“Of course (at the Beaux-Arts) you learn the rules of perspective, but you never see that depth results from the conjunction of vertical and horizontal surfaces, and that’s exactly what perspective is.” ~ Paul Cezanne in Alex Danchev’s new book, Cezanne
If depth is what we are looking for, there’s no doubt that Cezanne got it right. Likewise, in our schools, when kids experience the intersection of two or more subjects, they get the real deal – perspective. Last week Teresa Baker, a 25 year veteran of thematic teaching, and her co-teacher, Jordy Hertzberg, welcomed me into their Fourth Grade classroom at Charles River School.
Here kids devote half a year to their humanities focus, Ancient Greece. I arrived first thing in the morning. Students working on their “i-projects,” in preparation for oral presentations, were in high gear. Each one had been assigned a god or goddess for the term. Fingers clicked away at keyboards as they wrote and expanded upon their narratives. Writers checked in with other writers to offer support. Was this a classroom or a newsroom? Kids knew that there was an impending deadline. Yet none would sacrifice quality for speed. One was cutting his writing into sections, which he sequenced on notecards. Most were building on their compositions. I asked one boy, “Which of your god’s attributes has particularly impressed you?” He responded instantly, “I really can’t say for sure. They’re all so magnificent!”
Passionate about their work, they were also informed. Fourth Graders knew their gods and goddesses inside and out. They had sewn chitons so that when they were “in character” they could also be in costume.
They had read multiple myths, gone behind the scenes at the Museum of Fine Arts, researched, replicated maps, constructed original labyrinths, and simulated the Olympic Games.
Each learning experience had been deepened by the Art making process.
Asked to find connections between the Greeks of ancient times and today’s civilization, they rose to the challenge. One of the culminating projects was a song with lyrics Fourth Graders wrote and performed. It required that they synthesize what they learned and determine the elements, which had been passed on to our civilization today.
Something remarkable was taking place in the Baker/Hertzberg classroom, and I asked Ms. Baker what she thought was at its core. “It’s the intensity,” she replied. To that I would add, “It’s the depth that results from the conjunction of” multiple subjects colliding. From this kind of teaching, coupled with the Arts, come new and meaningful student perspectives.
Thank you, Teresa and Jordy, for what you give to children every day.
Nancy Harris Frohlich