"Pedagogy": The art and science of teaching.
Two years ago, Mr. Travers introduced art appreciation into the VanDamme Academy curriculum. Like the name suggests, the purpose of this course was neither to teach students the history of art nor to train them in the production of art. Rather, his goal was to help them learn to deeply, sincerely enjoy or appreciate art.
Toward that end, Mr. Travers teaches students how to look at a painting or sculpture. He demonstrates to them that looking is not automatic-it is actually an active-minded, methodical, purposeful process. Students learn to do a "reading" of a work of art: noticing and cataloguing all the details, making connections and generalizations about what they observe, comparing and contrasting their observations with other, similar pieces, arriving at a basic theme of the work, and finally, connecting that theme to their own lives.
This process integrates perfectly with the VanDamme Academy literature curriculum, for which the process of analysis is much the same. And indeed, Mr. Travers often makes a point of finding artworks that reflect the values and characters presented in the novels students are reading for literature.
This year, Mr. Travers has introduced music appreciation into the junior high curriculum.
In music appreciation, students listen to a short composition with a definite emotional tone and are asked to describe the scene that plays through their mind in connection with the music. I witnessed one of these classes, and the results were remarkable. First, though the scenes they recounted varied greatly from student to student, the commonalities were fascinating to note. Second, the students' writing was delightfully uninhibited-this assignment really allowed them to be creative free spirits. Lastly, I was moved by the variety of ways in which their performance on the assignment reflected their education overall: the compositions were articulate and eloquent, they often related to great scenes from history or literature, and they showed a capacity for a deep and meaningful connection to art. Listening to Mr. Travers read the students' work aloud while the music played, I was moved to tears.
Here are some samples of the students' writing about Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings." I recommend that you listen first, and then read.
"A wave comes onto the shore, bringing a man to his home town. He is dead. Memories flash of his life as the procession leads him to his grave: his wedding, his first born son, his captaincy. Nothing is banal any more."
"An army has just defeated their enemy. However, their greatest hero has fallen. It is raining, and everyone is crying, especially the hero's family. The hero had hugged his family right before he was shot. It is pitch black except for one light that is shining on the hero."
"Trees are swaying in the forest as the flowers are slowly blooming. They twirl at the sun's powerful heat. One day, they suddenly shrivel up. Kids are staring down at their once beautiful flowers, depressed and heartbroken. The trees begin to shrivel. The pinecones open up to let new seeds be planted."
"I see a boy walking up to a large building in New York for the first time and he can't believe its size. He is amazed and his mouth is ajar. He goes into it, and he is riding up in the glass elevator. He has reached the top; he looks at the view and yells happily off into the city. He is overwhelmed. He feels like a small sand in the desert."