SCHONEKER: Creativity 2010, CRN: fun

 

 

Jake Schoneker

In a lot of Villanova classrooms, there are lectures. In some, there are discussions. In others, there are swarms of unruly fourth graders who corner you under a desk and tickle you until there’s no laughter left in your lungs. All of these things are, or should be, part of a quality four-year education.

If you haven’t taken a Service Learning course here at Villanova yet, you should and not just to get off campus for a while or to avoid midterm tests (though these are a few perks that come with unconventional class work). No, you should take a Service Learning class because it provides for a dimension of the college experience that can be sorely lacking. It offers us meaningful experience in the world. Service engages us in the vibrant community that exists outside our academic bubble and forces us to solve real problems – to face uncomfortable realities.

This is not to discredit the classroom. Academically, I’ve grown quite a bit in the musty, hallowed halls of Tolentine. But while learning the nuances of the Socratic Method and the Categorical Imperative (maybe) has its place, service should have a place, too, even if that place happens to be beneath a mob of tickle-happy 10-year olds.

The kids I’m talking about go to school in South Philadelphia – a neighborhood that, unlike the Main Line, is richer in culture than it is in real estate. Each week my college classmates and I teach art in an after-school program geared toward developing creativity and confidence in kids. We hope that in doing so we are helping them to develop into bright, well-rounded individuals. Art as an Agent of Social Change – we bring the paint, they make the mess. Somewhere in the chaos of creation, art happens.

Art – an exercise in imagination, something that is often lost in our relentless pursuit of knowledge. After a day full of grammar and math, the child’s mind is caged. It is no longer in its natural state, no longer willing to wander and create. So when the blank canvas is put before them, there is a sudden feeling of disbelief, of liberation. “You mean, I can draw … anything?”

Working with children makes you reexamine your own life. If the child’s mind is in a cage, then ours must be in a penitentiary by now. Years and years of organization, schedules and stress have made us too accustomed to the walls around us to escape them so freely. Iron bars are safer. Who knows what might happen should they disappear? Anything could happen – but listening to these young artists, anything might not be such a bad thing.

We may be playing the role of teacher for the kids, but it’s become clear that there is more to learn from them than there is to teach. And I’m not talking about long division – though I did have to relearn that last week. I am talking about creativity. Painting with them, of course, is an exercise in itself – but the real creative challenge is in solving problems. How do you inspire the imaginations of 15 kids, each with his or her own desires and needs, without pulling your (or their) hair out? How do you respond to their problems at home or the fights that inevitably break out between them? How can you be a friend, mentor and teacher all at once? You can’t cram for these tests or find their answers in textbooks. The only way to tackle them is to experience and overcome them. There is no great lesson without a great challenge.

Service is one of those experiences, like studying abroad, that no Villanova student should be without. We have opportunities here to graduate with more than just a degree. We can emerge with experiences and lessons that will stay with us and guide us for the rest of our lives. So next time you are nodding off listening to Dr. Bland’s lecture on the Franco-Persian War, think about climbing out of the box for a while.

Find a classroom in another neighborhood – one with new lessons to teach, new challenges to find and new rules to make. My first rule? No tickling.

——————–

Jake Schoneker is a senior humanities and political science major from Landsdale, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected]