In the blogosphere: Left Behind

When No Child… was performed in Chicago, Gwen Kuhns of the Woman on the Verge blog wrote the following post. We kindly asked Gwen for permission to repost her entry on the ARTblog. Her response was:

“Sure, of course. I would be happy to help in any way to get people into your theater to see this amazing piece”

-Nicholas Peterson


Left Behind

On Tuesday a couple of friends and I went to the Lookingglass Theatre to see a play. For anyone who doesn’t know because you a) didn’t attend Northwestern b) don’t live in Chicago or c) aren’t truly, madly, deeply in love with all the characters on Friends but Ross most mostest of all, the Lookingglass was founded by David Schwimmer. And 20 or so of his closest NU theater buddies. It makes sense, then, that he was in attendance on Tuesday night. Wearing a black camouflage hat. Now, I realize that celebrity etiquette suggests that hats guarantee inconspicuousness. However, when you and your friend are the only people in a small theater wearing a hat–albeit a camouflage one–you become exactly the opposite of inconspicuous. Still, it was the day before Halloween. Maybe he was going to a party after.

David Schwimmer, however, is not the topic of this post. What I came here to talk about, what I want to talk about, is the play, No Child, written and performed by Nilaja Sun. This play has already run off Broadway in New York. The star of the show has garnered many seemingly well-deserved accolades and awards (they’re only seemingly because I know nothing about her competition). So, if you live in NYC, ignore the next sentence, but for the rest of you, should this piece play in or near or even far-ish away from your domicile, you might consider pushing people out of your way to get to it. It is really that good.

Ms. Sun portrays a slew of characters who attend, teach at, manage and clean a public school in the Bronx. She deftly captures the personalities of the students as well as the love and despair of the adults who work with them. I have taught every single one of the students she embodies, and watching her bring them to life made me ache to return to the classroom. I sense myself getting all evangelist every time I talk about urban education, but I can hardly help myself. I miss my students, as difficult and heart-breaking and edifying as they were.

One of many moments in the play that stabbed me with its truth and wisdom was a scene where a class of challenging tenth graders had just driven out their 5th teacher in one year. Even though they had been horrid to her, they were still so angry and disappointed when she did the very thing they had begged her to do–abandon them. I have been there, in that room, with the girl who is calling me all sorts of names and acting out violently, and I have also been there, after, when just showing up every day to be abused turned out to be enough.

An election is coming up (oh, you noticed, too?), and pretty soon it will be time for the candidates to stand in the hallway of some Chicago Public School and spout soothing or impassioned words about education. Of all the lies the candidates tell, the ones about education needle me the most. I always think that if every single person in public office worked just a year, six months even, in an urban public school, we would have fewer initiatives like the horribly flawed No Child Left Behind and more results. Because a thinking, feeling person can’t spend any time in that situation and not leave it believing that what we are doing to the poor, to the urban poor, especially, is immoral. If children really are our future and if education is the best way to that future, then we are in trouble. We have failed already an entire population and that reality makes me me want to scream and cry and beat my tiny fists against the cold wind.

I used to judge the teachers in my schools who were barely hanging on, who spent much of their class periods in the hallways, talking investment portfolios with each other or who assigned endless, mindless worksheets. But now, seven years out of the public schools, I give these teachers credit for something I haven’t done–they’ve been there, in a place where you fight daily the hopelessness that threatens to choke any belief that all children are educable, that reaching even only a few makes a difference.

I know this world is full of sorrow and pain. I know that much of the challenge of adult life is learning how to face loss with grace and wisdom and love. I know that sometimes the many suffering voices shrill too loudly and that it’s easier to throw up our hands in submission. But for me, education is my thing, my place to make a difference, for whatever reason. I appreciate the gift Ms. Sun gave me when she reminded me of that with her incredibly moving, honest, difficult play, No Child.

– Gwen Kuhn

Originally posted on the Woman on the Verge.

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