Saturday, October 27, 2012

Intercultural Dialogue 2 | Reflections on mixed music classes

Lately, deriving inspiration from my professional activities on (Music) Education, i am very much influenced of a very special book (a Foundation's research product) coming from a country with much experience on multiculturalism.
The book is entitled  "The view of the Yeti: Bringing up children in the spirit of self-awareness and kindreship", and the Foundation is Bernard van Leer, Belgium.
The author in his Introduction, explains his main idea, that the children of 21st century, cannot avoid of living consciously together with many "othernesses", and moreover, he hopes that his grandchildren will be reading him after years, commenting him like "Come on! Still not taken this stuff for granted"?
Unfortunately, no, we still have much path to walk, and not only because even at the moment, many countries haven't signed the "Convention on the Rights of the Child".
I would just put some personal experiences straight from my last years' classes (2011-2012, 2010-2011)

Case A. The weak otherness.

The bell has rung and i walk in the sunshining school´s aula, with children around. At some moment Vasilis and Stefanos, two A graders come to me, both crying. I ask them what happened.
-Mrs, you know,Stefanos called me "an Albanian", complained honesty the child!
-Just because you pushed me while we were playing, answered bothered the other one.

Both the two boys have a very good attitude in the class, i am reflecting. Especially Vasilis, is very careful and collaborative in my music lessons. He is the first kid to his family. Stefanos, too, but a little bit more "sensitive". It seems that he grows up like "the smaller", because sometimes his sister (D grade) comes to ask if everything is alright. I am lowering my legs to come closer, focusing firstly on Stefano, while Vasilis is hearing.
-Stefane,you know, Albania is the country where Vasilis comes from. Do you know this country?
-Well,  this is very important for him, so if you call him "Albanian" because you got hurted, he doesn't like it. It sounds like something bad for him. You understand me?
-... (shaking positively his head).
- Are you friends with him?
-Yes, we already are friends, mrs Sofia!...
-Vasili, do you agree? You are friends with Stefano?
-Yes! We play together!
-Ok, that's it! If you continue being friends, then one day he will invite you to see his country. Would you like  this to happen, Stefane?
-Do you have any special origin like Vasili?
- We are from a village in Peloponneso!
-Do you love your village?
-Yes, much!
-You see? Vasilis, too, loves his country. Like you! It's the same! Do you feel happy now?
-Vasili, are you ok, too?
-Then now go play again like before! Ok? See you next Monday in class!

The boys left to continue their games much satisfied. They both felt recognised, they both felt respectable. Creating and providing for them this approving atmosphere, i also utilized the moment for giving them some intercultural food for thought.

 In this age, most of the kids don't understand this "ethnicity" use as a bad characterization. It is the adults' world that interfere into their emotional cosmos. So, i guessed right. Nothing serious had happened, just a small power test between them, into their way of exploring themselves socially.

But i was much worried about Vasilis, and other kids like him, too. Already at his 6, he had the experience of feeling "different", or that "something goes wrong" with him.  In what extent this will remain? How much is it possible to be a forgotten incident for him? This depends on his personality, on his family´s attitude, the cultural surrounding, and the teachers' responsibility, of course.

Case B. We are all trans-immigrants, now.

At the same school, there is a beautiful boy with black hair , shining eyes, and clever mind, Nicolas. You cannot teach in this B Grade class, without notice this unique creature. He always moves around, helping the others, always smiling and showing willingness, always feeling "present to the present of the class". His general teacher really admires him, telling me always some stories of him, especially his achievements on Mathematics.

One day while playing at the class some music games, Nicolas looked around him and said "I am leaving for Australia!". And me, immediately reacting on impulse i answered " Wow! This is a real destination! Great!". Nicolas smiled, but in his face i could see his doubts and insecurity.

Later his teacher told me that actually he is from Iraq, and that it's true. In general they are thinking to change country. Nicolas grows up in a big family, where all of them work or search for job, while he is the smaller one. So, this is a real conversation that he must have heard back home. We can all imagine similar situations among economical immigrants.

Until the end of the school year, he had said his announcement a couple of times, like he wanted to check the others' reaction, like he wanted to check himself, too. All the times i showed supportiveness, although i could read his heart: Deeply he felt like no need to change, like he had found his "balance". This year, i really can´t know what happened to Nicolas. But the interesting thing is that it´s me who changed country. And this was a rare child that taught and reminded me so many things.

Case C. The view of the "other".

Three years ago i was researching on "musical improvisation as an educational tool" in multicultural environments.For this purpose i was visiting a mulitultural school of Athens, mostly with pupils from Asia and Africa, as a participant observator at the music classes. Many wonderful moments i experienced at this school, moments having mainly to do with the exploration of ethnic diversities.

This was a very happy school. Children were enjoying each moment of the day, they were trying hard with their bilingual and bicultural life, and also they had developed naturally a curiosity for the otherness. No Greek pupils were studying there at that time.

One day i was talking with a very sensitive teacher on intercultural education issues, Katerina. I was participant observator at her classes music lessons, too, very much interested at her B grade children. She told me about a unique experience with one of her Philippines pupils.
Christmas vacations were coming, and they were discussing all together about their leisure time. All the children were ready to departure for foreign, distant countries, most of them for the first time in their life. Then the boy asked:
-You, Mrs Katerina, where are you going for Christmas?
-Me? Nowhere. My home is here, i stay in Athens
-Ohhh...poor Greek people. Won't go anywhere, said the boy.

For those who think immigrants are the less benefited this boy turned the reality, showing the alternative side. Katerina got surprised positively, and took an important lesson. I answered to her story with mine, from her class too, adding to her message.

One other day we were playing a game with a music train, that was travelling around the world, and each child had to make a stop at his origin's country. There was a small girl from Seychelles, "Miracle". It obviously took me and their music teacher more time than her, to find her island at the classes' world map. Miracle was shouting "there, there", while we were still searching.Those children, learn to orient themselves inside the whole world´s map already since they are born!

I reflect sometimes, how many different paths i have experienced so far now, and how different my professional life as a music teacher is, sometimes, if i take my musicology studies as the starting point. But of course, when working with children, and young people, music is sometimes the subject and some other times the occasion of doing things together.
We are not machines that produce musicology knowledge, and this is not the point. What happens inside the classes is and should be much more interactive, and most of all a unique experience of reconstructing knowledge - any type of knowledge- together with them, or because of them. Each school year for me, is a different journey around music practices (like composing, arranging, improvisating, singing),  music philosophies behind them, arts, inspiration...  because the starting point is different, the closing point, also, and the process much more.
Now think all this with new kids and classes every time. Some colleagues are quite nervous "what i do with this class", "what i do now with the other one etc", but this is not the meaning for me. There is not only the "what i do", but also the "how i do". And it is not even "I", but also "we". We should try more this "we", that many colleagues even are being afraid of, because they don't know how to do it. After all, children are not white boards that one has to fill them with theoretic material. They are persons with (music) thoughts, (music) feeling and taste,(music) ideas, and this is something we must work more on. My favourite quotation, for example, on how we can start music improvisation with them is the one that follows:

"The best method of make them improvise, is much likely to the swimming pool class. You throw them to the deep, and then you work on this"!

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