The School Play

Well, today is a big day for our kids—Nicky in particular. Today, their kindergarten class is putting on two performances of their play entitled “Celebrate You and Me.” Nicky is the emcee for this play, and has been working very hard on his lines for the past couple months. He has something like seven mini-paragraphs that he has to deliver in between each song in the play. Claire also has a speaking part, but it’s “just” the recitation of a tortured excerpt of existential poetry (I’m not kidding!) in the middle of a song about wanting to belong.

I just got back from their morning performance for the rest of the school. Nicky looked like a deer caught in the headlights when he saw how full the gym was, but he did really good—a little prompting from dad, but all in all, not bad for a five-year-old! Claire, of course, had no problems swaggering up to the stage and belting out a paragraph which I’m confident (hopeful?) that she does not even remotely understand. It’s pretty cool to see your kids get up in front of a packed house and exhibit that kind of confidence…

Of course, the amateur theologian/philosopher in me refuses to just sit and enjoy anything—not even my kids school play!—without subjecting the content to some kind of analysis. If Naomi were here, she would likely be chastising me for this, but she’s on a flight home from Alberta, and it’s my blog, so I will indulge my neurotic compulsions…

When I was a kid (oh dear, am I really at the age where I can utter that loathsome phrase?!) I don’t remember school plays being anything too “ideologically tinged.” We usually did productions like The Wizard of Oz or The Sound of Music —you know, just nice stories which provided our budding thespians and musicians with a forum to display their talents, and the rest of us with an excuse to miss class for a couple of hours a week. These stories obviously have good messages (at least I assume so), but they’re not really explicit or anything. Mostly, it was just about performing an interesting story—usually a classic of some kind or other.

Well, that was a small prairie school in the 1980’s, not a large multi-ethnic school in a major urban center in 2007. If our kids’ school is typical, even things as apparently benign as school plays are now, among other things, ideological delivery systems and preemptive therapeutic strikes. I vaguely recall being taught that Canada was a “multicultural” country (embracing all cultures and beliefs) in contrast to those nasty Americans and their ruthless determination to assimilate everyone into their amorphous “melting pot,” but beyond that the propaganda was minimal. Well, fast-forward twenty years, and it seems that the need to communicate multicultural values is more urgent, and the vehicles for doing so, more varied.

The kids’ play is about the importance of self-esteem, and is organized around a whole bunch of teams coming up with their ideas about how best to display this. Diversity, tolerance, fitness, nutrition, friendship, respect—even a suitably generic reference to “faith” in a “higher power”—are all sung about and recited as crucial components of self-esteem. At the end of course, the winner is… EVERYBODY! And the prize? Self-esteem itself, for “with it, you can accomplish anything that you set your mind to and are willing to work for.” Moreover, these are the kinds of things that “only you can make happen.” Everyone’s equally important, talented, and capable of excelling if only they “believe in themselves” enough and demonstrate appropriate respect, tolerance, and love of diversity.

If I sound sarcastic, I apologize. I truly believe that there is a ton of good stuff here. I do want my kids to be tolerant, to value diversity, etc. I do want them to have confidence in their abilities, and to know the value of hard work and respect. But I also want them to have a horizon that extends beyond this. I want them to understand that these are not just useful tools to be pressed into the service of self-actualization, but that they reflect the creational intent of a good and loving God who has a specific vision for the future that goes beyond feeling good about ourselves as individuals.

Of course it may be useful—even necessary—to convince kids at this age that with self-esteem, anything is possible . I’m sure it’s something they’re better off believing until they get older—no sense in making things any harder for them than they have to be. The school performances of 5-6 year olds surely should not be forced under the theological microscope as I have so ruthlessly done here…

(Hi. My name is Ryan, and I have a problem with too heavily scrutinizing every last harmless feature of life…but I can change…if I have to…I guess… )

Maybe it’s best just to take the above as the misdirected ramblings of one who has spent far too many hours going over far too many lines about self-esteem, and far too few sleeping over the past weekend. Or maybe my compulsions are simply evidence that I didn’t believe in myself adequately as a youngster—my critical attitude, the rotten fruit of a childhood in which the wonderful values of Canadiana were not drilled into me adequately.A pitiable state, to be sure…

Well, tonight Naomi and I will be back for round two, dutifully lining up in the school gym, taking our place amongst the arsenal of technology-wielding parents clamoring over one another to capture every moment of this, the first of many stages along the path of our children’s pursuit of self-esteem.Who knows?Maybe after tonight I’ll be so infused with self-belief and positive values that I’ll be a virtually transformed person – the new and improved Ryan, illuminated and emboldened by the kids’ school play.

I’ll keep you posted.

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3 Comments

  1. Ryan,

    I’m reminded of a skit that Michael Jordan performed on Saturday Night Live in the early 90s. The message:

    You’re good enough. You’re smart enough. And doggone it, people like you.

  2. Ryan,
    You can change; you can leave behind your cynical and over-analytical approach and to embrace a world of possibility and potential. Just believe in yourself (the power is within you).

  3. Ah yes, well, as always, I appreciate the concern for my well being. Maybe after six or seven years of our kids being involved in things like this, all of dad’s rough edges will be smoothed off, and an appropriately nice Canadian citizen, infused with self-belief and a (polite and respectful) world-conquering mentality will emerge. Maybe if I combine the messages of these kinds of school plays, with more Oprah-watching and her “secret”….The possibilities are virtually limitless!!

    (Incidentally, you can have a look at the kids’ performances here and here. Whatever dad may think of the content, he’s still very proud of the delivery…)

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