So, for the past 17 years I have toured the country and even the world delivering dance and drama workshops to children and young people on a variety of topics, but no matter where I am teaching or what my workshop has in store for the prospective students I always start with the same speech...
“Hello, my name is Mark and I’m from Highly Sprung. Before we get started I want to set some rules... in fact it’s just one rule, actually the rule is just one word; RESPECT. Who can tell me what that means?”
Cue the silence and the awkward glances around the circle between the students.
“Is it listening when you’re speaking?”
“Is it not talking when you’re talking?”
A hand nervously goes up...
“Is it raising your hand if you have something to say?”
Eventually we realise that respect could be translated to; Treating others the way you would want to be treated.... but my question is why does it take so long for our young people to work out what respect may mean?
Today I had the pleasure of watching my 9yr old son play football for his local side. He’s a lot like me; he plays with a smile on his face and loves trying his best, full in the knowledge that he won’t be signing for Barcelona anytime soon [cue a cute picture of me posing with a ball and my big brother!] So you can imagine his face when he came up against a side whose manager had lost sight of the fact that football is just a game and that 9yr olds playing football in real life and not on a PlayStation should be rewarded with positivity and praise, not a barrage of abuse.
As someone who has had the pleasure of teaching thousands of children and young people I can’t imagine shouting at a child so that they are on the verge of tears.... that’s against my rules.
After the match the two of us drove home listening to the radio and heard more updates of our shameful male politicians and their outrageous behaviour towards women. (Which by the way I am absolutely fuming about!)
“Would you treat someone like that son?”
“It’s not nice....you can’t pick on them just because they are women. They deserve respect”
He’s 9! He’s nowhere near being an adult, I certainly wouldn’t want him running this country; it would be chaos! So why does he know right from wrong when MPs, movie moguls and football coaches don’t? Or more importantly; how can this 9yr old boy know more about respect that any of these ‘men’?
I may be biased but I think it’s down the fact that since he was 3 he has been attending a drama group. He has had to work with others, listen to their ideas and compromise, he has been a part of the ensemble where watching others and understanding what they are going to do next is vital. Dances have been learnt and he has had to watch to make sure that he’s in time so that the unison required has maximum impact. Add to this, his trips to the theatre to watch shows, understand different view points and opinions, and even books that he reads and I read to him all contribute to his understanding of respecting someone else.
Surely this is what we are all looking for in life....? Respect? Because when respect is mutual you can have understanding, knowledge, acceptance.
So, here’s an idea; a new topic for our already over crowded curriculum - RESPECT STUDIES.
All students are taught about our duty to respect the world we live in, other people, opposing thoughts, religion, animals and more importantly…. ourselves. If we start with the seed that we must respect who we are as people, surley everything else flows.
‘I won’t drop this litter I’m better than that.’
‘I won’t wolf whistle that girl, how would that make me look?’
‘I won’t touch…..’
…you get the idea….
For me I have found that dance, drama and the performing arts in general have a profound effect on the lives of young people. The bonds that are often created by a cast of young people are friendships for life that transcend gender, race, religion and social background. This is what I want for my kids and all of the young people I get to meet, as they enter this terrifyingly disrespectful world.
Am I foolish? Maybe.
Desperately seeking a better future? You bet ya!!!
So let’s be honest; There is no way any government will add my beautifully entitled RESPECT STUDIES to the curriculum. There isn’t enough time in a school day. However there is another alternative....? We could call it Drama, Dance or even Performing Arts?
Let’s stop dismissing the arts and USE them. I don’t know of a single arts teacher who only works 9-4. They are always running after school clubs or productions. Lunchtimes and breaks are taken up with;
“Excuse me Sir/Ms can we use the studio to practice?”
In many schools the arts department is an untapped resource, under-funded and seen as a luxury. It’s not a luxury; in a world where empathy is in decline, the idea that respect is earned by the weapon you carry or the size of your bank balance and a world where those with influence and power can do whatever they like, I put it to you that the arts shouldn’t be a luxury but a necessity.
[Here’s me on the left pretending to be Arsene Wenger with my Brother's football team!}