Worthy of Connection

Education and the Arts

I want to tell you a story about my life in education and the arts. I really can’t put a button on this, so don’t expect an easy ending, a clean through-line, or simple outcomes. I often first tell people that I have these two interests, education and the arts and they overlap. However, they overlap in ways that are beyond my own knowing. They are strangely connected in me and I am drawn to them in ways that I cannot explain.

What I Don’t Understand

So let me explain what I cannot understand about this…education and arts connection. My experience is quite varied. I have been a 5th and 8th grade teacher, a drama teacher for K-12, a graduate school professor of school reform, an actor, painter, director, arts researcher and finally an arts integration researcher who is now interested in neuroplasticity, analogous thinking, overlapping acquisition of skills and the changing brain who learns how to learn. Explain to me how this makes a career path? No seriously, I need counseling on how to make a career out of my seemingly divergent thinking.

What I do Understand

So let me explain now, what I do think I understand, even though in the preceding paragraph, I explained how a variety of different activities seem quite disconnected and not focussed on developing a clear path to a career. What I do understand is my own need to belong to something important. In fact I was raised with this sense of belonging to a tribe, a family tribe grounded in belonging to my intentional parents and the land they had decided to settle in. Without boring the reader, my parents told stories of their families and why we had settled where we did that filled my imagination with such a strong sense of belonging that I was sure this did not happen by mistake.

Family Tribe

And the interesting thing about my family tribe and my own life choices is that I have always felt connected. Even if I do not do things that are obvious in their connectedness, I seem to reach out, connect, and then figure out how it really connects to my larger story. So the primary importance of connection in my family was clear and I always loved education and doing art along the way. When a project was assigned in class, I rallied my thinking around how to make it artistic. I could always show my own self more authentically though the artistic choices I made in education.  So that is literally why these two are connected in me today. I love making charts and graphs that help others see the connections in my research.

Worthy of Connection

The real kicker is, what I think I have learned about this strongly enough to tell others, is that, in order to belong to a tribe, you have to think that you are worthy of that tribe. So many people feel shame in their connections and this is quite literally destroying our sense of belonging. When fear grabs me, I feel disconnected and alone, and may even drift into shame or fear of belonging. So being connected is also a matter of feeling connected and the way you do that is not a one-way street, but more of a two-way dynamic, where you offer your feeling of connection to others and they return that feeling in their way. This means to me that we are all really worthy of connection because that is how the dynamic is set up. Connection is a living thing that represents our living-ness—it is the way we express our intelligence and our feelings. We are all part of the same intelligent, feeling, tribe. The only thing holding us back is reaching out. We do belong, we are worthy and that is why we reach out to connect.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Share this article:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More from EdSpeak

Discover the tools and strategies modern schools need to help their students grow.

Subscribe to EdSpeak!

The SchoolWorks Lab Blog, connecting teaching to policy through research.