Friday, March 21, 2003

Two profound things happened during my art class on Monday.

One, I found out that we were going to war in 48 hours. Two, I was called a good student.

In the midst of the world learning about a forthcoming war, there was a much smaller battle being won in an art studio in Baltimore. One of someone who set out to do something and did it. And that someone was me.

Our teacher had brought a radio into class so we could hear The President address the nation at 8:pm on Monday. I was in a surly mood, already forty minutes late due to some personal matters I had to take care of. I was mixed about wanting to hear President Bush's speech, as I had decided to sit this one out. Ever since 911, it's been a struggle to feel optimistic about things, and I'd been making a concerted effort to not watch television or listen to the news. If that's called sticking one's head in the sand, then I'm about to lay an egg the size of a cantaloupe. It's just too much right now, and I am not willing to visit the feelings surrounding 9-11.

However, I was glad to be surrounded by my classmates. As 8:00 ticked closer, we painted a still life and talked about things other than the war. Like I said, I was surly and didn't feel like painting that much. My classmates though, with their lighthearted chatter and camaraderie perked me up a bit, and by the time the speech came on, I was ready. As President Bush spoke, the class quieted, and students who had been painting in other classes or the hallway gathered around our door to listen. It was a classic scene, with a bunch of young, passionate, and idealistic people sitting around a radio. Eyes concentrated, brows furrowed, in some cases heads were bowed, lost in thought, listening to the President of the United States. I was glad to be listening to him in that room, and not alone in my apartment where I would feel like the only person in the world affected. No one to look at, or to see thinking like I was, and know that I was not walking alone in this changed and frightening new world. Once the speech was over, we continued our paintings. Some talked about the speech, but I didn't. I have mixed feelings about the war, and those feelings I wanted to keep to myself. So I did, and painted in silence, but glad for the people around me who openly discussed what we had just heard. Glad to be in company, and not in isolation.

Our teacher took us one by one and had us put a semester's worth of work up on the wall for her to critique. And that's where she turned to me and said, "You are such a good student."

Not because I came to class, and not because I completed the assignments, but because of how I approached the assignments and tried to take out of them what was intended to be learned. To explore, break out, and tread on unfamiliar and uncomfortable lands. And that showed in my artwork and my performance in class. I dove into the assignments, not worried about the final result, but what I would learn in the process of obtaining that result. My teacher had supplied the hand, and I was willing to take it and follow. And, she recognized that as "good."

I wish I had realized growing up, that being a good student is when you open yourself up to learning. In the school systems that I went through, good students were the kids who sat up straight in class, handed every paper in on time, memorized facts to ace tests, and did some extra credit work to plump up their chances of getting an A. The goals were always on the grade, and not the learning. As a result, I was not a good student. Unfortunately, I took that approach with me to college at Parsons School of Design. I worried what the teacher wanted and not about what I was learning. If I had relaxed, allowed myself to walk through the process of learning, then perhaps I would have gotten more out of my college education. Perhaps I would have retained some of it. Instead, it became a struggle between me and the teachers about expectations that felt I could never meet, and eventually that led to my barely average performance in my classes. It became about what I could get away with not doing, instead of understanding that these assignments were not a test to see if I could measure up, but to teach me something about my craft.

It took years to unlearn.

And the result of that unlearning happened on Monday. I am taking this class for a grade, but that is secondary to what I came there to learn. I know that part of this comes with maturity, and in college I was not willing to be a just a grade factory. So I rebelled, simply because I did not know what else to do. Now, I am a good student, in the truest meaning of the term.

And that makes me proud.

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