Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Venturing Together - An Interview with Bill Rossi (Part 2)

This is Part 2 of an interview with Venturing Together author, Bill Rossi.

You wrote about the specific benefits students receive when they participate in a substantial, in-depth arts program. I think the components of being substantial and in-depth components were key to providing these benefits - can you talk about the benefits and what you mean by the depth of the arts program?

No matter how technically sophisticated, art is about expression and therefore rooted in emotional experience. A good arts program will develop sophisticated techniques and skills in such a way that they’re attached to the student’s emotional state – there’s no conflict between the two; rather than treating them as something separate, it will work with them in tandem to enhance a more complete expression. When you have the technical and emotional working together you have an in-depth arts program. This can help channel negative emotions into positive expression, which can lead to conflict resolution.

In order to refine their expression, students need to be given both opportunity and good guidance to open emotional avenues and explore their inner landscape while they refine their technical skills. This requires an experienced teacher. The major benefit of this emotional development is that it leads to personal integration – it gets students in touch with inner areas that aren’t really known to them. It also help students with socialization and communication beyond the arts, and can help them come to understand their own learning style – what’s unique in their style - so they get to know themselves. There should be an empowerment thing that happens.

You mention the cost of an arts program for struggling students being a good investment as compared with the cost of social service treatment or incarceration. I don’t think people really get just how important the arts are to some students and how important it is to try to reach them in some positive way. You also talk about the numerous studies done on how the arts improve academic performance and shape community-oriented, well-rounded citizens, yet they are continually marginalized in schools. The arts are held back as a reward for those that can earn them through academic achievement or for those that can afford them, which leaves the students who need them the most. Please explain your thoughts on this.

Regardless of the statistics and abundant living proof of our need for them, the arts don’t share the same status as the other academic subjects or sports. Because they don’t exist shoulder to shoulder with these endeavors, they are often used as supplemental activities - add-ons that are also expendable. It can make for a neat behavioral category if they’re used as reward or punishment or are just expendable.

Established systems naturally resist change – there’s a survival and/or security instinct in play here. And even though people within the system may talk about change or actually try to implement change, it has to fit into their boundaries of financial and emotional security – two very powerful forces. In most established systems, the boundaries are usually pretty narrow, making any real change difficult, and often what’s touted as new is just a makeover of what’s already done - or is something that’s very similar.

A good, in-depth arts program promotes freedom in learning, as it should be. But because the creative arts can take people into different areas than the system is used to, students can seem like random “loose cannons” – difficult to manage in traditional ways, and threatening to those not experienced enough with them. This can seem disruptive and uppity to a system, and the more rigid the system is the more disruptive it can seem.

It’s the nature of the creative arts to enhance, expand, and even challenge the status quo – to try to build on it, push the envelope – that’s the nature of growth and the beauty of the arts. Of course in many instances, systems don’t like to be challenged.

An additional problem the arts can encounter within schools is that schools often don’t encourage and facilitate different ways of thinking or paces of learning, and don’t place much emphasis on alternative ways of viewing the world or personal experience.

The approach for Merge Education is said to combine strengths-based education and mentoring. Can you explain what that looks like?

Passion in learning that taps into what’s right with the student are the key points here – Identifying the student’s natural inclinations, skills, and talents and building on them while developing strategies to work through challenges.
Again, there is an emotional basis at work in the mentoring part, where a mutual relationship develops between equals who share relevant parts of themselves and their experiences that involve both some of their strengths and their challenges.

Please talk more about how creativity helps students in HOW to think, rather than WHAT to think.

WHAT has to do with memorization and accepting and restating other people’s views, and doesn’t offer students the opportunity to explore the subject on their own and to more deeply arrive at their own conclusions.

HOW has to do with developing abilities to explore, think about, and come to personal understandings and realizations, and find ways of expressing those understandings. A student who learns HOW to think is better able to meet and process life experience and emotional conflicts –better able to process what he went through and the impact that experience had on him, positive or negative, so he learns about himself and better understands his personal reactions.

Examining and sorting through a conflict can lead to resolving it through his mode of communication. He’s able to consider his experience in such a way that he comes to a place where he understand something new or forms a new way of thinking about something, and understands how he can apply these insights to his life. He realizes he can start by encapsulating that experience and then can put it into his way of being and articulate it through his art. Then if he’s insightful enough he can apply that to the way he lives his life and interacts with other people. The more whole a person becomes, the healthier he is -- we’re talking about a unification of one’s actions. These are basic principles in creativity.

What is available with your programs and who can access them?

We’ve created a comprehensive system of books, manuals, and evaluation software to help people become more creative in their teaching, parenting, and mentoring, and to help an organization develop its own arts program. Individuals wanting to further explore the teaching approach might enjoy Venturing Together; musicians, artists, and even non-artists who want to work with the approach might find our arts curricula useful (Draw on Experience and Play by Heart are currently available), and we’ve just begun offering our software evaluation tool in beta, for assessment and management of all sorts of programs. We also offer Risks Worth Taking, a soup-to-nuts manual for developing and managing an arts mentoring program. And finally, we offer consultation for any and all of the above.

For more information on Venturing Together go to: http://www.merge-education.com or http://www.amazon.com/Venturing-Together-Empowering-Students-Succeed/dp/0984132309/ref=ntt_at_ep_dpi_1

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