Daydreams From Social Studies

`STEVEN is a bright student. He writes well and reads with great expression. He is an active participant in discussions ... but at times he daydreams out the window.'' Report cards! Can't you just picture yours now. Did you have the crisp manila cards with the A, B, C grades notched in a column? Or did your school use the blue paper sheets folded like a booklet, the teacher's shorthand comments crammed into the small boxes? Can you recall the sensation - elation or dejection - returning home that afternoon, knowing your report card was buried somewhere in your bookbag?

I was always a good student with one character flaw teachers noted with concern: ``... tends to daydream.'' Indeed. So much of what teachers call ``classroom management'' revolves around combating the abundant distractions and struggling to keep the students' attention focused on the subject at hand. And in these days of the TV-sit-com-quickie-cut-to-a-commercial, attention spans have, if anything, diminished. The teacher's most difficult task then is how to hold the majority of the class's attention without losing the students on either extreme to boredom or confusion.

Perhaps this is one of the most heartening pieces of news artists carry with them when they work in the classroom: there are other openings. No need to go prematurely gray, there is a doorway into even the quirkiest consciousness. If the traditional approach misses a student, there are not only other subjects but alternative styles of learning through which that ``drifting'' child can excel.

Howard Gardner, Harvard educator and author of ``Frames of Mind,'' has described in his research a system of ``multiple intelligences'' - seven different modes of thought, ways of knowing the world that extend far beyond the math and verbal aptitudes that are the traditional focus in schools. To varying degrees, we each share these intelligences and need to have them exercised and cultivated. Perhaps the new image of the ``well-rounded student'' should be an individual who feels assured in many of these modes and can synthesize knowledge from one to another.

But the more striking implication of such a concept: If we ignore or undervalue these other abilities, not only do we shortchange each of our students, we could be sacrificing all but the most mainstream of them. What happens to the boy or girl unusually gifted in a unique dimension who, unable to achieve in our narrow school system, becomes convinced that he or she is destined to fail?

In every school program I've worked in, there have emerged a handful of students who shatter the teacher's expectations. These kids are testable, confirmable ``cannots'' who suddenly ``can'' - and produce beautiful poems in the process. These students suddenly have the opportunity to redefine their roles in the classroom - for their teachers, their classmates, and for themselves. Perhaps that is the most compelling reason for the teacher-artist collaboration: not simply to change the creative climate in a school, but to catch a few of the students who are falling through our grasp.

When the artist comes to the classroom, some of the very tendencies the teachers worked so hard against can now be converted into strengths, into important contributions to the class's project. The quiet girl who never seems to have anything to add to the discussions may become a dynamic communicator once the cans of paint are opened and the mural has begun. (I know of more than one artist who, at one time, fit this description.)

Remember the boy in the back of the room who could never sit still in his chair? The one who fidgeted and squirmed and could barely hold out until gym? I know him; today, he's the artistic director of a dance/movement company. And then there's the case of the bright boy or girl who'd ``have such potential'' if they could only quit that incessant daydreaming, ``pouring their concentration right out the window'' ... This poem is just a reminder: Some of them are daydreaming still, but their windows have expanded to surprising proportions.

Rainy Day (Glimpsed From Social Studies) A broken school desk by the dumpster kicks two crooked legs in the air like a mule. On the blacktop schoolyard (wet tar blacker than ever) one white sneaker, soaked through, sits abandoned on the third base line. A jump rope, split in two, squirms snake-like toward the drain. And the line of honey locust trees, black branches budding their first green, leans over the spot where our kickball game should be: the kids sparked, hopping across the field - me, at home plate, dreaming home-run-glory - and my whole team, packed behind me, roaring!

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