Visual Art

by Kwelismith

Dear Parents and Teachers:   A recent article in Newsweek magazine gave teachers a big red F.“Why We Can’t Get Rid of Failing Teachers.”. The cover of the magazine looked like a writing punishment on a blackboard “We must fire bad teachers. We must fire bad teachers” over and over down the cover. The article did quote Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality speaking about the achievement gap in the United States, “It was a scandal of monumental proportions, that there were two distinct school systems in the U.S., one for the middle class and one for the poor.”   What makes a teacher bad? Is it genetic? Is it poor teacher training? Is it burn out? Is it race or gender? Is it poor leadership? Or, like the above quote: Are there “two distinct school systems in the U.S., one for the middle class and one for the poor.” I believe the overhauling and firing of teachers in the urban areas like New York and Washington, D.C. is to keep pace with gentrification. If the demographics of the city changes through gentrification, then the powers that be scramble to line up the public school system to reflect the incoming real estate middle class with a higher tax base.   

The article, like most discussions on education is a political one. The people who are most affected (teachers, parents and students) have no voice. The discussion is among Newsweek writers Evan Thomas, Pat Wingert, and Randi Weingarten head of the American Federation of Teachers and Michelle Rhee chancellor of the District of Columbia Public School system. Although they are talking about education, they are mostly concerned with keeping certain adults from earning a living as teachers. There seems to be very little about the needs of children. So much for No Child Left behind.   On that note, an article in the Economist (The Finger of Suspicion) revealed 191 Elementary and Middle schools suspected of cheating. Thirteen teachers including the principal and assistant principal at one school were punished for cheating (unusually high numbers of wrong to right eraser marks) on a standardized test. They were afraid of not making Adequate Yearly Progress required by No Child Left Behind law. 

There is something compassionate about the slogan “Leave no child behind” while the slogan “No child left behind.” feels and sounds punitive. There is merit in lining up standards to foster accountability and to insure a better learning outcome, but does it have to be done with such Gestapo? It is my belief that learning takes place all of the time. However, formal instruction, is better when the total child is approached with the intent of nurturing the child’s God given gifts while helping him/her acclimate to the requirements of formal education.   To educate means to draw forth—to pay attention to the child’s spiritual assignment, her/his emotional and physical needs and the cultural proclivities that live inside him. A child is not the sum total of his test scores. Labeling a child a failure and consequently his teacher based solely on test scores is a colossal dehumanizing error. While education gives credence to different learning modalities, in the end, the state demands that everyone sit down with a paper and pencil test to prove their proficiency whether they have ADHD, dyslexia, bipolar disorder, near sightedness, mental retardation or blindness. In the quest to raise test scores for the state, children’s needs are neglected.  

I could have designed my own curriculum when I was five years old. I would have started my day with piano lessons, then movement. Yes, I would have used my genetic inheritance of music to learn math, reading, history and anything else that I needed to know. It’s called self-respect. I would like to teach a more child centered program—one that maintains the integrity of the child and the teacher while they move through a meaningful interdisciplinary learning process.  As an independent contractor, I am offering a win win situation for the student, the parents and the teacher. The idea that someone must be punished within the context of traditional education is ludicrous.   My name is Kwelismith. I am an interdisciplinary performance artist, music educator and author. While Newsweek is firing bad teachers, I would like to take a grass roots approach in order to meet the needs of African American children and by association all children. I would like to visit your school to introduce my book and CD to your staff, students and parents. It’s About The Music is the name of my non-profit company. Secret Meeting Kwanzaa Songs and City Sounds is the title of my book and CD.  Secret Meeting heals the fissure between African and American (European) cultures. It is a book that validates student’s cultural experiences and their identity. Through songs, poems, essays and learning activities, Secret Meeting engages children as it encourages literacy and scholarship. The opening libation poem calls children to a meeting using Black spirituals.         

In a workshop for students, I will present an interdisciplinary music lesson using the songs in the book. Students will experience what it feels like to learn music, language arts, literature, history and visual art simultaneously.   In a workshop for parents, I will help parents identify how their own values can be aligned with Kwanzaa Principles. They will examine their own talents and family history to learn how their child might feel in a music-child centered environment.   Using the book Secret Meeting in a workshop for teachers, I will help teacher’s identify how state academic standards overlap with music and are therefore being reinforced through this interdisciplinary process.   In order to Leave no child behind, It takes a village. We can do this.  

For workshops and books, you may contact me directly by telephone (202) 652-0559, by email Kwelikwelismith @ aol.com, by USPS mail Kwelismith 1820 Valley Terrace SE Washington, DC 20032.   For CDs go to www.CDBaby.com. to hear song samples and to order.   

Kwelismith Interdisciplinary music educator