The Arts in Public Education – An excerpt from PIVOT
PIVOT: Empowering Students Today to Succeed in an Unpredictable Tomorrow
Excerpt from Chapter 3, "Life is Like a Game of Cards"
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Chapter three begins with Ravi's heritage and how his parents settled in the United States. As his family unit began to crumble, he found his grounding in the arts, which is where this excerpt begins.
While my parents were losing themselves in anger and sadness, I was finding myself in curiosity and creativity. I grew disenchanted with the corporate lifestyle my family represented and started to dream that one day, I would become a rock star. Pleased that I was showing an interest in something, my mother bought me an electric guitar for my eleventh birthday. I was not particularly interested in becoming a musician, but I enjoyed making lots of noise in my bedroom, pretending to be Angus Young of AC/DC on stage in New York’s Madison Square Garden.
Between the tensions at home and my new distraction with music, going to school became increasingly unrelatable and unenjoyable. I had friends, but being shorter and browner than average, not to mention having a name no one could easily pronounce, I felt like an outcast. I was bored with classes and probably harbored inner rage toward my family life, which made me increasingly insubordinate in school. Eventually, the principal grew tired of having me sent to his office, so he assigned me to the school psychologist.
This was my “happy place” in primary school—the more disturbed I claimed to be, the more “parole” I received. Playing card games and building battleship models with him was my preferred way to pass the school day. I cannot say he helped me sort out life, but the sessions certainly helped me tolerate it.
Unfortunately, dedicated school psychologists are rare today. School counselors (a title combining both guidance and psychological counseling) are being asked to perform both career/educational guidance and mental health evaluations—two separate specializations requiring different expertise.
As I discovered a few years ago while preparing to give the keynote for the All Ohio Counselors Conference (comprised of about two thousand school counselors and an equal number of clinical counselors), this combined job cannot serve students well enough given today’s high degree of social-emotional stress and a rapidly changing career landscape. Students who are facing challenges like I did are more likely to fall through the cracks.
My parents’ divorce was finalized three weeks before my 13th birthday, and that summer, my mother and I moved to a much smaller house fifteen minutes away in Old Greenwich. I had to attend a new school, make new friends, and embark on a new and frightening beginning. I quickly made a few new friends in middle school who shared a common interest in music, so we started a band. With this collaboration and camaraderie, my interest in music grew. By the time I reached high school, all I wanted to do was drop out and play music professionally.
I had a good group of school friends, but I was also often bullied by others for being a “headbanger” (I listened to AC/DC, Van Halen, Judas Priest, Kiss, etc.) and was called names like “ravioli” and “Gandhi”—yes, I was apparently already very international! However, the bullying gave me grit, which helped prepare me for the world. While we should not encourage such behavior, we also should not shelter children from the “school of life.”
There were two reasons why I did not drop out of high school: Anne Modugno, who taught electronic music and music theory, and Carmel Signa, who was the jazz band director. I was lucky to have them in my life because drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol were often used and abused by my peers to get through the pressures of growing up in Greenwich. For me, music became my drug, and Anne and Carmel were my schoolyard dealers. They recognized, encouraged, and fostered my interest to the point where the escape the school psychologist provided for me in primary school was more than replaced by the music department in high school. I spent every free period and many after school hours with Anne and Carmel, and they always made time for me to learn as much as I could.
I reconnected with them thirty years later when I began giving keynotes for education conferences and reflecting on who influenced my life. They remembered me as a musically dedicated teenager and very much believed in me. Today, I can call them friends. It is remarkable how teacher-student relationships can pivot into adult friendships, and what gives me great satisfaction is that I not only realized how essential they were to my happiness and success, but I have personally been able to thank them. The music department is why I am not a high school dropout.
Parents should encourage their children to express gratitude toward teachers. Doing so teaches students to recognize the value of their education. Even if many years have passed, teachers will still appreciate acknowledgment from their students, especially since they will also then be able to witness the results. Since I taught music for many years, I know how much it means to witness the success of a student and be acknowledged for contributing to it. Teachers generally do not see the results of their hard work because the return on education is rarely evident before ten years have passed.
The chapter continues, demonstrating the importance of outside adult influences who open doors and provide insights and education that goes far beyond the classroom. Each chatper also concludes with "suggested pivots." Here are a few that are listed at the end of this chapter:
Suggested Pivots from Chapter 3
- Encourage gratitude. Parents should encourage children to express gratitude toward teachers, even if many years have since passed. This is not only encouraging to teachers, but also teaches students to recognize the value of their education.
- Provide many electives. Schools must provide something for everyone. There must be at least one subject that makes each student want to come to school every day.
- Emphasize arts: STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math) is critical because there is nothing else that teaches empathy, and there is nothing more important than empathy to create a peaceful world. Also consider STREAM (recess).
- Create a family/school partnership. Families and schools must coordinate and collaborate in both ideology and schedules to best educate the “whole child.” Parents must not view school as a babysitter, and schools must not view family time as an opportunity to impose homework.
- Promote efficiency over perfect. Perfectionism is a form of procrastination. Teach children to be efficient by setting the example in our own activities and taking every opportunity to show them the rewards of good time management.
- Focus on less, not more. Today’s students have so much in terms of tools and devices that problem-solving and creativity are stifled. Educators can stimulate creativity by occasionally restricting the tools.
- Use boredom as a catalyst for creativity. Allow kids to experience boredom and hardship to discover their passions early. Passion is infectious, and parents, teachers, and other adult influences are likely to support and invest in a child’s passion.
- Teach how to discover opportunities. We only uncover opportunities if we are curious and confident enough to engage in conversations that may have no clear benefit. Curiosity and communication are critical skills. Then, one must feel prepared to seize an opportunity which is where talent and critical thinking come into the equation. Either one has the ability or concludes that one can rise to the occasion.
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Ravi has finished his new book, PIVOT, due to be released before the end of the year. Learn all about it here: https://raviunites.com/publications
Other News and Announcements
Ravi is currently available for both in-person and virtual online keynotes. Click here to learn more about both of these (and see his video specifically on Virtual Keynotes).
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Ravi Unites Schools Update
We had two Realtime Audio-Video Interactions scheduled with Shanti Bhavan in India: one with Bethel Elementary School in Virginia and another with Londonderry Middle School in New Hampshire. All of these schools are currently closed due to COVID-19 and these interactions will be rescheduled for later in the year.
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