I first met Max 2 years ago in my Haiku Animation class. This was Max’s first class at Marwen, but not his first choice. He was quick to let me know he wanted to be in the comics class more, and after taking a glance around the room, he sat down and stuck his nose in a book. I like to start each class with a game, and on this first day as I got the group to circle up, Max didn’t join. I’m going to stop short of relaying all the examples of resistance that Max put up and just say that it was clear to me from that first day that he was going to need some space before he felt comfortable participating or engaging in the work of the class. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get his buy in, and rather than force it, I decided to give him a lot of room. We had a kind of dance where I would kind of circle his periphery, observe what he was doing, and maybe ask him a question or prompt him to put away his book and get back to his project. Most often he wouldn’t listen and so I let him do his own thing, on his own time. It was mid term when my assistant and I knew something had to change or else he wouldn’t have anything to show for the class. We asked Max to stay after class and were pretty frank with him about his lack of participation and why it concerned us. We acknowledged that this class wasn’t his first choice, but also let him know that wanted him to be there with us. It was a loving ultimatum calling on him to make a choice; come and make the most of this class, or don’t.
Either way we weren’t judging him. Max did end up writing a powerful haiku about the “darkness” and his depression. It was blunt, brave, and articulate. This was the turning point. Max became more relaxed and by the end of term critique he was one of the most encouraging, and honest participants in the class. Fast forward to the winter 2015 term. Max returned to my poetry and animation class. The first day we circled up for a game, and Max was right in there with us. I could see that Max had a developed confidence and it was clear in his participation that he felt that he was in a safe place.
In this class, Spitting Images: Poetry and Animation, Max wrote a much longer poem than he did in the haiku class. He wrote about his struggle with anger and feelings of being left out. On the last day of class I asked Max to tell me more about the poem and if I could share his thoughts and this story on Verve. He happily obliged. Max told me that he always felt there was something different about him, describing that in school he was always the outsider. He was often embarrassed. When he was younger his siblings told him that he wasn’t athletic or smart. After 4th grade he started attending a Montessori school and says that he started to feel accepted. He met a good friend that was a lot like him. They supported one another and for the first time Max felt he wasn’t being judged or labeled. Max also told me about his older sister, that she has recently become an inspiration, telling Max not to compare himself to others and that he should love himself. There’s nothing good about self-pity. From what I’ve seen, Marwen, like his Montessori school, has given Max a sense of place. He says that it’s allowed him to find a voice and recognize something that he is good at – art. He told me that he’s never felt this sense of self worth before. He said that he is free to do his own is cialis expensive thing at Marwen, and that it is a place where he can be known for his accomplishments – the good things. (“Max” is a pseudonym.)
Colin Palombi is a print-maker, animator, and initiator of projects. Upon receiving a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004, he landed a job teaching art and history at the Montessori School of Lake Forest. Inspired by the collaborative and open classroom environment, Colin has continued to pursue his own art focusing on themes of repetition and discovery, while at the same time recognizing teaching as a creative process in its own right. Colin serves on Marwen’s Teaching Artist Advisory Board and is programmer for Homeroom, a non-profit arts organization whose focus is to foster conversation and collaboration among artists.