Posts Tagged ‘Bates College’

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Dahlov Ipcar’s Impact

July 5, 2018

A wonderful connection

As educators, we often don’t know the impact of our relationships with students. As a teacher our words and guidance may stick for a day, a month, or perhaps a lifetime. We know of Dahlov Ipcar, the amazing artist and her contributions as a children’s book author and illustrator but this story tells much more about Ipcar’s relationship with others. In particular how her work as a teaching artist in a classroom in Cape Elizabeth in 1999 spoke to a young student named Rachel Walls. During the 90’s the programs were called Artist-in Residence and although I don’t know for sure I’m guessing that the program was funded by the Maine Arts Commission. The following  post is was published on June 7, 2018 in the Bates News. It is reprinted on the Maine Arts Education blog with permission from the writer Doug Hubley who is a newswriter at Bates College. Thank you Doug! 

Rachel Walls ’99 was 8 years old when she first met Dahlov Ipcar, one of Maine’s best-known and most-loved artists. Ipcar, known for her children’s books as well as her work in other media, came to Walls’ classroom in Cape Elizabeth through an artist-in-residence program in Maine schools.

“She was assigned to work with us for a quarter and teach us how to write and illustrate children’s books,” says Walls, who is now an art dealer and curator, a cultural historian, and an advocate for the arts in education.

That early encounter blossomed into a friendship and professional relationship between Walls and Ipcar, who died in 2017 at age 99.

Today, Walls is the sole representative of the late Ipcar’s work — a position that led to her participation in creating the Bates College Museum of Art’s summer 2018 exhibition, Dahlov Ipcar: Blue Moons & Menageries.

Dahlov Ipcar chose Indrani Rahman, a famous classical Indian dancer and the grandmother of two Bates alums, as her model for the oil painting “Valley of Tishnar.”

Opening June 8, Blue Moons & Menageries comprises a stunning range of work by an artist known for her versatility across media. And it includes pieces seldom or never shown in public, including a painting from the 1960s for which the model was the first Miss India (for the Miss World pageant) and the grandmother of two Bates alumni.

The daughter of prominent modernist artists Marguerite and William Zorach, Ipcar reached a wide audience through the many children’s books she wrote and illustrated. She also maintained a steady studio practice, producing paintings, sculptures, and prints that are widely represented in public and private collections.

Her work is known for its bold use of color, a dramatic and romantic flair, and its many representations of animals wild and domesticated. Her works “are rich, decorative and, yes, even a little homespun. They are playful, comfortable and homey,” art critic Daniel Kany wrote in January for the Maine Sunday Telegram.

“But they are also highly sophisticated responses to some of the leading intellectual art movements of Modernism, particularly Cubism and Surrealism.” In 1939, Ipcar was the first woman — and, at age 21, the youngest artist at that time — to be featured in a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Rachel Walls. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Walls’ parents collected work by Ipcar. “I did get the opportunity to visit her at her farm” in Georgetown, Maine, Walls says, “and because my parents were fans of her work, I was aware of when she was going to be in public, and I attended those events.”

The pair reconnected in a more profound way in 2011. Walls, recovering from a serious skiing accident that affected her reading and writing, turned to Ipcar’s children’s books as she recovered those skills. She brought some Ipcar first editions to a book signing, and the artist invited her to the farm for what turned into an ongoing series of visits.

Ipcar was dealing with her own health setback, and the cruelest one for an artist: gradual loss of her vision because of macular degeneration. She enlisted Walls in an effort to organize information about the life and work of her mother, Marguerite Zorach, and especially to help re-establish Zorach’s artistic credibility, as too often her work was viewed as secondary to that of husband William and even to Ipcar’s.

“Blue Moon Square” (2007) is one of seven works in Dahlov Ipcar’s “Blue Moon” series on display at the Bates art museum.

Ipcar, says Walls, “wanted someone to really document what she felt were important aspects to the cultural significance of Marguerite Zorach in American history and art history.” (Zorach was awarded an honorary degree by Bates in 1964 — and Ipcar had her own turn in 1991.)

“When we completed that project,” Walls continues, ”we started doing the same thing with Dahlov, to make sure that her legacy was also preserved.”

“Something that was very much a part of my training at Bates is that, outside math and science, there’s no one answer to anything,” says Walls, a double major in women’s studies and in American cultural studies.

