What if generating joy were a primary purpose of learning?
Grease is not my favorite musical. For all sorts of reasons, this particular piece of live theater does not appeal to me as much some other works. While I find nothing inherently wrong with the show, it is just not my cup of tea.
Yet, I went to see Providence Day School’s Upper School production of Grease last Friday night, and I do not remember the last time I saw that many students enjoying their learning together. I do not remember the last time I saw any group of performers enjoying the act of performing as much as this ensemble. The students in the show were having so much fun. As important, the audience was enjoying this performance of learning almost as much as anyone on stage. I have no doubt the process of learning was not an entirely joyful one. However, to have ended the experience with this kind of joy is nothing short of an education miracle. I wonder how much of the learning we facilitate in school never has any moments of joy (in the process or product).
This production is a prime example of the reason the arts must play a central role in the well-rounded, global education of any student. I cannot see anywhere else in the curriculum were a group this large (over 100 students) learns as much or shares as much of what they have learned with a larger group of people (~1600 audience members). These students (on stage and off) collaborated to create something none of them could generate alone. The communication necessary to coordinate this performance is staggering. Beyond coordination, these teenagers communicated the emotional content of the music, lyrics, and lines, and the difficulty and complexity of that communication cannot be understated. Collaboration, communication, and creation are essential to change.
Forget about learning lines and notes, the performing arts enables students to change the world around them. The shared, fleeting, ephemeral experience of this particular production cannot be reproduced, and people changed for having been in the theater to witness the work. People arrived feeling one way and, in most cases, left feeling better. That capacity to change feelings and offer shared experience may be the last, best hope for generating positive change in the world around us.
Again, it is not even my favorite musical. Yet, I loved this performance of learning and the joy both displayed and engendered by everyone involved. I wonder how we as students and teachers could hunt for ways to infuse more and more joy into the steps and outcomes of our shared learning experiences. Joy engenders positive change, and we all need more positive change.