Kyle, Associate Theatre Director, Father, NY/UK
Kyle is an actor, theatre teacher, and Associate Director of State of Play Theatre (www.stateofplaytheatre.co.uk/). He currently lives in the UK with his wife, Lizzie, and son, Max. Kyle is a Catalyst for RE-ENVISIONED and was interviewed by his Mentor Catalyst and friend since high school in MN, Erin.
The first question is to think about a child you care about and tell me about that child: this can be your son or not your son.
I’ll pick my son, Max. He is two. He is inquisitive and focused and entertained by almost everything in the world. That’s kind of it as a brief description in a nutshell.
He doesn’t sleep well.
Yeah, he’s crap at sleeping. It was a four hour night last nigh – Max has actually been a good sleeper recently, but last night, for the first time in awhile, he was crap again. Now it’s like, “four hours of sleep, what is that?!”
I don’t know how you do it!
I don’t either. It’s amazing what the human body is able to do.
When it’s forced to.
Yes, ahh, sleep deprivation. So, Max….He doesn’t like loud noises. He’s possibly one of the most inquisitive kids I've known. He’s not introspective yet, but watching him in relation to his play friends, he looks at things and finds almost anything interesting – specifically pebbles.
When you think about Max, grown up, maybe our age in his 30s – out of school – what is it you want for him?
What do I want? I want him to be… hmm…I want him to be fulfilled by what he’s doing. I think I want him that whatever he is being fulfilled by is also, hopefully, fulfilling to other people as well.
I want him to have health and happiness. And, being an international person myself, I want him to feel a part of a larger global community. To feel that he is not just a singular person in a small community but part of and connected to a much larger whole. I mean a real whole, not just solely the fictional thousand friends you have on Facebook - which is great and community itself, but is not real world.
The world is a big place. He’s actually related to people on every part of it with uncles in Australia, family in the states, and living in the UK. I want him to have experience in that and understand that – seeing it and, if possible, experiencing it firsthand. That’s I guess what I want for him.
And I want for him not to hate me :)
You want for him not to hate you?
Yes, you know, if we can do that – we’ll see - that would be excellent.
So when you think about that life you want for him – fulfilled, health and happiness, part of a larger global community – what is the role you think schools should play in getting him there?
I think schools should provide… hmm… the word that comes to mind is possibility. What I mean by that is just the presentation of as much as they can – an introduction to everything and ultimately, a challenge to explore that further.
It depends. I’m looking at nursery schools right now, the very early years things, and the fact that outside play is being eliminated is crazy to me. Schools should provide the chance to experience each other, the possibility in relationships – so group activities and things like that, communication skills, and dare we say the arts. And not even just the idea of hard study, but I remember gym class at Valley Middle School and we had dancing – partner dancing was an option! That in itself is fascinating that it was an option. These things along with, of course, the “hard” learning of reading, writing, arithmetic.
Yes, provocations. That’s what schools should do – offer up as many provocations as possible to students. And, where possible, provide support for them to then pursue whatever their passion is behind those provocations.
Is that fair to put on schools? That last part is really hard, it might be unfair.
Why do you think that?
At some point they can’t. Just even theoretically it’s impossible to provide that for a student body of anything more than, I don’t know, 12 students? To provide provision for the vast diversity of what everyone might or could want is impossible - and I accept that. But then perhaps how do you provide support and connect that student to something larger that’s outside the school? Some of the best teachers I’ve had have said, “what if you go and try that?” Yes, I stick with it - to stimulate students and to support stimulation.
Do you think schools will do that for Max?
I’m going to answer this question with a bit more of the British perspective, but I’ll bring it back to what I know of the US.
That’s okay – answer it for Max and we’ll get to the broader picture.
I don’t think they’re able to. Because of the guidelines that have been set out for them and what has been labeled as achievement and success. And because of that structure and the desire to be able to measure everything and therefore say success and define metrics for everything – what can’t be measured is no longer valued. So they can’t. In the context of knowing what they have to have and reach to be an outstanding or excellent school here. I don’t think it’s out there as much, that possibility.
You know, I think partly why I’m interested in doing these interviews is because I’ve become disconnected with the American system a bit. So in a weird way I have an outsider’s view of it. I can’t over-think it because a lot of things I’m scared about aren’t necessarily the same system here and there.
But I think the major things – the metrics for instance, – are evil. Evil, evil, evil – because it can be misconstrued. It’s so easy to go, “90%, yay!” But what does that 90% actually mean? And does that actually make you a better human being? Possibly. But it also may not make you a human being at all, it just makes you good at being valued in a larger system, a good result.
