Building creative capacity: Arts education in the 21st century (Part 2)

by Guest Blogger

Several months ago, four students at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) deliberated how to advance education from a passive institution to a driving force that develops essential learning and life skills. Brought together from four countries by Harvard, the role of art in each of their personal narratives inspired them to choose art as the agent of change. They formed Creative Capacities International, using music, dance, spoken word poetry, and visual arts to teach critical thinking, communication and collaboration, and creativity. From an idea in a classroom in Cambridge, they have recently brought the transformative power of the arts to the remote foothills of the Himalayas and dirt-floored classrooms on the outskirts of Port-au-Prince. This is the second post in a four-part series on arts education.

By Terryl Dozier, Ed.M. ’12

There is a fascinating phenomenon that occurs when you give youth a pen, microphone and an ear, and tell them, "What you have to say is life-saving." Somewhere between fervently scribbling metaphors and shouting over the deafening silence of an awaiting audience, a student creates "impact."

Enter Me. I was once that student. A student voted "Most Quiet," who passed through high school with the burden of wanting to say everything I didn’t know how to express—until a teacher, interested in a few of my thoughts, mandated a poem and gave me an audience. I wrote "Who I Be," a simple composition questioning the stereotypes surrounding the intersection of race, socioeconomics and geography. Yet it wasn’t until a year later, when a noticeably shy underclassman mustered the courage to walk up to me and say, "I began writing because of you" that I learned the value of my words and myself.

Enter Authoring Action. In my senior year of college, I found a home within the ears and hearts of a group of adolescents who formed Authoring Action, a small youth creative writing organization in the heart of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. As the organization’s program director, I used spoken word poetry to develop confident, encouraged, and empowered young adults. These men and women artfully articulated the issues facing their generation, and engaged audiences with a single purpose, "to go out and get somebody."

Enter Harvard. I brought that mantra to HGSE, Creative Capacities International and the base of the Himalayas in a distant corner of India. There, I met an 11th-grade student named Sagun. We taught her class critical thinking through spoken-word poetry and found ourselves igniting a passion for purposeful expression. Later, having heard that the students had read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and were visiting schools within the U.S., I took the opportunity to introduce Sagun and two classmates to my undergraduate professor, the poet Maya Angelou. Angelou emboldened the three young ladies to realize that they shape their reality, and everything they choose to be within it. Once again, I witnessed a phenomenon, one that was masterfully highlighted by Sagun in an email expressing gratitude. She typed: "When I have nothing to turn to, I will always have my words. These words will be my voice. And my voice will be heard!"

Sagun has now dedicated her 12th-grade year to spreading that voice to youth across Sikkim by introducing spoken-word poetry and poetry slams. Enter Impact.

[Caption: Terryl Dozier]