Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Day on the Educational Conveyor Belt

I spent last Saturday experiencing something completely new, and yet in an all-too familiar environment. I was fortunate to be asked by a former drama teacher of mine to be a judge for the District drama competition. It's an all-day event when drama students from many local schools come together to be judged and scored to see if they can qualify for the State Drama competition. It's a BIG deal for these kids! And a great opportunity for me, as well.

I was so nervous that I'd forget all the rules of the competition. So many things to remember! But that's the way of the Conveyor Belt-- it's really the only way to have order with that many people. On the other hand, I ended up feeling that the kids I saw were empty shells walking around, trying to find truth in experiencing raw emotions. It was sad...

But, I'm getting ahead of myself.

I got up early and got beautified. I packed my bag with the rule book, two Shakespeare plays I'm reading in anticipation of possible down-time, multiple highlighters (to highlight important parts of the rules), a pen, a pencil, a notebook, my purse, and a sack lunch. Luckily, I was able to catch a ride with the BHS kids and coach on a school bus. (They still don't have seatbelts on these things?)

As soon as we got there, I signed in, and then attended the judge's meeting. We were reminded that drama kids are EMOTIONAL, and to be careful and thoughtful with our scoring and comments. We were also reminded that we could not call them by name, ask where they're from, or give them any verbal feedback AT ALL. We also had to time them, and if they went over time, they were dropped a full rank.

Armed with my loaded bag and a nervous stomach, I took my assignment and headed off to my first round of judging. Luckily, it was a round of humorous pieces, and there were some fun things presented. The rounds I judged after that were all serious pieces, and that was a bit of a downer, to say the least. Child abuse, rape, AIDS, mental illness, self-mutilation, adultery, murder, catastrophe-- I couldn't help but wonder if any of the kids had ever experienced such things, and why would they want to live in the heads of people who had experienced these things. But, I could not ask them, or even take the subject matter into account in my scoring.

Not calling them by their names or knowing anything about them, did make the actual judging and commenting easier. We also were not allowed to "have an opinion" about the pieces presented, and so I had to look with an eye only for their acting techniques. It took some doing to not get effected by the performances (the self-mutilation one about did me in!), but I do feel that I judged them fairly within the rules I had to follow.

What disturbed me the most about the entire experience, was the fact that I could see, feel, and hear that there was to be no "thinking" allowed. Not by me, and not by the student. They all felt real emotion, they all did a very good job. But I couldn't help but wonder who was guiding them and talking to them about these big hairy subjects they were portraying. Did anyone ask them how their characters might have been different if they had had a relationship with God? Did anyone ask them if the rape victim was in a good place at a good time? Has anyone ever asked them how they, the student, felt about the characters' choices? I was forbidden to mentor them. It was clear their teachers had coached them, but was anyone asking questions? Was anyone thinking about how these scenes were affecting the students? Did the students ever stop to wonder how playing these characters would effect their own lives?

Oliver DeMille, my favorite educational philosopher, has stated that on the educational conveyor belt, student are not taught HOW to think, they are taught WHAT to think. Because of my judging experience this past weekend, I believe that things are changing slightly on the conveyor belt-- they are being taught NOT to think.

I will be so happy to get back to my Shakespeare class this week, where I can begin and end the class with prayer. Where I can ask them how they feel about the universe, about right and wrong, about revenge and redemption, and open their minds to think thoughts of their own, not just coldly analyze a piece of literature.

And I am so grateful that my own three children will be there, pondering, wondering and THINKING.

I so wish all children had the same opportunity.

And on that note, I want to add this video:


  1. Wow, that is depressing. But thoughtfully put! Love ya!

  2. Isn't it, though? So much potential being squashed out of so many wonderful kids! :-(

  3. Having one child go through the conveyor-belt education system from start to finish, I agree 100% with what you have said here. In high school, thinking for yourself is bad. You MUST regurgitate what the teachers and textbooks tell you. There is no questions about why...just spit back out what you are told to do.

    My other two children are not conveyor-belt carbon copies and it is such a drastic difference! I wish all children could be taught with a basis of moral principles in which everything they read or study is compared to the correct principles.

    As for all of the deplorable subject matter you witnessed...my answer is YES...they have experienced and witnessed ALL of those things. It is rampant among the junior high and high school campuses of the US. Very sad and very scary!


I will not approve any comments that are rude, negative, or disrespectful. Thanks for being civil! :-)