UC Berkeley News


Bring the arts into the classroom (or students to the arts)
Consortium for the Arts' online resource makes either option not only possible, but do-able

| 28 September 2006

For Selby Schwartz, conveying an ardent passion for the arts involves much more than trying to get students excited about classic texts. A former graduate-student instructor and lecturer in comparative literature, Schwartz liberally sprinkled her classes with arts-enriched activities, a tactic that won her the enthusiasm of her students and the admiration of her faculty peers.

"I took my classes on backstage theater tours and to breathlessly hot, packed jazz shows," says Schwartz, who earned her Ph.D. in comparative literature from Berkeley this past spring. "I asked my students to shoot their own film-noir projects and to perform improvised scenes from Japanese Noh plays; and invited drag ballerinas, avant-garde choreographers, and a critic from The New Yorker to do interactive workshops in my classroom."

Over the years, Schwartz heard from colleagues who said that though they respected her efforts to add arts-enriching activities to her courses, they feared that such endeavors would be either too expensive or time-consuming for them to organize.

Schwartz thought that collecting her arts-teaching know-how in one place might dispel those wrongheaded notions. She wrote a grant proposal for a resource guide that would achieve that goal, and received funding from the campus Consortium for the Arts. Michele Rabkin, the consortium's associate director, suggested that Schwartz put the handbook online, and provided the design help and server space to make that possible.

The "Online Handbook of Teaching With the Arts" website, which is now live at bampfa.berkeley.edu/bca/handbook.htm, divides San Francisco and East Bay arts organizations into three main categories - dance, museums, and theater. (Schwartz, who researched the handbook singlehandedly, acknowledges that she neglected film and is open to someone else picking up that baton.) Each listing includes a description of the entity, its address, and information about special programs and educational resources of use to teachers. "I also included all of the little tricks and special opportunities that I knew about," says Schwartz.

For instance, Schwartz notes that American Conservatory Theater offers student matinees, discussions, and college nights with actors; the California Academy of Sciences offers field trips, docent tours, class activities, outreach programs, and teacher workshops; and the Margaret Jenkins and Company dance group has a contact person who, helpfully, is a Berkeley alum.

The play's the thing

Including arts activities in her classes helped Schwartz reach those students who "seemed least likely to enjoy their comp-lit class." Two male students who always sat in the back row - and fell asleep the first day of class - got very excited about acting out a scene from Kiss Me, Kate with a jump-rope. "One of them actually heaved Bianca over his shoulder, trussed up like a turkey, and strode out of the room and all the way down the hall," recalls Schwartz. "By the time we were in the Kabuki-theater unit, they were asking me if they could do some extra research on the history of Japanese mask-painting."

Schwartz reassures skeptics that "nothing bad has ever come out of my trial-and-error experience of bringing the arts into the classroom and my classes into the arts community. There was one close call with a fire alarm, and last semester the teacher next door to me did actually come in and tell jazz genius Marcus Shelby to 'turn down' his stand-up bass, but that's the worst I can report."

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