Art, Imagination, Schools and the Human Spirit
Could it be that schools, more often than not, prove right Thoreau's lament by failing to honor Sodergran’s primary principle about the human spirit? There is indeed that danger for any school as ever-present and expanding standardized testing can restrict and diminish the vitality of curriculum, learning, and teaching. Add to that danger the common circumstance of school budget cutting of the “non-essential” arts programs and “enrichment” classes and activities that are seen as expendable when hard financial choices are made.
"What does education often do? It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook." -- Henry David Thoreau
Schools that are spared these educational strictures— and there are some, including Fenn—have the invaluable responsibility to spur students’ innate creativity, imagination, and ability to construct knowledge. When schools provide broad and integrated opportunities for open-ended exploration in learning, not only in the arts but also throughout the curriculum, students readily embrace the chance to engage their work and in turn their intellects flourish.
Early last week at Fenn, we were treated to the performances of fourth and fifth grade students who had on their own created a Lower School Extemporaneous Speaking Contest. The rules called for a boy to draw a topic out of a hat and a few minutes later deliver a talk of two to three minutes on stage in the meeting hall to the audience. With topics such as “What I’d really like to tell my teachers…” and “If I had my own golf cart on campus…” the young speakers delighted the audience with their richly imaginative soliloquies delivered with verve. Later that week, the student authors of the fourth grade hosted a “publishing party” in the new Jafari Library, proudly displaying their essays, stories, and poems for visiting schoolmates and the faculty who wrote comments on their work on critics’ review sheets.
In the prior week at All School Meeting, each member of the fourth grade sculpture class presented with commentary his fanciful animal sculpture that he created with recycled materials. And at the close of the meeting another student reminded his fellow club members that the Lego Club would convene during recess to continue its creative and collaborative engineering.
"The inner fire is the most important thing mankind possesses." -- Edith Sodergran
It’s not a surprise that in so many conversations I’ve had with Fenn alumni who are thriving in their professions that include engineering, computer science, drama, studio art, teaching, and the law, their common refrain is that a Fenn education provided them an inner spark of creativity and imagination that their profession and lives demand. Our Fenn boys of today, before we know it, will be alumni in professional worlds that demand “the inner fire” that Sodergran cites. We hope Thoreau, if he were to know our graduates, would observe that Fenn had met the essential charge to preserve the “free meandering brook” of our students’ intellect and spirit. To miss meeting that charge would be a fundamental failure in educating Fenn boys.
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