In this week where we remember Martin Luther King, Jr. and we prepare to inaugurate our next president, the word that comes to my mind is courage. When I think about the courage that it took Dr. King to lead so many people to endure the kind of indignities and cruelty they were subjected to just to obtain rights that were owed them or their fellow citizens, I seriously wonder if I would ever have had that kind of courage. This upcoming election is causing a number of people to organize protests.
Again, I admire people who feel so passionately about something that they organize and show up to represent their views nonviolently but so publicly. And, I am always amazed that there are people who even want to be involved in politics, who are willing to open themselves and their whole lives up to the scrutiny that comes with running for public office and take on the responsibility of making decisions that affect so many people’s lives. I tend to shy away from confrontation myself. I don’t like to make waves. But I do recognize the need for individual courage and cultivate courage in children too.
All of us have opportunities to show courage in our lives. It may be as small as speaking up when you hear a colleague saying or doing something you believe to be unprofessional. For children, it can be standing up to a classmate who is being cruel to another student. Even in those small instances, a well of courage needs to be tapped in order to do the right thing. There are ways to exercise courage that does not involve a confrontation with others. Creating art can be a very courageous act and one way we can help cultivate courage in children or ourselves.
I don’t mean to equate being subjected to police brutality in order to fight for equal rights for all people to making art but I do believe that when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, it is an act of courage. I also believe that the more acts of courage we commit, the stronger we become and the more likely it will be that we will have the courage to act when it is truly necessary.
Creating art can be extremely scary for people because it does require a willingness to bare one’s soul, to put out into the world a deeply personal truth. For those who fear to make art for whatever reason, just moving in front of other people or opening one’s mouth to sing can take a great deal of courage. It can make one feel exposed and unsafe. But as terrifying as making art or participating in art making can be, the exhilaration of the process can be its own reward.
Once someone has felt that kind of empowerment, it strengthens her/him and makes that person more likely to try it again. This may lead to bolder acts of courage and a commitment to the kind of truth-telling that makes great art and moves others to feel and to think. It may even move others to action.
There are so many reasons to make art and to provide opportunities for our students to do so. The fact that creating art can make us confront truth in ourselves, feel empathy for others, reveal our vulnerabilities to others or even make a statement that can make others feel uncomfortable but also cause them to confront their own beliefs makes it a powerful tool for developing our own personal courage and help cultivate courage in children.
Deirdre is a teaching artist and AI coach in the San Diego public schools dedicated to helping classroom teachers make arts an integral part of their teaching. Deirdre has an MEd in Arts Integration and over twenty years of classroom and performing arts teaching experience. Email Deirdre.