“It’s all about perspective. I learned how important it is to listen to other perspectives and contextualize how things may have been for somebody else, and how their own experiences left an imprint on how they view and experience life every day.”

Blue Moons & Menageries is full of great stories and surprising connections. The painting “Valley of Tishnar,” for instance, has an arcane but fascinating link to Bates. Named for a place in the children’s fantasy book The Three Royal Monkeys, this 1966 painting depicts a woman wandering in a jungle with leopards, tigers, zebras, and a peacock.

If Ipcar’s fantastic side often seems to draw the most attention, the artist made a serious study of educational, artistic, and psychological theory.

Ipcar’s model for the piece was a famed Indian classical dancer named Indrani Rahman, daughter of an Indian father and American mother. Named Miss India in 1952, Rahman was also the grandmother of two Bates students: Habib Wicks ’94 and Wardreath Wicks ’99, Walls’ classmate.

Meanwhile, appearing in public for the first time ever are five panels from two murals that Ipcar created in the 1930s. A gift to relatives of Ipcar’s husband, Adolph, who died in 2003, the murals illustrated two popular folk songs, “Froggy Went a-Courtin’” and “The Walloping Window Blind.”

Spanning some five decades of Ipcar’s career, and making their public debut as a group in the Bates exhibition, the “Blue Moon” paintings of the exhibition’s title afford a tidy summary of Ipcar’s oeuvre. “If you were only to look at these seven paintings, it’s a very nice overview of the range that she had, and some of the subjects that she used throughout those decades,” Walls says. “To be able to show the majority of those paintings in one space together, is, I think, a major coup.”

Rachel Walls ’99 speaks with museum visitor Jane Abrahamson on the eve of the Ipcar exhibition opening at the Bates College Museum of Art. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

“There are large gaps in the years between some of the paintings,” she adds. “And that’s because the series was truly inspired by Dahlov’s dreams” — she would make a “Blue Moon” painting only in response to a dream whose imagery, what Walls describes as “these fanciful and imaginary creatures,” seemed right.

But if Ipcar’s fantastic side often seems to draw the most attention, the artist, Walls points out, made a serious study of educational, artistic, and psychological theory pertinent to youth development, with the aim of learning “to write literature that was appropriate for the illustrations that she was able to easily create for her books.” (With that in mind, Walls has worked with the Bates museum to develop educational programming for Blue Moons & Menageries, including a reading of Ipcar books coupled with an art-making session on June 26.)

Looking at her own writing and the inspiration she found, early and late, in those books, Walls sees herself as an example of what Ipcar aimed to achieve. “That’s something I find very rewarding,” she says. “I very much valued her friendship, and her creative genius, and the principles and ideals that she tried to put forward in her children’s books.”

“Hunters of the Moon” is a 1966 oil painting by Dahlov Ipcar.

Doug Hubley
Newswriter, Bates College
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In Today’s News

July 31, 2017

Son Long Laura Faure

Laura has directed the Bates Dance Festival and put Maine on the map when it comes to excellent dance learning opportunities. From young children through adults for 30 years Laura has watched them come and go from Lewiston. I have fond memories of meeting Laura and my visit to the festival. Thank you Laura for your commitment to dance in Maine and good luck as your journey continues!

You can read the entire article from the Portland Press Herald written by Bob Keyes by CLICKING  HERE.

 

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In Today’s News

May 26, 2017

Next director Bates Dance Festival

Shoshona Currier, director of performing arts for the city of Chicago, has been appointed as the next director of the Bates Dance Festival, an internationally renowned teaching and performance series held every summer at Bates College. Shoshona was born in Fort Kent and graduated from Windham High School.

You can read the entire article in the Bates news by CLICKING HERE.

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Creativity: What Do We Really Mean?

February 12, 2013

Blog post series

This summer during the Maine Arts Assessment Initiative Institute we added Creativity to the overarching components of the focus for the professional development opportunity. The reason for this Creativity blog post and others in the future are because of the following question: How do we provide others with the information and opportunity to think deeply about creativity? Maine is fortunate to have Bronwyn Sale and Trudy Wilson offer this educational opportunity on the meartsed blog.

