Speech given on May 6, 2016 at The Rye Arts Center Gala
Though I have all the credentials that speak to the title, “educator” I more often think of myself as an adventurous anthropologist. The geography of learning has always been, and continues to be, a topography of endless curiosity. In this forest of learning my tribe of interest is named “children.”
Studying them and sharing in their adventures is a constant source of wonder. That they always welcome my visits from Adult Land – even when I’m a bit cranky – with such a never ending enthusiasm and openness never ceases to amaze me. And fill me with gratitude.
That’s a word I hear a lot, “Enthusiasm.” “You’re so enthusiastic Gary.” “You’re classes are so enthusiastic. Mr. Mack.” The music teachers on the third floor will tell you this is code for VERY loud. It’s the sound of learning.
We can thank the ancient Greeks for giving us a wonderful word to describe the best that we can become – “Enthusiasm.” En theos – inside god. At each class that I share with my tribe we meet inside a spirit – we gather at the ground zero of being and creativity in a ritual called Play. If play is the work of childhood then games are of vital importance to us all.
The Greeks realized this. They created sacred games where they believed gods literally came down from Mt. Olympus to oversee the play of men. That’s how important this activity is.
Every class I teach becomes, quite consciously on my part, a reenactment of a life enhancing game, a sacred learning ritual. And in the social dynamic of each class we actually are creating our greater Rye community. There’s a tangible vibe at The Rye Arts Center, one that goes out as waves through the common spaces that contains us all.
The words we use – like enthusiasm – have power and I want to make very clear that the work all teachers at The Rye Arts Center do is the “common core” that matters. The social contract that we have made called “childhood” is not the natural order of our species. It is a construct that, in fact, sets us apart from nature. It takes vigilance and protection, and an investment of great thought to preserve it.
Children are the foundation of our culture. I believe in bringing all unique people, all challenged students and suffering children into our community in ways that are fair and fulfilling for us all. The arts are key to this quest.