Wish you were here

“I’ve always been suspicious of a doctorate in Education,” he said.  By some fabulous twist of fate and luck, I sat at a high table in Cambridge for dinner, and a begowned old gentleman was saying these words to me.  How to reply….oh, so many choices…I settled on explaining my work as couched within social psychology and the interactions between people and environments (with schools as a particularly rich environment), and he seemed to be okay with that, and moved on to explaining the various pieces of silver on the table before it was time for the secret cheese course and the Latin.  “You must be here for the Harry Potter experience,” said another, this one a lovely young female, also begowned, as she pushed peas onto the back of her fork.  Well…it was very much like that, yes, but the personae being enacted in the room were almost deafening, and that is what I will remember for life.  The contrast to American college life was stark, to put it mildly.

I have been obsessed with theatre and musicals (I was an undergraduate theatre major, after all, although I am not a singer, sadly) for  much of my life.  In London, the friend I went to visit and I took our older daughters to see  Matilda, which is a wildly popular new musical based on the Roald Dahl book.  The kids and dancing and lyrics (by Tim Minchin) were incredible and hilarious, and I just HAD to rewatch clips of big scenes on YouTube (thanks, interwebz! Here is the Matilda Trailer, but if you are into it, check out “When I Grow Up” and “Naughty” too) and listen to the whole soundtrack on the drive into UMW.  Twice.  And as I listened again, I found myself analyzing the big ideas.  What was the show about, really, and how did the writers say it in a way that made this show popular and the original movie (directed by Danny Devito) a dud when it came out in the mid-90’s?  My daughter sensed it right away–she’s six–during “When I Grow Up,” she said, “but she’s a grown up!  Why is she singing ‘when I grow up’!?”  Matilda and that grownup (a teacher–hmm, it’s coming together now…) both have/had terrible lives as children, but they–Matilda first, actually–fight on and past that because “no one else is gonna change [their] story.”  And it reminded me of the Amy Cuddy TED Talk on how your body language shapes who you are, and how I consider this to be a kind of missing piece in persona and identity as it relates to teachers especially.  Amy Cuddy says, “don’t fake it ’til you make it.  Fake it ’til you become it.”  See, it’s all coming together.


And then I had about seven minutes remaining in class yesterday and I found myself showing the clip to my students.  Do some hate musicals? Maybe, but I asked myself later why I did it.  And it was for three reasons, although honestly I could not have articulated these before I started the clip.

1. People generally agree that teachers who are passionate about their subjects are memorable and effective–I am passionate about both teaching and theatre, and here was a chance to model that for the students.

2. The students and teacher in the musical are deeply affected by the principal, and the teacher is affected by the students.  They change over time and their interactions shape them.  Those with hard lives overcome them within the social interaction of school and fighting against injustice.  That is a good lesson for teachers to remember.

The last was the hardest to discover, but the most related to DoOO:

3. I listened/watched/thought out the show after the first time I saw it.  I didn’t leave loving it and then move on, I thought more about it (and still can’t get the songs out of my head).  Professors and teachers worry that students are losing the ability/skill/desire to think critically about texts.  So I was modeling that for them.  It happened that the text was a 5-minute clip from a musical, but that’s a text too, to be sure.

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