This is the first in a series of blog posts on creativity written by Bronwyn Sale and Trudy Wilson. Bronwyn was a teacher in a variety of grades and settings for fourteen years, seven of those as a visual art teacher at Brunswick High School before joining the faculty at Bates College. Trudy was a professor of art Education at USM and was a member of the Visual and Performing Arts writing team for the Maine Learning Results. Both Trudy and Bronwyn did graduate research on creativity and have much to offer on the topic. 

We hear the terms creativity, creative, creative thinking, and creative problem solving frequently used (and perhaps misused) in the education world today. Assertions include:  the need for schools and students to be more creative because “21st century skills” demand it, that teachers can’t be as creative as they once were due to testing and other mandates, that schools somehow “kill” creativity,  (we prefer to say: some practices in some schools and in some classrooms may not facilitate creativity), that creative processes, artworks and performances created in arts classes can’t be assessed, or that “creative” is at the top of the new Bloom’s taxonomy (it’s not, create is). In this series of blog posts we will describe what creativity researchers say creativity is and unpack some of the terms associated with creativity most often heard in education: creativity, creative thinking, the creative process, and creative problem solving.  Although these terms are all related to creativity, they all have nuanced meanings that are important for teachers to distinguish when designing curriculum and instruction that may encourage creativity.

We hope this blog series inspires teachers to reflect on their own teaching practices and to think about what they do or do not do to cultivate the potential for student creativity in their classes.  We want to encourage teachers to delve more deeply into research around these terms in order to advocate for the creative processes of teaching that promote student learning and that are grounded in creativity research, rather than educational fads or trends. By including links or references to research, teachers can find the sources they need to advocate for the importance of teaching in ways that promotes creativity within their disciplines to colleagues, administrators, students and parents.  In each blog post we will provide a framework of questions or strategies that gives arts educators in particular a way to consider how their teaching practices may facilitate or inhibit students’ creative potential.

So, what is creativity?

Creativity is not a unique “21st century skill” nor is it exclusive to the arts. Creative processes, creativity and the potential for creative solutions are possible in any discipline or domain and a quick study of history reveals how we have always needed creative solutions to problems!  Arts Teachers, however, may be uniquely positioned to facilitate creativity in their classrooms:  the arts, when taught well, immediately engage students in the habits of mind, thinking and problem solving associated with creative processes in arts disciplines. In exemplary Arts programs, students develop “studio habits of mind” that support creativity and facilitate creative processes in the arts.  These habits are listed here: http://www.artsedsearch.org/summaries/studio-thinking-how-visual-arts-teaching-can-promote-disciplined-habits-of-mind and summarized in a recent post on the Maine Arts Education blog by Pam Ouellette:  https://meartsed.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/habits-of-mind/.

So, what is creativity? Alternatively, what does it mean to say something is creative?  Most researchers (and probably most teachers) do not entirely agree on a definition of creativity and have come up with a variety of theories to explain creativity  (for an extensive text on the subject we recommend Explaining Creativity by R. Keith Sawyer).  However, the most commonly agreed upon definition is originality or uniqueness.  Some would also add appropriateness and/or usefulness.  What is complicated for the arts teacher (or any teacher) is gauging when a student has come up with a unique or original solution to a problem.  Not all arts or classroom products are inherently original or unique. When describing something as creative, point of view and context matter. What may be a unique or a new approach for the student may seem typical from the perspective of the teacher who has experienced the artworks and performances of thousands of students.

In fact, creativity researchers have documented that creative solutions to problems often take years of training, thinking, and “doing” in a domain or discipline before they are realized. So, in order to facilitate creativity in any subject a teacher must teach “domain knowledge” or the content, skills, rules, history and thinking patterns associated with their discipline. Sometimes in arts classes students work on technique or skills: they practice. This practice may actually be one important component of supporting creativity. Although an emphasis on skills and practice may seem counterintuitive at first, it is difficult to be a creative scientist, potter, mathematician, actor, dancer, or musician, if you do not have a solid background and understanding of the techniques, thinking and knowledge associated with these domains. Creativity researchers have documented, with few exceptions, that almost all of the people that we consider “creative” scientists, artists, musicians, poets etc. in our culture, have extensive knowledge and/or training in their respective fields. The type of creative work that alters a domain, field, or history is referred to as “Big C” creativity.

