In all ways of learning, the more active the learner the better. As far as possible, passivity must be discouraged and overcome. This does not mean more activity on the part of the teacher, but a different kind of activity from that which most teachers now display when they go on the assumption that teaching is transferring the contents of their own minds (or their notes) into the minds of their pupils.
I am an Itinerant Arts Teacher on the Comprehensive Arts Program. I work with teachers and students in grades Kindergarten through Fifth. I also facilitate a city wide arts program, placing an artist in each of the 225 K-2 classrooms and providing a performance in each of the 25 elementary schools.
As an Arts Teacher I use Drama as a “teaching tool.” Most often I use Drama in conjunction with Language Arts Performance Objectives. In a typical six session unit each session has a “theme”: Feelings, Senses, Movement, Make Believe, Listening, Playmaking. The emphasis in each Drama session is on getting students to speak and move within a “real” context. For example a student in a statue expressing anger would be asked, “Why do you feel so angry?”, and might respond with, “I feel angry because my bike was stolen!”. The student could replay the response with more feeling in the voice or more appropriate body movements.
Sometimes these beginning drama sessions lead to activities which are related to the content being taught by the teacher. (“The Community”, “Regions of the World”, “Seasons”, and “The History of New Haven” are a few examples of different areas of the curriculum taught through Drama.) This unit is designed to work with the school system’s Performance Objectives. It has a flexible structure designed to be adaptable to teachers’ styles and overall school objectives.
The title of this curriculum unit contains the phrase “Melting Pot Theater”. This phrase refers to the creation of a performance through the integration of many subject areas (including Language Arts, Social Studies, Music, Visual Arts, and Drama) with many resources (school and community artists and arts teachers, guest speakers, audio-visual aids, computer programs, literature on Drama and the cultures selected for study). The primary purpose of this unit is to integrate (melt together) many curricular areas with many resources into a student performance.
The other purpose of this unit is to address the issue of multiculturalism in America, and how much children should learn about minority cultures. An insightful article in the Village Voice entitled, “Who’s America is This, Anyway?”, discusses a 1990 New York city report calling for a “curriculum of inclusion”. The report states that “the multicultural approach is seen as serving the interests of all children from all cultures: children from [minority] cultures will have higher self-esteem and self-respect, while children from European cultures will have a less arrogant perspective of being part of the group that has ‘done it all.’”
This article provides negative and positive criticism from writers of six major U.S. newspapers and the President of the American Federation of Teachers.
New Haven has many different cultural groups and much is presently done in some schools to promote student awareness of cultural differences and similarities. I think that the more experience a student has with different customs and points of view, the more flexible he or she will be when confronted with differing opinions, attitudes and customs. Whether a school system is made up of a variety of minority groups or not, the United States is a multicultural society. America is based on principles which take into account peoples different points of view. A Eurocentric curriculum does not always accurately teach an understanding of the values of cultural diversity and common history.
Although this unit stresses the melting together of various disciplines, it is not designed to melt the cultures together into one culture. It is intended that each culture will be studied and valued for its unique and individual characteristics—and that what will be stressed is the importance of each culture maintaining these characteristics while sharing some common traits.
I have chosen three cultures to study: Puerto Rico; Russia, U.S.S.R.; and Ghana, Africa. Since many of our students in New Haven are from, or have parents from Puerto Rico, it was a natural choice. Most children do not even realize that Puerto Ricans are not foreigners! I chose Russia for many reasons. Until recently Russia was rarely available for in-depth study. The word “Russia” evoked fear and blank images. Many people, including myself, have visited the Soviet Union and found a different reality than expected. Russia, although one republic of the U.S.S.R., has problems of its own in coming to terms with the one hundred ethnic groups found in the Soviet Union. Between 1820 and 1987 nearly 3.5 million people have immigrated from the U.S.S.R., providing the 6th largest percentage of total U.S. immigrants.
Ghana was chosen for many reasons as well. The majority of our students are Afro-Americans, many of whom can trace their heritage back to West Africa. There are also local artists and teachers in New Haven from Ghana who could be hired to work with students. The unit will provide more opportunities to focus on the many contributions of Afro-Americans.