Teachers are trying their hardest too. That whole thing that in order for something to be of value it has to be measured - but so many things it’s impossible to measure.
So, do I think schools will be able to provide it for Max? Not alone, not without a lot of support from Lizzie and myself and anyone else in his life to hopefully be able to help that along. Not that school won’t achieve it in some part but I think there’s a limit they have.
You started getting into this with the ideas about measurement, but is there anything you want to add about what you said about why you think they’re not – the “if not why not”?
I think the reason why they aren’t able to is primarily because most of the decisions about education are not being made by educators. I think it’s because, from my limited experience teaching and doing workshops in schools – I don’t think most people have the first idea of what a classroom is actually like. The picture that is painted by people outside of it, and the numbers they point to to prove their point, are the things that guide the discussion more than the people who are in the classroom and are easily written off because they say, “oh, you’re just trying to hold onto your job, you’re just self-interested” it’s always the easy and casually ignorant way of reacting to it.
Sometimes you see better systems when there is the PTA or the parent organization is particularly vocal. There is one school here in New York that I kind of wish we lived in the catchment area for but we can’t afford the rents. The community there is strong at the school because everyone cares and is proactively involved. Especially in the young years, the primary years, it’s as much about community as it is about learning. Obviously as you get higher up in secondary, it changes and it does gain focus and become much more about the study skills and those kind of things - and I think it should. Learning how you attack a problem in a constructive way so when you choose what problem you want to attack you will know your theorems.
When you think of those levels – what a good life is, the role of school in getting there, and if not why not - in which parts do you think people agree or disagree?
I think most people will disagree on the if not, why not – but they’re all wrong! J
On the good life, I don’t know, I would like to think they do agree. I know I am probably of an odd five percent of the world population – you know? I’ve left my birth country – well, that’s probably not all that rare outside of North America. But I also work in the arts and have stayed there my whole career. I have a feeling a lot of people think the way I look at life is a bit bonkers, where my value structure is.
What do you imagine they’re thinking?
I think they use the word practical a lot more than me. Does that sound mean?
You think using the word practical is mean?
When I talk about why I do what I do, most people go, “hmmm, not that practical.” And I’m like, “what is practical?”
But I think everyone does agree that all they want for children is possibility. It doesn’t matter who you want your child to be – a doctor, dentist, lawyer, or pianist or dancer – you just want possibility. Mobility and possibility. At the end of the day that’s it. So in that way I think the bulk of people agree with me. I would be really surprised if I spoke to someone who didn’t say they just wanted possibility. So maybe I’m being hard on other people with the practicality issue.
When you think back on your school experience, or outside of school, what was an empowering learning experience you had?
An empowering learning experience. Haha, I just remembered this. Earth sciences, 9th grade, I remember that when I disagreed with the assignment given and so I decided to say, “I think this assignment is silly and I’m going to do it this way, differently” – I was a bit of a jackass. And the teacher said – “okay, do it – and prove it”.
It was one of those moments where I was like, “okay, I get to think outside of the box”. I learned you’re allowed to think outside of the box but you have to be able to support it with actual thinking. Because it was not necessarily facts, because I was saying “an asteroid hits earth and tips it off its axis, how does it affect it?” This assignment assumes it would go back and forth on its axis, but I thought it would still just keep going in the direction it started in, like loop de loops. It was just, “go ahead – if you’re going to disagree with the problem, show me how you solve yours.” And that was great, even though I hated earth sciences.
That’s awesome. When you think back on teachers – in school or not in school – is there a particular teacher who really made an impact on you?
Loads! I was fortunate. Actually, I know I was fortunate.
Choose one who you think really had an impact on you and tell me why.
That’s hard. There were so many. We’ll go with Herb Dick. I think he and one of the first directors I assisted a lot share a lot of the same, unique, moments in my life when I know I failed at something and they saw me failing and they pulled me out of it. Then supported me through that. Or even just identified it before I failed and telling me I was juggling too many balls.
That’s life education – it’s one of those moments of having someone dare to care enough to call you on it. And also have the guts afterwards to force you to deal with the consequences and not write it off. Not write it off in a way that didn’t acknowledge the consequences – the cause and effect. It’s always good to remember that. I know as a person I’m guilty of, well, let’s just say lack of self-assurance isn’t something I suffer from so it’s good to be reminded of the world and reality.
It’s so important to have those people.
Yes, yes it is. In a way that also – people that don’t make it about them or even necessarily about you. Just, “this is what it is”. I think we all have people who we fail in front of them and make it about them, or to gain power, or make it about you to feel like crap. It does still make you feel like crap when they’re honest with you, but it’s fortunate to have that kind of people in your life.