July 31, 2012

Long live cheap art

Last Sunday, we fell down a rabbit hole.

One that led us to a wonderland of open fields, free-spirited people, and larger-than-life puppets. And art. Whimsical, touching, down-and-dirty, cheap, and above all, irresistibly human.

This wonderland is called Bread and Puppet. Have you ever heard of it? It is tucked away in the hills of Vermont, in the village of Glover. Composed of full-time members and volunteers, Bread and Puppet is a "political theater": their representations and pageants are largely inspired by the political and social injustice happening around the world. Without lecturing, they will make you laugh (at the world? at yourself?) and get their message across.

We toured the old barn filled with puppets. We watched the Possibilitarian Circus perform in a field. We participated in the pageant! Do you remember dressing up and putting on shows for your parents when you were children? This is what it felt like. Hand-written posters, makeshift costumes, and boundless enthusiasm. Kids of all ages making art happen. And in the midst of it all, Peter Schumann, the founder, rocking the tallest stilts I've ever seen. Forget about age! When you step out onto their field, there is an irresistible urge to take your shoes off and be part of it all.

What struck a chord in me is their cheap art philosophy. "Art is food!" "Art is cheap!" "Art is for everyone!" they say. Anyone can make art. Look around you, use what you have, and let your creativity loose. Isn't that a great way of thinking?

Have you ever been to Bread and Puppet? Have you heard of them? Would you like to go?

July 9, 2012

Of iPads and Classrooms


I hope you are enjoying the fine summer weather. We definitely are. Our evenings and weekends have been filled with the Jazz festival, ice cream, fireworks, ice cream, bike rides, camping, taking dips in every suitable body of water.... and oh! ice cream.

As we were having supper at my in-laws yesterday, our friends shared some surprising news with us. At their son's high school (the same my husband went to), all textbooks are being transferred to iPad! Now being the book-lover that I am, my first and very predictable reaction went along the lines of WHAT????

Seriously. How are they going to teach the value of books to teenagers? How are they going to prevent them from playing games in class under the guise of solving a math problem? What about the feel of crisp, fresh pages and the excitement of neatly stacking all of your textbooks at the beginning of the year? And the book-covering ritual? And little stickers with your name and other vital information? What is happening to the world?

But then, as I was thinking about it and discussing it with D, I started finding some positive sides. No more carrying around of heavy book-laden backpacks, for one. Potential possibility of explaining difficult concepts with animations (think Physics). Keeping all of your textbooks in one place and not forgetting them in your desk/locker/bedroom. Having more space on your desk for writing instead of it being taken up by a ridiculously huge textbook.

I am not saying that I am convinced. What about the cost of the iPad? Some families cannot afford one, unless the schools start giving them out or loaning them out for the school year. What if it's dropped? I remember the state of some of my textbooks that have made the journey from the class shelf to the floor a few times, and yet were still usable. Can the same be said of an iPad? And what of the kids who need to be able to follow the text with their finger and flip through the pages in search of an answer? To highlight and write in the margins with a real pencil? How are we to teach patience and thoroughness to kids who can use the "search" function without reading the whole text?

Maybe I am old-fashioned, but I don't think I would want this for my own kids. For now, in my mind, the advantages are too few in comparison to the worries the issue stirs up. For now.

What do you think? Have your kids already experienced the iPad in the classroom? How did they/you adapt to it? And if not, would you like to give it a go? Does it scare/excite you? How would you go about teaching the value of books to kids who are continuously being exposed to technology? I would love to hear from you!

The picture of the awesome-looking kid found here