Diverse Arts in Education: An Imaginative Path to International Understanding
By Christina Lilian Turczyn
As a child, I underwent a temporary, yet pervasive loss of hearing. All I can remember of that experience is a moment when I could no longer dance.Yet it was that early learning which allowed me to approach an understanding of diversity as a balance between synergy and difference, sky and earth. To fly from my worries was tempting, yet gravity rooted me in my community, time, and place. Since I had a dedicated teacher who encouraged me to stretch my hands up in the air like a dream-tree, I did not feel marginalized, silenced, apart.
It was not difficult, then, in the course of my literary studies, to consider paradoxes of universality and difference—to know, as the poet Joy Harjo writes in a series of interviews titled The Spiral of Memory, that “transformation is really about understanding the shape and condition of another with compassion, not about overtaking” (127). My youthful and informal education in the arts taught me about imagination, movement, unlimited possibility.And it was precisely imagination itself—the ability to see beyond the immediate and momentary—that connoted survival. Imagination, with its promise of flight, freed me to really live. The arts were my gateway to a multifaceted approach to education, as well as to a complex understanding of cultural diversity.
There is not a single poem of form that is written in the same way. Each author brings specificity to language, as it changes daily. Like skywriting, a performance is never actually repeated. Space, time, movement, feeling. Multiple perspectives. I think about the vocabulary of thousands of hand gestures employed in traditional Indonesian dance.
What better way to become acquainted with multiple cultures than to experience dialogue through art? Most recently, I revisited Ken Burns’ epic study, Jazz, a text which, among its rich offerings, discusses the history of the 369th Infantry Jazz Band in France, during World War I. The musicians were led by Lieutenant James Reese Europe and, according to Burns, “won 171 decorations for bravery, more than any other American unit” (69-70). Perhaps the pride, history and innovation in which the band’s work was rooted contributed to its members’ success. Ken Burns later mentions that Lieutenant Europe observed, “We won France by playing music which was ours, and not a pale imitation of others” (70).
What kind of powerful, questioning art creates the courage of communication, within the context of war? I have often thought that what is required in current times is a space for peace—a space for cross-cultural songs, poems—of peace. I think of rivers, skies–and their deep listening, as well as of the currents that run beneath tense. I think of myriads of accidental meetings that change peoples’ lives: A traveler visits a place, falls in love, and stays for many years. Someone receives a work of art and discovers the meaning the piece had for generations of a family.
In those spaces between words, people hear.