Pictures at an Exhibition

Originally uploaded by aderieg

The beginning of the end of school started Thursday evening with the opening of an exhibition. Christopher, Paddy, Ernest (who belongs to our extended household) and five girls that I unfortunately don’t know very well, presented the work they have been doing for two years for the Higher Level Visual Arts course for the International Baccalaureate. It was an impressive exhibition, and it was good to see the boys‘ work in that context.

For the formal opening of the exhibition there were speeches by a man from the community center where the exhibition was presented and by a philosopher, with whom I most vehemently (albeit silently) disagreed about the significance of this exhibition. I was appalled to hear such enthusiastic musings about how wonderful it is to see „young people expressing their personal creativity“. This is the part where I think I am missing Amy again. I imagine that Amy might be able to explain to me from an educator’s perspective that „expressions of creativity“ might have some merit in certain contexts and situations, but from my own limited perspective, „expressions of creativity“ immediately suggest to me the highly dubious pretext of „creativity“ as a way to keep people busy with themselves, so that as they become increasingly self-absorbed, they also become docile and less likely to „cause trouble“. That is most certainly not what art means to me.

Following the opening speeches, my first reaction was to move swiftly in the direction of the closest exit to go outside for a cigarette, but later it was very, very good to be able to talk with the boys‘ teachers. I have the greatest respect and admiration for these teachers, and I am deeply grateful to them for the way they have expanded the boys‘ horizons and encouraged them to explore important issues from different perspectives. I know I have benefited tremendously from their wonderful work in so many in-depth conversations with the boys, in the ways that I sense that the boys have a greater understanding of my work and what matters to me. I was seriously impressed that one of the teachers actually read Art and Revolution and talked about it with Christopher, equally impressed by how Christopher was moved to reflect on his conversations with her. This is not art as an instrument of pacification, this is what matters.

It is, of course, with some chagrin that I must admit now, at the end of school, that my lofty views of what I expected for my children’s education proved unrealistic and perhaps even somewhat arrogant. Over the years I asserted again and again that as my sons are so very privileged in so many ways, it is not the school’s job to enhance those privileges, but to provide a context, in which my sons might learn to make use of those privileges more wisely, not only for their own benefit, but to help make this a better world for all. I humbly concede now that my sons are not only privileged, they also have needs of their own. I think they have been incredibly fortunate in encountering wonderful teachers willing and able to accept and sometimes even appreciate their respective (not necessarily school system-appropriate) strengths and allow them enough scope to find their own ways of coping with their weaknesses within this system. Let’s hear a round of applause for teachers with a sense of humor!

Following the opening of the exhibition Thursday evening, each of the exhibiting pupils was scheduled to spend 40 minutes on Friday with an examiner from the international IB committee talking about what they have learned over the past two years – essentially the first of their IB exams. When I heard that Paddy, who was the first in line, spent an hour and half talking with the examiner and was very happy about how much she knew, my first thought was that even now, at the end of his school career, Paddy has still not grasped the concept that exams are not meant to be an invitation to him to assess how much the teacher knows, but vice versa. That particular misunderstanding has been a source of tension and point of negotiation since he first started school and all the way through to the end. It was more reassuring to hear later from Christopher and Ernest that they also enjoyed talking with the examiner, who was very interested and well informed about their work and different approaches.

My second thought was that Christopher, waiting his turn outside for nearly an hour longer than expected, must have been wanting to strangle his dear brother by then. Paddy and Christopher were scheduled to go first, because they were to be in a performance of „Waiting for Godot“ Friday evening. The production that they took part in last year, their friend Alexander’s IB project for theater arts, was accepted as part of an international youth theater festival currently taking place in Linz. As much of an honor as this is, the timing is hardly ideal. They didn’t have enough rehearsal time even in our living room, let alone the public hall where they were to perform. Christopher was very nervous about not knowing his lines well enough for the second half, they all had to get to the hall to see how things were set up and meet with the technician about lighting and sound, and Paddy didn’t even have a costume for the additional role he plays this time. This was really not the best time for Paddy to end up spending over twice as much as his scheduled time slot blithely enjoying talking about art with the international examiner.

The show goes on. The performance last night turned out to be unexpectedly surprising in the end. There is another performance today in a few hours, and I believe all bets are off about how it might end this time. Next week we move on to the Crossing Europe Film Festival and Christopher’s first appearance as a waiter, which is of course the first step to becoming an actor. Then there will be more exams, and then …

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