I begin this journal entry with a profound sense of gratitude! I’ll end it with expressions of gratitude towards selected people. I have had a memorable, inspirational, and very satisfying day–on a number of varying levels–because of the work and influence of artist Norman Rockwell.
A couple of weeks ago my oldest son, Steven, texted me that he could get tickets and wanted to go to the Norman Rockwell exhibit at the BYU Museum of Art. He inquired if Jill and I were interested in going with him and his family. Well, not being a big Rockwell fan I wasn’t too excited to attend. However, I was enthusiastic about spending some time with family members, so I said, “Sure! Let me check my schedule and get back to you with some dates that will work for me.” Today was that day! After our visit to the museum, we all went to Brick Oven Restaurant for lunch. I spent the rest of the day reading my book of the month, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, visiting my mom, and writing this post.
In addition to Steven and his family, Doug and Erin, MacKenzie, and Kaden, Jill, and myself attended the 10:00 a.m. session. The tour began with a short video to introduce the artist and his work after which we viewed the collection. If I wasn’t a Norman Rockwell fan before, I am now… I was overwhelmed! I was not only overwhelmed with the volume and quality of the works of Rockwell, but with an experience I had while there, by inadvertently applying a set of reading strategies previously reserved for my students in the classroom and my personal reading activities. I feel compelled to share that experience at this time.
I just finished viewing the exhibit and had sat down on a bench to wait for the rest of my family to finish their tour. On the wall in front of me was a painting titled, Freedom from Want; the iconic image and representation of Thanksgiving. I had seen it hundreds of times over the years and never gave it more than a passing glance.
However, as I was casually looking at this piece of art to pass the time, I began to remember and think about past Thanksgiving Day dinners I had enjoyed over the years. Then, out of nowhere, the thought occurred to me that I had just employed a reading strategy; making a connection with text-to-self, or image to self in this case. Admittedly, this is something that we intuitively do most of our lives. Nonetheless, this is the first time I cognitively labeled it in my thought processes as such outside of reading.
I thought hmmm… I wonder if my recently “synergized” set of reading skills would work to determine importance, or ascertain the author’s purpose for creating this painting so as to appreciate it in a larger measure? Anyway, after reminiscing about all of the places and people I had shared a Thanksgiving Day dinner with over the years; grandparents, parents, in-laws, etc., I made a text (image)-to-text (images, movies, etc.) connection.
I began to recall the numerous stories I had read–or were read to me–over the years about Thanksgiving Day beginning in second grade with my teacher Mrs. Barton. I thought about and remembered many other related images and movies I had experienced involving Thanksgiving Day over the years; especially the movies Planes, Trains, and Automobiles and A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. I remembered reading about how Thanksgiving Day became a federal holiday in 1863 when President Lincoln initialized it during the American Civil War. These recollections caused me to think about how I have my students memorize a poem each year about Abraham Lincoln titled Oh Captain, My Captain by Walt Whitman.
Next, I made a text (image)-to-world connection. I thought about all of the starving people around the world who struggle each day to find something to eat and how I have never had a “bad” Thanksgiving Day dinner, or for that matter, ever gone to bed hungry. All of these connections were a catalyst to activating my background knowledge and were catalysts to start me asking questions… and wondering… ad infinitum!
Finally, I began to draw inferences and make predictions about the individuals in the painting. Who would do what first, what this person or that person was thinking; based on the expressions they had on their faces. I came to the realization that I had probably experienced many of the same thoughts and expectations that I envisaged on their faces, at one point or another, throughout my Thanksgiving Day dinners at different junctures in my life.
While pondering the transference of this skill set, I had developed for reading to observing art, I began to understand and appreciate the creative process more fully. I recognized that it is the creativity of the artist or writer that can inspire the observer or reader. This is done through words or self-initiated thoughts that turn into ideas. Ideas which in turn opens avenues of opportunities. Opportunities which then can then lead to the setting of goals or the pursuit of dreams involving creativity; Bloom’s highest order of thinking in his learning domains. Even though this process is already well-known, I now understand it at a significantly deeper level which evoked a greater sense of and appreciation for the creative process.
As I was synthesizing all that I had just experienced, I intrinsically understood that I had achieved the ability to analyze and understand new things by using a modification of select reading strategies outside of the reading process. I realized I could use this process of evaluation and understanding for a number of various activities. Activities such as conversations, listening to music, and basically, just observing and experiencing the world around me. It was then that the floodgates of creative ideas and possibilities for assisting my students to become more fully realized self-directed learners flew open.
I gazed again at the painting, through new eyes, as if I had just seen it–really seen it–for the first time and perceived that I had just experienced it as the artist intended me to experience it. I sensed as if I knew Rockwell’s thought process in creating this work of art. As my mind seized upon these understandings, I attained a momentary state of bliss, and a few tears began to flow.
After this “state” subsided, I began to more fully appreciate the years of sacrifice that artists, like Norman Rockwell, make to get to a level of recognition for excellence in their work and the joys they must experience while creating and bringing into reality their ideas and dreams. This experience made me think of my math students and some of their creative work.
My Math Students
Every Friday, if they have all finished their assigned work, I let my math students have a “Fun Friday”. This term means they get to work on pretty much anything they want that is creative in scope. They recently finished a parody of the rock band Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, which I am pleased to share below. They wrote the lyrics, performed, and produced this project on their own with just a little guidance from myself. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
Bohemian Rhapsody - A Parody
Expressions of Gratitude
I’ll close with manifestations of gratitude for various individuals. First, I want to thank my son Steven for inviting me on this outing. He is a great husband, father, and provider for his family. I know how much he loves his wife and kids. He always treats them kindly and talks about them in a positive way when they are not around. He is also a voracious reader which I am grateful for; since I didn’t do much in the way of encouraging him to read when he was growing up… of which I now deeply regret.
I would like to express my appreciation to Norman Rockwell and give him a posthumous “Thank You!” for his perseverance in perfecting his art which resulted in immeasurable contributions to the American experience.
I also want to explicitly express gratitude to my boss, Principal Emily Swan. Specifically for her guidance in helping me to become a more proficient reader and a more efficient teacher of reading strategies and reading skillsets for my students. Also, for being instrumental in assisting me to understand fully that all teachers are primarily reading teachers.
Finally, I want to thank my wife Jill for the example and inspiration she is to me. She lives on a higher plane of existence than 99% of the rest of us. She intuitively has a greater understanding of the “big picture” and subsequently lives “in the moment” with peace, happiness, and contentment. Also, she is naturally blessed with the traits and characteristics that I daily exercise and practice to develop and struggle to obtain; love, kindness, and forgiveness. In addition, the art she makes with her woodworking skills is just as fine as any celebrated artist. She constantly overwhelms me and is my everything. I love her so much and she is the story of my life…!