Are we Americans currently living through revolutions in art, politics, music, journalism, economics, and education (just to name a few)? What is the nature of a revolution? Are there common characteristics and traits among revolutions? Are we teaching our students about the foundations and aspects of revolutions in American history and around the world?
“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” breathed rhythmically as the theme of this year’s American Studies Institute at The Lovett School in Atlanta, GA. As participants gathered on Thursday morning, June 7, Gil Scott-Heron’s poetic stoker was playing on an audio loop (lyrics). Then, after brief opening remarks from conference organizers, a Lovett senior recited the piece in a beautiful and surprisingly personal reading.
Over the course of nearly two days, through hour-long lectures from a variety of speakers, we were exposed to select individual’s perceptions of what we have experienced, and are experiencing, in the way of revolutions in American art, music, politics, economics, journalism, and education. Normally, I am not too keen on “sit-n-get” instruction for an entire conference, and I have grown disenchanted with this pedagogy as a primary means of schooling. I find it ironic that progressive educators talk of revolutionizing education by subjecting conference attendees to quintessential, industrial-age methodology. Nevertheless, Lovett’s #ASI2012 organizers made this lecture format work, at least for me. I was drawn in, turned on, and engaged deeply.
To try to summarize all that I thought and learned would prove impossible and short-selling of the event. My recap would do as much justice to #ASI2012 as a family slide show would do of a week together exploring some European city. Snapshots often fall short of deep, meaningful experiences. However, a few interesting themes did emerge for me, and I want to open the door to exploring these more fully in future thinking and posting:
- As explained by Dr. Cobb in the opening lecture, revolutions are rarely instantaneous. Rather revolutions are incremental. Moreover, revolutions rarely, if ever, sweep away all that was there before. I am curious how this theory and view relates to Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point.
- People seem to believe that many current-day revolutions involve the democratization of previously elite-controlled activity and removal of gatekeepers. For instance, through technology now, individuals who used to be resigned to the role of “consumer” may now also contribute as “producers” – through music production, like on Garage Band; through journalistic contribution, like on Twitter or long-post blogs; through video creation, like on iMovie and YouTube. I am curious how this ties into thinking such as that exposed on NPR’s TED Radio Hour featuring the Power of Crowds.
- Related to #2, there was a theme of curiosity about revolutionary veracity and integrity when just about anyone can remix, touch-up, or enhance a recording, image, or piece or writing. Interestingly, I got the sense that folks did not question Cindy Sherman’s creativity as presented by Jordan Clark, but they did wonder about a musical artist remixing a set of tracks on a piece of music as teetering on the edges of honesty (as presented by Stutz Wimmer).
- As Dr. Cobb and Patrick Hastings and Jay Bonner expressed in separate talks in different ways, revolutions are often returns to things of the past. Jay Bonner expressed it with elegant articulation about the meaning of “revolution” as something turning, revolving, and cycling through phases. This built on earlier foundations laid by Hastings as he compared Outkast to Homer and demonstrated the historically appreciated literary forms of poetry in more modern rap, hip hop, and slam poetry. I am curious how all of this cyclical, incremental, return-to-the-past nature of revolution makes revolution different from and similar to evolution.
- As Mary Louise Kelly detailed in her case-study approach to revolutions in media and journalism, revolution often involves searching for truth, discovering where facts and opinions merge and diverge, and improving evolving iterations. And, of course, real-life truth seeking and iterative prototyping naturally involves failure and learning from mistakes – something we need to explore much more purposefully in school proper.
I am not yet the writer to do any necessary justice to the closing presentations, but I will try to shine a spotlight on the brilliance of how Lovett closed the #ASI2012. In the penultimate session, participants walked through an art installation by Lovett students who had completed the school’s American Studies program. Through a combination of visual-and-audio mixed media, the Lovett artists invited us into their expressions of American Studies that could not be captured by mere essays or stereotypical reports in English or history.
In the final session, Asheville School highlighted integrated studies as a revolution in education by showcasing the work of nine faculty and administrators, many of whom work in teaching pairs in such courses as American Studies, European Studies, and Ancient Studies. In a brilliant Prezi visualizing the cyclical, turning, RPMs nature of “revolution,” the major-league Asheville School team demonstrated how lines artificially erected between the disciplines need to be re-blurred, permeated, and blown up so that school might model the integrated nature of the real world in which we live. Like Lovett’s art installation, Asheville utilized dance, art, and music to create the threads that could weave together English, history, science, politics, economics, etc.
What genius for Lovett to save its own student installation and Asheville School for the finale – to migrate from hour-long lectures on possible content and current events in American Studies to the already-being-done examples of how these two schools are implementing revolution in the too-often siloed nature of American schooling. For any naysayers, they could see, “Oh, that’s what it could look like, sound like, smell like, and taste like.”
May more of us go and do likewise…may we “revolutionize” schooling by making it more like learning and education, in which content and skills are integrated and mixed in true-to-life human-ness of exploration, truth-seeking, discovery, artistic expression, and problem solving.