The Basics

It’s the start of a new year (we get the month to call it new, right?) and with it comes a chance to imagine some new options and outcomes for ourselves and for all those in schools.

I recently taught a University masters dance course for teachers in Montana and I’m teaching another now in Colorado. I’m thinking, once again, about what is taught within school classrooms across the country, about what might be taught, and about how the choices will be made.

Debates are launched and polemical pronouncements are made about curriculum that should be included in a public school education. People discuss the standards, state based, common core and whether they should exist at all. With the recent vote in Congress we have bid the “No Child Left Behind” bill farewell and moved onto the “Every Child Succeeds Act” which emphasizes state based decision-making regarding curriculum,standards and assessment.

When it comes to public education there is the oft heard cry,“we need to return to basics”. Education has become focused on the mastery of a large body of information, even if it’s not likely to matter, in meaningful ways, in the learners lives. But what qualifies as basic? It is, of course, more than simply learning to decode and compute. Basics provide a foundation for learning and include finding ways to apply what we have learned to advance our understanding. Learning grows out of the basic practice of identifying and making meaning, accessing, analyzing, and synthesizing information.

Considering the basics, what could be more meaningful than learning how to support, maintain, and use the body we live in? As the author Kobi Yamada has said, “ Be good to yourself. If you don’t take care of your body where will you live?” In this age of high levels of obesity and sedentary lifestyles how much do we know – and use – our physical selves? How do we learn to develop our kinesthetic sense and body awareness? We may study body systems at a rudimentary level in elementary school and figure out circulatory and respiratory systems – we might even re-visit anatomy at more complex levels later in high school and college. But, unless we have found our own avenues of interest, including sports, physical theatre or dance, how, or where, do we learn about our physical capacity? How do we learn to pay attention through action and sensory perception?

We all speak with our physicality, with individual style, variation and specificity. Yet during our school years – and beyond – we are seldom asked to communicate, with purpose and intent, though movement. We are not learning about our own bio mechanics, ( the study of the structure and function of biological systems), developing somatic practice (internal physical perception),or exploring and expressing ideas though movement. Very little of our learning, in school or out, is devoted to finding ways to move effectively, efficiently, and expressively throughout our lives.  How can we learn to be active participants on our lives using our bones for stability and our muscles for mobility? When will we take the chance to find structural alignment in our posture, dynamic flow in our movement, energy in our step?

The basics? What is more basic than the need to learn about our human design, to move in ways that help us guard against potential injury, build focus and energy? What is more basic than learning through our whole being, finding ways to employ creative, expressive and complex approaches to understanding? How can returning to – or exploring the “basics” for the first time help us to become more comfortable in our own skin, better able to express ourselves and to understand others? As T.S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”

Alison Marshall

Future Wise by David Perkins

Ideas and emotions come together – Liz Lerman

Kobi Yamada

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