|This summer's embroidery class|
For the past two summers I've taught an embroidery class at a kids history camp. They have a weaving segment but they wanted another colonial-era craft and that's how I got in.
Last fall, the arts league in my neighborhood (which is apparently the it place to send your kids after school) decided to add a sewing class on Tuesday afternoons. Actually, they decided to add evening classes as well, but since I was the only applicant with daytime availability, guess who got the kids?
Yep, the one who's not totally comfortable with them.
Though they're actually a pretty good bunch. I'm having more difficulty adjusting to the adults in charge and the other teachers, all of whom are So. Very. Serious. Agreed, teaching is serious work but does it have to feel like a trip to the dentist?
The kids are all from the local public school, which isn't just any Philly public school - it's partly supported by the University of Pennsylvania, which means that there's dire competition to get the kids in, and lines of parents camping on the sidewalk when they open kindergarten registration. The year they went to a lottery system in the middle of day 2 of the camp-out almost led to rioting. Well bred rioting, but still . . .
So these kids are being well educated. They're for the most part comfortable financially (this place ain't cheap). They're smart. And they're being squashed into little, tiny boxes that leave no room for being a kid.
I've got a group of 8 girls, from 3rd to 6th grade. I started them off on embroidery, rather than sewing, because (a) I was more familiar teaching it, and (b) I thought it was a good way to get them used to the idea of sewing, threading needles, taking time, etc. I prefaced the lesson by saying, "Look, I'm self-taught. I'll teach you the way I know how to do it, but if you know another way, or find one that works better for you, then do it. So long as you get the end result you want, there's no right or wrong."
You'd have thought I stripped naked and danced on the table. "There's always a right way." "If you do it wrong, you're done." "Things can only work one way." "Can you come teach our math class?"
Math may have only one right answer, kids, but art is its own thing. Considering that all they take at this place is art-related classes, it kind of disturbs me that no one has ever mentioned this before.
In addition to believing firmly in "rules," they also firmly believe that the world is a very nice place, that bullying has been eliminated and that life will always run smoothly. I almost feel like I'm performing a public service by teaching this class and exposing them to a different viewpoint.
I remember this age. I was in third grade when I lost my dad, and by sixth, I had completely lost whatever self-esteem I might have been born with, believing that I was shy and unattractive. However, and this is a big one, I never doubted that I was smarter than most of the kids who tormented me, and I needed the safe haven of coming home to books and making things, both of which were a place where my mind could go and rest from the stress of school.
I hope for their sakes that bullying is a thing of the past, but I doubt it. Kids are going to be kids, no matter what. I'd just like to get them to realize, before I'm done, that they need to have something that's theirs, that they know they're good at, that gives them a calm mental place to retreat to when they need it.
Just in case I can't manage it all in one semester, I just signed on to teach the spring class as well.