Saturday, November 6, 2010

Statue of Liberty Fail

Today was awesome - in kind of a round-about way which I wish I had more time to properly explain. I was up until 2am last night finishing essays, woke-up at 6:30, got on the train by 8, and then realized that I had read my schedule wrong and was not due into work at my Saturday writing class until 3:30PM. Shabalab.

I went-in anyway and decided to get a few extra things taken-care of.

In addition to a Remembrance Day lesson that I had planned, we conducted an activity in preparation for our field trip next weekend. As nobody at the district had any suggestions for the field trip day - other than suggesting that we go somewhere to do something that focuses on English - I decided to take the reigns.

We will be going to Seoul's Olympic Park, which is one of my favourite places in the city. It's full of statues commissioned from artists from around the world - in celebration of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games. A great place to spend an afternoon. We will be heading there and, in teams, having students locate assigned sculptures in marked areas, then recording information about the artist, and his or her intent in creating the piece.

The assignment portion is to write either a critique of the work based on the artist's intent (what did the artist want to convey, and was he or she successful?), or a viewer interpretation (what does the student think the piece is intended to convey?). I know that it might sound dry, but with the right group of students, it can be a very interesting exercise. It seems as though students here in Korea are not at all used to being asked for their opinions on things. Critiquing a work of art seems like something out of their realm of experience.

Anyway, to get them prepared for next week, today we talked about a famous sculpture that most are aware of: The Statue of Liberty. I showed a PPT comparing it to the Colossus of Rhodes and then looked at the inspirations for it as well as the construction process, which I, myself, find fascinating.

Though the only plaque that exists at Liberty's site is not one from her creator, but a dedication from another artist, we looked at Emma Lazarus' "The New Colossus" as if it were an example of "artist's intent".

We read it together and deciphered it into plain English, then I asked the students to decide whether or not the physical statue and all of her details is an accurate and successful realization of the description given in Lazarus' poem: "Mother of Exiles", a shelter-er, a beacon of hope, a protector and welcoming guardian and provider of justice etc. Of course, it's hard to remove the cultural baggage that the image already carries - even for Koreans. Lady Liberty just IS identified with freedom.

I was really pleased, however, when the students shed themselves of their own history with the statue and did their best to look at it with new eyes. As a piece of "art", is the statue all that Lazarus suggests it is? According to the great majority of my students, the answer was a resounding "no!"

Considering whether or not the statue could successfully carry the moniker: Mother of Exiles, students were pretty clear. The discussion that followed their initial point-form findings was really interesting and surprisingly spirited. But I'll let some of these photos speak for themselves...

I'm really excited to see what they come-up with for their critiques next week, and they - my students who were uncharacteristically pouty and whiny when they learned they wouldn't be going to Lotte World or Everland for their field trip - seemed suddenly jazzed to be heading to Olympic Park next weekend to critique art. It's honestly moments like this that remind me that being a teacher is exactly what I want to be doing for the rest of my working life.

It's been years since I have experienced a "runner's high", but this was a teaching high for sure. It must mean something when - after spending 7 more after-work work hours on a Friday night, getting 4 hours of sleep, and blowing a good chunk of my day with a scheduling mistake - I can achieve pure giddiness with the interaction and discussion I have with my students before 5:30 rolls-around.

I'm really looking-forward to next weekend.

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