What we are most concerned with facilitating in K-12 classes, however, is often described as  “little c” or personal creativity. Research around “little c” indicates that we all have the capacity for creativity in our lives. It is this education for the “little c,” that may make the “Big C” possible. The dilemma in the classroom, however, remains: how do we know when a student has pushed themselves toward an original or new solution to a creative problem (from the perspective of the student) and when is something a student’s default or common approach? To use language from the book Studio Habits of Mind: How do we know when students “stretch and explore” in their performances, artworks and other assignments? A few strategies may help:

  1. Have students reflect on their personal creativity/originality. You might ask students to describe orally or in writing: How did you arrive at this solution?  Was this a new approach for you? Why or why not? What did you do or think about differently in the work/performance? What have you never done before? Where did you get your ideas? How were you inventive? What skills do you still need to practice in order to realize your vision?
  2. Read and seek to understand the language of the VPA Maine Learning Results that embeds Creative Problem Solving (which is further broken down into understanding the creative process and using creative thinking strategies within the domain of the arts) into the Visual and Performing Arts.
  3. Self-reflect on your approach to teaching: Can students distinguish between technical practice and times when a unique solution is encouraged? Do technical practice and finding creative solutions ever come together for students in my class? Do I strike a balance in my classes between building skills, domain knowledge and problem solving? Do I always provide the solutions for students? Which assignments are open-ended? Closed-ended? Why? Do I always describe in detail how to create every artwork or performance? When do students solve artistic problems for themselves?  When do students find and define the problem for themselves? Do I design some learning experiences for students that allow both problem solving and problem finding?
  4. Balance structure and freedom. Creativity research seems to indicate that too much structure in assignments and classes may decrease creativity but no structure at all also decreases creativity. How do I balance structure and freedom in my classes? What is the “sweet spot” or optimal balance between the two? How can I structure and scaffold learning experiences that allow for student exploration/choice or freedom? What “big” or essential questions are students working toward investigating, exploring and answering in my classes that might help structure and tie curriculum together?
  5. Do I acknowledge or specifically praise inventive and original solutions when they occur?
  6. Teach students about the creative process in your field (model your own process if applicable) and have students document and reflect on their own creative processes. This documentation could occur in sketchbook or process journal. Or, students could videotape/photograph and/or describe the steps they took toward final works and performances.
  7. Teach and model creative thinking strategies (more on this in a future blog post).

For now, to delve deeper we recommend the following:

Explaining Creativity by R. Keith Sawyer  http://ascc.artsci.wustl.edu/~ksawyer/explainingcreativity/

Creativity by Mihayli Cziksaintmihaly

Creativity Research Journal (you may have full access through public/university libraries) http://www.tandfonline.com/toc/hcrj20/current

Art Education (Journal) published by the National Art Education Association has had many issues in the past few years addressing creativity in the Visual Arts. The Publication is Free with NAEA membership: http://www.arteducators.org/

Studio Thinking by Lois Hetland, Ellen Winner, Shirley Veenema and Kimberly M. Sheridan  (Not about creativity directly, but describes the Habits of Mind that are developed in exemplary arts programs that certainly facilitate the potential for creativity in the arts)

Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe offers a useful and impactful methodology for designing instruction using essential questions and deep understanding in ways that often balances structure and freedom in the classroom.  Their methodology is being used in the design and writing of the new National Core Arts Standards.

Next post in this series: What is the creative process? What are ways to promote creative thinking and creative problem solving in your classroom?

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Maine Association for Middle Level

October 29, 2012

MAMLE

This past Thursday and Friday I attended the MAMLE conference at Sugarloaf where arts educators were well received in the workshops they presented on a variety of topics. I have included a bit of information below on each of the sessions where the arts teachers presented.

Allied Arts in the Standards World

Sacopee Valley Middle School art teacher and Maine Arts Assessment Initiative teacher leader Danette Kerrigan and Medomak Middle School music teacher Julie Sanborn participated in a panel presentation on the work they are doing at their respective middle schools and in their classrooms. The other panel members Lisa Hogan from Mt. Ararat, Barbara Greenstone from Boothbay and Phil Brookhouse from MLTI also made connections to the arts. Friend of arts education, Jill Spencer facilitated the session.

Panel members: Lisa Hogan, Julie Sanborn, Barbara Greenstone, Phil Brookhouse, Danette Kerrigan

Steel Drum Band

Julie also presented a session with the Pantastics, the school’s steel drum band. The band performs at community events and has traveled to other schools and events in and out of Maine. The students played several pieces at the start of the conference as well as in an individual workshop. Other middle school teachers were invited to play one of the drums as well. The members of the band promised to write a blog post on their involvement playing the steel drums. Look for that in the future.

