From Vent to Art

summer and Raleigh trip 040

Curtis McCarley, composer and friend, at the show Pentecost after the Dramatists Guild of America’s Saturday Showcase in Raleigh, September 2014

A couple of years ago on the way back from Pennsylvania where we were visiting John’s family, I started venting, not out loud, but on paper. I was so disgusted with the way higher education is becoming more like a business than a public service–a source of income rather than a source of learning. Workforce development was, and remains, the buzz phrase around my college and my state. Practical learning rules the day–as if teaching people to think–the goal of a liberal arts education–is not the hallmark of any practical-minded curriculum.

But this blog post is supposed to be about art rather than venting, Katie Winkler, so get back to it.

So because I want to keep my job despite its frustrations, on that long drive home after the holidays, I began to muse about a way to vent, well, creatively. I felt like I was being asked, not to really teach, but to walk through the motions, without asking my students to reach an acceptable standard for college level students, so zombies came to mind. I felt I was being sucked dry of all my creativity and autonomy in the classroom–vampires came next. I found another analogy–so much technology but no real attention to that technology’s practical application in the classroom–inept wizards. And then there were werewolves and nazis.

But there are those who are still fighting–and not just faculty–there are staff members and administrators who are fighting the good fight. They are the fairy godmothers (and one fiesty fairy godfather) of my story. I started throwing my ideas out to my husband and daughter as we drove along and next thing I knew it the plot of CAMPUS, my new musical, was born.

Now, when frustration threatens to overcome me on the job, I retreat into the fantasyland of the College of Applied Multi-Purposes United in Simplicity, where the good fairy godteachers fight against their arch-enemy, Mr. Mediocrity, and all his minions, to uphold the ideals of the liberal arts and bring truth and beauty to two promising students, Jack and Jill, who want an education, a real education, one that prepares them for life, not just a job.

The play is going well. My friend and composer Curtis McCarley, my friend Christine Potee Laucher and I presented a scene from the play and a few songs at the Dramatist Guild of America’s Saturday Showcase in September at the Burning Coal Theater in Raleigh that was well-received, and I’ve submitted a proposal for a grant to help Curtis and I complete the work. I hope to get the play written by the end of June when I’ll hear about the grant.

Even if the proposal is not accepted, I’m glad I’ve pursued writing this play. It has given voice to my frustration in a creative, constructive way, helping me to continue my work while keeping in the forefront of my mind what are the true goals of my life.

Here’s the lyrics to one of the songs from the play, “Down at the Diploma Mill”:

DOWN AT THE DIPLOMA MILL
ONCE I WAS A BRIGHT YOUNG TEACHER
ONCE I MADE MY LESSON PLANS
ONCE I LOOKED INTO THEIR SHINING FACES
AND THOUGHT I’D MAKE A DIFFERENCE
NOW I KNOW THAT WAS ALL A LIE

CHORUS
WORKIN’ DOWN AT THE DIPLOMA MILL
LOOKIN’ FOR SOME BRAIN CELLS TO KILL
WE NEVER MEANT IT TO BE THIS WAY
But we GOT NOTHIN’ LEFT TO SAY
DOWN AT THE DIPLOMA MILL

ONCE I HAD SOME GOOD IDEAS
ONCE I TRIED TO CHANGE MY WAYS
QUIT GIVING OUT OBJECTIVE TESTS
BE DIFFERENT THAN ALL THE REST
ASK AN ESSAY QUESTION
DO A PROJECT INSTEAD

BUT THE DEAN SAID IT WASN’T ASSESSMENT
WE SHOULD GET RETURN ON OUR INVESTMENT
IF IT’S NOT SOMETHING WE CAN CALCULATE
OR THAT’S EASY TO REGURGITATE
THEN IT’S SOMETHING YOU CAN’T DO
DOWN AT THE DIPLOMA MILL

CHORUS
WORKIN’ DOWN AT THE DIPLOMA MILL
LOOKIN’ FOR SOME BRAIN CELLS TO KILL
WE NEVER MEANT IT TO BE THIS WAY
But we GOT NOTHIN’ LEFT TO SAY
DOWN AT THE DIPLOMA MILL

BRIDGE
WHY DID I SPEND THAT MONEY TO BE A DOCTOR
WHEN ALL THEY WANT IS A PROCTOR
WHY BOTHER CALLING ME A TEACHER
WHEN I’M JUST A FACILITATOR
FESTERING IN THIS STINKING DIPLOMA MILL

THE STUDENTS SAY MY CLASS IS TOO BORING
TOO MUCH GRAMMAR OR MATH STARTS THEM SNORING
I NEED TO TRY AND ASK THE GOOD QUESTIONS
NOW I CAN ONLY HIDE MY FRUSTRATION
IT’S ALL I CAN DO TO KEEP THEM FROM TEXTING

CHORUS
WORKIN’ DOWN AT THE DIPLOMA MILL
LOOKIN’ FOR SOME BRAIN CELLS TO KILL
WE NEVER MEANT IT TO BE THIS WAY
But we GOT NOTHIN’ LEFT TO SAY
DOWN AT THE DIPLOMA MILL

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