I considered sneaking my 2 year-old daughter into our meeting with Kevin Clash. I would have risked being bounced out just to see the look on her face when she heard the voice and saw the puppet do what only Kevin Clash can make it do.
Fortunately, for everyone involved, my wife wisely talked me out of it.
But, that very thought got me to wondering why she reacts as strongly as she does to that voice, and to that face (Elmo’s that is, I don’t think she’d recognize Kevin, she’s never seen him). Then, I realized, that anyone who has seen Elmo reacts with at least a smile, and when you watch something like this, I challenge you not to laugh right out loud:
Then it hit me. The very “magic” that transforms the average, or less-than-average, classroom experience into a life-changing one may be the same “magic” that is Elmo’s strength on Sesame Street: Emotional Intelligence (EQ). For example, anyone can stand in front of a camera and recite the alphabet. But, when Elmo and Grover do it, it looks like this:
With NCLB, and for years before it, school policy has moved towards the excising of emotion from public discourse about classroom education. In 1996, the National Commission on Teaching and America’s Future produced this sentence, "A caring, competent, and qualified teacher for every child is the most important ingredient in education reform." By 2001, the NCLB people reduced that to, "highly qualified instructional staff," with no mention of "caring" or "competent" in any way relevant to how those words describe Elmo, Kevin Clash, and other extraordinary teachers.
What makes Elmo (and all of Sesame Street) special is that he cares. Finding a path for an actor and the organization behind him to communicate that kind of caring is truly extraordinary. Those teachers who are able to do the same either supported by administrators and support staff, or in spite of them, are, also, extraordinary.
I could go on at some length about the nature of EQ in enhancing classroom education, both in published research and my own experience. But, as my wife reminded me about bringing BBG to the Kevin Clash lecture, this may not be the appropriate time and place for such behavior.
Instead, I’ve linked below to additional resources so that if you find this kind of “magic” interesting you may peruse at your own leisure. Days, or even weeks, from now you may find something in one of these articles or websites that approaches “caring,” and how to put it back into our conversations about teaching, learning, and extraordinary education.
That sentence about teachers from the NCLB report is so amazingly powerful. It is sentences like that (or the destruction of any mention of emotion when it comes to teaching) that make it very obvious that NCLB was not constructed by teachers...or at least not by people who had spent any time in a classroom recently. What you said really struck a chord with me. Using multimodal texts in the classroom isn't just about using media that children are voluntarily engaging in outside the classroom, its about injecting EMOTION back into schooling. Instead of viewing kids as robotic absorbers of facts, the government needs to realize they are complex, emotional beings.