How Can I Teach for Creativity?

Danette was joined by MAAI leadership team member Bronwyn Sale from Bates College for a session on creativity. They made quite a team with Bronwyn presenting foundational information on the creative process, creativity, and creative problem solving. Danette shared the practical components of addressing the topic in a classroom setting and provided participants with hands-on exercises including SCAMPER which stands for Substitute, Combine, Adapt, Magnify, Put to Other Uses, Eliminate (or Minify), and Rearrange (or Reverse).

Bronwyn Sale and Danette Kerrigan

Service Learning and Music Appreciation

Leonard Middle School music teacher Shianne Priest had students join her to share a service learning project that she her music appreciation class has undertaken for two years now. The 8th graders this past year raised $1600 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation. They collaborated to write the lyrics for a song that 9th grader Lily Muscatell took a step further and wrote the music for and performed. Selling the CD was one part but hearing about their learning and how the experience affected them was amazing.

Shianne and Lily listen while the 8th graders explained the project.

Thank you to everyone for their fabulous work and sharing the opportunities that you afford Maine students!

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Bates Celebrates 30 Years

July 12, 2012

July 13 – August 12

This is the Bates Dance Festival 30th year and year after year they provide wonderful opportunities for dancers and dance appreciators of all ages. To view full details please click here. You can watch videos of the work; read interviews with the artists; and see what the critics have to say! To purchase tickets please call the box office at 207-786-6161 or purchase tickets on line.The main stage series features new works by acclaimed choreographers Rennie Harris Puremovement, Kyle Abraham/Abraham.in.Motion, Kate Weare Company and Keigwin & Company as well as emerging artists from the U.S. and Africa.

In addition the Festival offers a selection of free demonstrations and Inside Dance lectures, as well as low-cost events including, the annual Musician’s Concert and the Festival Finale, a showcase of student talent.
Available is a dine and dance deal that you can learn about by clicking here. Enjoy a delicious dinner at one of our fine local restaurants, Fishbones or Fuel, and get a 10% discount on your meal.
Keigwin + Company

Keigwin + Company

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Jordan Conwell’s Presentation at Bates

June 20, 2012

Bonner Senior Celebration of Learning (Capstone)

Nancy Salmon, dance educator, recently sent me an email with the text of Jordan Conwell’s presentation that he did for his capstone project at Bates. I felt the message is powerful, whether we live and/or teach in a college town or an island school, small rural town or a suburban or urban environment.  Consequently, I know some of you will be moved by Jordan’s words. It’s not about the arts specifically but it is about community – something that the arts directly connect with all the time! Jordan kindly gave me permission to reprint this on the meatsed blog and shared a photo as well. Knowing that many of us are visual learners the visual helps imagine Jordan delivering it.

Good Evening. My name is Jordan Conwell. This month, I will graduate from Bates with a double-major in Sociology and Rhetoric. It has been privilege throughout my four years at the College to be part of community partnerships with the Lewiston School District and the Auburn School District.

The school community at Park Avenue School in Auburn has graciously welcomed me for the past two consecutive academic years (as well as for one semester during my freshman year). I consider my relationship with the school and my community partners there – Amy Heimerl, Robin Fleck, Chris Turcotte, and many others – to be my most rewarding community engagement experience.

In my work as a classroom aide in Amy Heimrel’s Kindergarten classroom, I’ve helped with tasks ranging from working with students on iPads and beginning reading/ writing skills to assembling pop-up books to making photocopies. Throughout, I’ve been able to marvel at a group of four-to-six year-olds who are learning, communicating, doing, and being.

This is what I wrote in the acknowledgements of my community-inspired sociology thesis:

To Mrs. Amy Heimerl, Mrs. Robin Fleck, Mrs. Chris Turcotte, and the students, faculty, and staff at Park Avenue School in Auburn, Maine- Thank you for allowing me to become a part of your school community, and letting me in on the tremendous joy, in spite of the many obstacles, that is embedded in the spirit of your work. Those of us with aspirations to think, write, debate, and legislate about education issues will always stand in awe of all that you do on a daily basis. You are, and always will be, the talent.

