After I read, Art Makes You Smart, I reflected on how I struggled as a student for the majority of my K-12 years. I didn’t particularly enjoy school and was frustrated most of the time. Reading and writing were not high on my to-do list nor were math or science.
My lucky break? My parents! They got me involved with theatre, puppetry and the arts. I started my own company, Marialice’s Puppet Shows in 1979. Not too shabby being the president of your own company by the age of eleven! I went to children’s parties and performed puppet shows. I had between 1-4 shows every weekend and became the performer to hire for parties. As I struggled in school, I flourished out of school.
My mom fought tooth and nail to get me enrolled in the humanities course my senior year (only gifted and talented students were allowed to take it) and this is when I became a life long learner. I didn’t get great grades in the course, but it was the first time that I remember learning about literature and history through art and music. I remember bombing a paper on Shakespeare and asking if I could perform a puppet show on The Taming of the Shrew for extra credit. This humanities course was a pivotal moment for me as a learner and is the only reason why I even considered college as an option.
History was fascinating through the eyes of Mr. Tracy, the art teacher in the humanities course. I was no longer bored or frustrated at school. Instead, I was hooked! I pursued a fine arts degree in art history and later a M.Ed. in Creative Arts in Learning. My entire teaching career has focused on integrating the arts into the curriculum. As a middle school teacher, I always had a props box and costume rack in my classroom, so we could reenact history, not just read about it. I used to request the auditorium to teach my classes as often as possible. To this day, I truly believe that all children should be on stage at least once in their lifetime. (Here’s a previous post about theatre production in my middle school classroom: All the World’s a Stage.)
Over the years, I’ve taught middle schoolers and teacher candidates how to ”jump into art” and make history come alive. Some of my all-time favorites include jumping into Uccello’s Saint George and the Dragon, David’s The Death of Socrates (where we put Socrates on trial), and most recently we tweeted about the opera Aida: Aida Meet Twitter. There’s something so concrete about asking students to use the creative arts to enhance their understanding and learning.
I am a different person, learner and educator because of the arts. So, thank you mom and dad and Mr. Tracy for providing me an opportunity to love learning through the arts! Art makes you smart – I couldn’t agree more!