Wednesday, October 6, 2010

That Feeling

Last week I spent a good hour talking with Professor Julie Ashworth.
Woah, woah, woah, let me back up a bit.

At Augustana there is an honours program (only about 4 years young) wherein the honours students can choose to take courses in place of certain generals. These courses are generally work intensive, mentally fatiguing, and (in my experience), you never leave one at the same level you were at to begin with.

My freshman year (2008-2009) I was in a course that would have been labeled in the English department. In said course I read texts varying from The Double and The Cave by Jose Saramago to The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman to Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut to Freedom of the City by Brian Friel.

And everything in between, it felt.
The course discussed compassion. What is compassion? How is it different from empathy? Is it good? How do we show it? When and where should we show it? And a whole slew of other questions alongside those. Needless to say, I look through the texts from that course regularly, especially when looking for something that will make me think.

That same year I took a course that would also be labeled an English department type course. The title was Eleutheria, which in Greek means "Freedom". That course was tag-team taught by Prof. Patrick Hicks and Prof. Joel Johnson, both inspiring professors in their own right. This course was once again a heavily writing and reading based course, but my mind was pushed to consider what true freedom was and how the word itself is so abused in pop-culture today. (If you're curious, our texts mainly consisted of Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess and The Magus by John Fowles - although there were plenty of other supportive texts (ie; Walden, etc).

Last year (my sophomore year of 2009-2010) my mind and my emotions began to be pushed in the honours course I took entitled "Immersion into Autism". Not only was this course a course dedicated to autism, identifying it, the varying degrees, and different therapy methods, but each student also had a "client" of sorts that they would work with a few times a week trying different therapy methods. I was paired with a little boy named Bo who had autism and was non-speaking. The details of that experience are the sorts that warm your heart when you think back on them. For anyone who may actually know me and want to hear about it, please ask. I loved this course and what it taught me.

Alright, back up done. Fast forward to now.

Every student in the honours program (which is entitled Civitas) is required to do a sort of project of an honour student calibre showing what they've learned and how they are going to apply not only their Bachelor's degree education to real life, but how they are going to apply what they've learned in their honours courses to real life. Each student can apply for up to a $1000 grant from the school to do their research/project. When the project is all said and done, the student must then present at the college's symposium or another public presentation of equal or greater degree.

I have spent the past two years pondering and fretting over what I might do for the project when one night when I was out camping by myself this past summer I was struck by an idea.

My heart goes out to the students who live and learn on reservations and I hope some day to teach on one for a while. Simultaneously, I believe strongly in the importance of arts education in schools.

Back to Professor Julie Ashworth: I was discussing with her my idea to do something involving reservation schools and the arts. She called some people for me and found out that the school on the Lower Brule reservation has no music program. At all. The secretary that she talked to made the comment that, "It's kind of hard to have a band when you don't have any instruments".

She hung up the phone, told me what she had found out, and I had one of those moments. Those moments where, in your heart, you know that you've just been given a job to do and if you don't do it, it will never get done.

Needless to say, herein follows a rough outline of the project that I plan on doing for my Civitas honours.

We're looking at the 4th or 5th grade level, perhaps earlier:

Throughout the winter and early spring I will work with the local Public School system, my college, the local instrument stores, various pawn shops, and multiple churches, in order to get instrumental donations for the students on the reservation. From there, hopefully I can cut some sort of deal with the local music store (that benefits greatly from Augustana students) and have them do a discounted or free basic repair on all of the instruments.

Next spring I will take a trip out to the reservation alongside whatever other instrumentalists and music majors I can find at Augie and give the students a performance. Hopefully from there I can do a sort of "break out session" wherein students can go to whichever instrument drew them the most.

Once the students have decided whether or not they would like to learn an instrument and which one, hopefully there will be enough of that instrument to loan it to them. The rest of the weekend will then be spent in giving basic lessons.

Throughout the rest of the spring and summer I will go to Lower Brule around every other weekend (once again, perhaps with other students from my school or perhaps even students from the nearby "caucasian city" of Chamberlain) and give lessons to the students with instruments.

The final goal? Have them give a small concert at the beginning of the fall school year.

It's rough. The idea is rough. I need to talk to some people.
But I want to do this. It needs to be done.

Soli Deo Gloria!