If the educators at Park Avenue School are the talent, that makes me a lackey, or maybe even a groupie. I hope that over these past few years I’ve been the best lackey anyone’s ever seen. Because the talent is doing some really important stuff. In talking about my learning, I’ll try to explain what they’ve taught me (even if they don’t know they have), and what it means relative to what I’ve learned in classrooms at Bates.

There is a sign in the teachers’ photocopy and lounge area at Park Avenue that reads, “I touch the future, I teach.”  I don’t teach, I just get to admire those who do, so I won’t claim to touch the future. However, I have looked into the future’s eyes and felt the warmth of the future’s smiles and laughter. I have unfortunately on occasion felt the acute hurt of the future’s distress. The future has the potential to be much, much better than we are. We, us adults, we are the past; we drastically affect the future’s present- sometimes for better, much, much too often for worse.

You see, we send children to school with backpacks full of our failings, insecurities, hatreds, the sub-group histories we hold at the expense of whole group dialogue, and – of course – our ideas of nation and tribe. We send them to school burdened with all of our stuff, and then we somehow expect the next generation to be better than us. Children are somehow expected to move up from their parents’ stations and be more secure, less hateful, more willing to dialogue across difference, and free of insular ideas of nation and tribe. But we blanket them with our world, a world of the opposite.

Where do schools come in, then? I think I’ve learned that educators are a radical present-tense. School days are moments in which they try their hardest to defend the future against us, the past, in order to free the future. So that it might realize its potential and be better than us.

  • We tell them that people who wear hijabs hate us; Educators tell them that people who wear hijabs are just as likely to be their friends as anyone else.
  • Media portrayals often tell young students of color that they cannot achieve in school; Educators tell them that they can indeed learn if they try. And then they say lets get back to the reading we were working on.
  • We show them our selfishness, our pettiness, and our me first-ness; Educators show them that everyone needs to pull their weight, but everyone also needs to look out for others and make sure they also have what they need to do their share. Educators tell them that you may be line leader now, but you won’t be line leader tomorrow. So it’s not in your best interest to discourage the person who’s behind you today.

We show the future the world as it is, while educators teach them to aspire to the world as it should be. But it’s not that easy; it’s not that prosaic. They know we fully expect them to do this whether or not we give them the support they need – financial and otherwise – and whether or not we get kids to school on time and whether or not we show up to parent-teacher conferences and whether or not we do anything more than change the channel when we see video of teachers’ unions protesting for the right to organize. While we continue to think the same thoughts and act like we don’t understand the world we create, and then perpetuate, we expect them to teach our children to be one million things we can’t be ourselves. Oh, and make them smart while you’re at it.

This is what I mean when I say that my learning at Bates College and my learning at Park Avenue School have formed a unique educational experience that neither could provide alone. Bates has exposed me to various points of view from which to understand the system that we adults create and perpetuate. Given my course of study, I am particularly well-versed in its social inequalities and its rhetorical discourses of power. I think I see the game for what it is, and Bates has given me the intellectual capacity to hold most of it in my head at the same time. After four years, I see in 3-D. But, in theory, there’s potential for me to see the system as a hopeless mess. I could read the A-Section of The New York Times and be depressed for hours.

But this is where Park Avenue School comes in yet again. Because what a theory can’t demonstrate and what words on pages can’t read and what a lecture can’t really espouse is that those of us thinking so hard about the system – working “across disciplines” as we say and trying to describe it in the most intricate and cutting-edge ways, even if it is in order to one day create change – we are surrounded by people who are already beating it.

More than anything, in my time at Park Avenue I have been welcomed into a community of students, faculty, and staff who are beating the system, who are working together to free the future. They hold together a fabric woven of various races, ethnicities, economic classes, religious backgrounds, levels of ability and disability, and nations of origin. They teach children skills, expose them to new technologies, and show them compassion every day, no matter what.

Although it isn’t always easy or perfect, people like Amy Heimerl and Robin Fleck create small moments of triumph and joy. If I’m not mistaken, those kinds of moments sustain them. And those moments have sustained me, too. Because you can only learn about what’s broken, in theory, so long before you’d like to meet some people who are trying to fix it…for real. When you’ve been exposed to the complete laundry list of problems, you’re excited to meet someone who says “This might only work for today, or it might not work at all, but let’s try this and see what happens.” Reorganized reading group, reconfigured classroom set up, new activity, improvised lesson plan. The future is one or two steps closer to freedom from our past.

