just submitted it to NPR, and found the whole process quite interesting. Perhaps you would like to read or listen to some of the essays and write and submit one yourself. Just in case, here is the link to browse the This I Believe website: http://www.thisibelieve.org/index.php .

Here is my essay:

The Power of Creativity

I teach English in a yellow building on a wooded campus on the outskirts of Sofia, Bulgaria, at the American College of Sofia. This is a country facing many struggles: big ones like E.U. sanctions and organized crime, and small ones like stray dogs and haphazard garbage collection. Its hope lies in members of the future generation, and their hope lies in the possibility of new ideas.

Last week my 12th graders debated a single question – what is the most vital issue for their generation? AIDS, drugs, violence, global warming, public education, the responses ranged as broadly as each new day’s frightening headlines. They went on to brainstorm possible solutions, but it was much easier to list problems than it was to solve them. Our conversation only strengthened my belief, that we need creativity in our world. We need the potential to create solutions where none exist, to bring beauty into spaces of despair - here in Bulgaria, and all over the world.

As a teacher, giving my students chances to be creative has always been my priority. I’ve seen them perform poem raps, cry while acting out the end of Death of a Salesman, illustrate graphic novels about teenage life, and publish children’s books touting environmentalism. They have scripted and storyboarded films, designed identity mandalas, and strutted the catwalk in a 1920s literature fashion show. It is more important to me to give them these opportunities than to teach them the difference between an appositive and a hanging modifier. I want my students to be dreaming thinkers, thinking dreamers.

Dreamers like Edi Rama, mayor of the capital of Albania, who hired designers to paint the communist-made concrete blocks of his city in a rainbow of colors, since he couldn’t afford to tear them down. Dreamers like Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, and Jane Goodall. Dreamers like that famous dreamer, Martin Luther King Jr., who saw a possibility others couldn’t see.

Who will be the next great dreamers? How can we help them learn to dream?

I keep a bumper sticker up in my classroom, a quote from Ghandi: “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.” I try to teach the change I wish to see in the world, and I believe my actions will make a difference.

In December, I showed my husband’s 8th grade students how to cut snowflakes to decorate their room for Christmas. Why bother with such things in our schools? Maybe a student who can see a piece of delicate art in a white paper circle, will one day see a way to bring together divided peoples, a new method for creating energy, a cure for cancer in a lump of dirt. If we don’t teach them to see this potential in their world, who will?

If we value creativity, creativity will save us. This I Believe.


Anonymous said...

I've been hearing about the NPR opportunity to share beliefs on the radio, here. It's not only an excellent assignment for (some?) seniors, but good of you to do it with them. I like hearing about your projects and assignments, Betsy, because they are creative. Feel good about living out your belief! I remember how much you enjoyed the Imagination course in graduate school...Would you like to develop a workshop on Creativity? Would you like to present it? The number of potential audiences seems high. I enjoyed imaginative gatherings with you at McCabe Retreat House. I think we still have the watercolor mandela you made long ago, and thinking about it makes me want to offer something similar at a site near here. xomom

judy baker said...

Brett, your waterfall/hiking pictures are wonderful. I was able to get a true feel for where you are and what you are doing.
Betsy, I so enjoyed your "essay" on creativity. You have such insight! It's a pleasure reading what you write