A Teachable Moment Through the Arts

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Oct 20, 2010 2 comments

Tim Mikulski

Regardless of your stance on same-sex “anything,” no one wants to see young people take their own lives due to harassment inside or outside of school, but as educators know, sometimes the best place to open up young minds is beyond the front door of their home and inside the classroom.

As has been reported broadly across the media, September and October have been particularly hard months for several young people who chose to end the physical and emotional abuse they faced at school—through suicide.

Today’s campaign to wear purple to honor the memory of those students  is just one of the ways that can shed some light on a terrible epidemic going on inside schools all across America.

While some states and localities have tried to address bullying with laws, it will take true societal shifts for all types of bullying to be prevented.

And this is the perfect entry point for the arts and arts education.

Just this week, I came across two examples of programs already in place in Minnesota and New Jersey that bring theater productions that address bullying to schools. Sometimes kids just need to see a reflection of their own behavior to realize how they may be hurting each other, as well as themselves.

The Paper Mill Playhouse in Millburn, NJ, will present Virtually Me!, a play about cyber bullying and technology abuse as part of their On-School Time Series next week. I think that Paper Mill’s Producing Artistic Director Mark S. Hoebee puts it best: “Using theater as a tool to educate young people is an important piece of our mission…We can engage students through acting, song, and dance, while delivering an important message.”

Meanwhile, Minneapolis’ Anishinabe Academy brought in CLIMB Theatre to help address the issue through a play that features a gay character who makes the cheerleading squad at his school and is then attacked online and in-person. Thanks to funding provided through the Minnesota State Arts Board, schools can teach these important lessons in a creative and dynamic way. Without it, teachers and other administration officials could be stuck providing lectures that make no impact on their students.

And I know that I’ve mentioned the show too often in my posts, but you can’t discount the impact that television shows like Glee, some of MTV’s reality shows, and even the new version of 90210, all aimed at teens, can have on stopping other senseless deaths in the future.

Sometimes it takes the arts to hold up the mirror to society and realize the true harm we can cause each other.

What experiences have you had involving the arts or arts education that served as an eye-opening experience for you or a person that you know?

2 responses for A Teachable Moment Through the Arts


November 06, 2010 at 10:58 pm

Hi Tim,

Thank you for a very inspiring post. The issue of bullying in schools is certainly a huge concern for many Americans at this time and it needs to be dealt with. As a student seeking a career in the arts, I strongly agree with you when you say, “this is the perfect entry point for the arts and arts education.” I am a strong believer in using the healing power of art as a tool in times of great need. And since there has been a surge of teen suicides in the past few months, this is definitely a time of great need. I like the examples that you gave of the ways that the arts can help. I particularly was impressed by the CLIMB Theatre. The passion and enthusiasm in this group of people has surely made a difference in the learning community. Do you think that the next step is to create more theatre groups like this? Television is a great tool for connecting with teens, but since school is generally where most of the bullying takes place I think it would be wise to take advantage of the artistic ways we can tackle bullying live on school campuses.

People all over the country are attempting many different strategies to deal with the issue of bullying. I agree that addressing bullying with laws can only go so far in really reaching students. Not to mention at such an early age the law is not taken as seriously by teenagers as by adults. Instead of formulating punishments and taking the tactic of scaring kids away from bullying, the best option is, as you said, to “hold up a mirror to society and realize the true harm we can cause each other.” Although I strongly agree with this plan of action, my only concern is that I have found teenagers to be by far the most difficult of the population to reach. With hormones raging and peer pressure in full force, they might be much more likely to make fun of or rebel against any kind of assembly or theatrical performance that advocates a more civil way of treating one another. How do we go about really getting them to listen? It seems to me that we may not only need to create more theatre groups that teach important lessons, but we also need to make sure the people participating are familiar with what they are up against. Putting more time and money into making these shows worthwhile might be the best way of ensuring that bullying and other school issues are put to a stop. Thanks again for a great post, and I look forward to reading more posts in the future.

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October 25, 2010 at 11:50 pm

I really like this post and I agree that the arts will lead the way for these issues. I've noticed that, of the gay teenagers I know personally, the teenagers active in the arts are more comfortable about being public with their sexual preferences and are vocal about it through outlets like facebook and twitter. I think that they realize that even as young artists in local and regional arts scenes, even small arts communities in the Midwest, that they can set an example and that because of the work they do creatively through performing, writing, etc. that people are listening to what they have to say.

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