And I thank them for allowing me to become a part of what they do so well. In accepting me into their community, they have also become a part of my Bates education. Because on Sunday, May 27th, 2012, I’ll accept a Bates diploma knowing that descriptions of the system are only as good as the understanding that educators (and many others) are everyday breaking that system’s rules – trying to get us to a better place populated by learners who realize ideals that we haven’t.

I think that I – and my fellow Bonner leaders, given their own unique, community-engaged learning experiences – know very well the conjunctive space between what the Bates mission statement terms “intellectual discovery and informed civic action.” I hope that we are ready, as the statement also says, “for the coming times.” If we have indeed planted our feet in the space and really do stand ready for the moment, we have to thank those of you representing the College and those of you representing our wider community, because you both played a part in it.

I’ve heard many discussions about the next few years at Bates College. They are sure to be full of institutional change, given the upcoming inauguration of a new president and impending faculty turnover. Efforts will be made to “increase the value of a Bates degree” and improve the College’s standing among elite colleges and universities. But I’m here to tell you, before these efforts even begin, that they won’t increase the value of my Bates degree one bit. Because my Bates degree and my fellows’ Bates degrees are different than most other Bates degrees. And I, for one, couldn’t be happier about that.

Their value is based on this combination or two-ness that I’ve been discussing. They have a certain reality and messiness based on our sometimes-uncomfortable knowledge that things aren’t that simple. But they aren’t that bad either.

  • Their value is based on a reciprocal relationship between what we’ve learned in the classroom and what we’ve learned and done with the community, with our neighbors.
  • Their value allows us to say that we graduated from Bates College, a school whose mission statement declaims preparing leaders with “a commitment to responsible stewardship of the wider world.” We are so prepared because the Harward Center for Community Partnerships and the Bonner Foundation and our community-engaged faculty mentors and our community partners encouraged us to engage with said wider world during our four years at said elite, residential, liberal arts college.

The value I’m talking about doesn’t have anything to do with the endowment, multi-million dollar capital campaigns, need-blind admissions, the ten-year plan, a student union, the General Education Curriculum, or faculty research productivity. It most certainly doesn’t have a thing to do with U.S News and World Report or what Brian Williams say about Bates tuition on NBC Nightly News, or how quickly the College responds to Mr. Williams.

If you think you can add value to my Bates degree in these ways, you fundamentally misunderstand the value of my degree. Thanks, but no thanks. I know community engagement efforts are secondary beneficiaries of these efforts, but that doesn’t change what I’m saying. Because I’m talking about priorities.

The value I’m talking about has to do with making sure that more Bates students graduate with Bates degrees like ours.

  • It has to do with closing the gap between the current Bates experience and the Bates mission statement, just like our community engagement has closed the gap for us.
  • It has to do with finally recognizing that calling our neighbors “townies” and other shows of disrespect for our community should be considered student misconduct issues of the most serious variety.
  • It has to do with the Princeton Review calling Lewiston the eighth worst college town in the United States of America, and whether or not Bates takes the time to respond to that at all.

The value I’m talking about hears a senior say, as one did to me, that community-engaged coursework was a quote “dumbed down” version of a college curriculum and that students don’t come to schools like Bates to do stuff like that. It responds with some examples.

  • Like Jacob Kaplove, Class of 2012, who takes what he learns in the psychology classroom and assesses the possibility for mental distress among local youth and their families.
  • Or like Rebecca Schmidtberger, also Class of 2012, who took a classroom of underachieving local eighth graders through the entire Feagels translation of The Odyssey.

It makes sure that every student, faculty member, department, and administrator knows that there’s nothing dumb about that. Actually, there’s something very Bates about it. The value I’m talking makes sure that students do come to Bates to do stuff like that, and that they are fully empowered to do stuff like that throughout their four years here.

In short, the value I’m talking about will allow the College to look back upon days when students spoke with humor and pride about “the Bates bubble” (as some do now) as a sad and regrettable stain upon this College’s history. Because that’s exactly what it is. It will then be able to discuss all of the efforts that were made to put, and keep, those days in the past, never to return again. That’s what the Harward Center, the Bonner Foundation, our community-engaged faculty mentors, and our community partners did for us. They popped the damn bubble.

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