“I show a child what is possible” the inspirational essay by Jacques d’Amboise highlights the value of exposure to fine arts in opening an opportunity for anyone to escape the confinements of their circumstances and allows the chance to dream what life may offer. Similar to the students d’Amboise’s National Dance Institute (NDI) reaches in the public schools in the New York City area, my early learning experiences were affected by the limited resources of public schools struggling with community poverty and limited expectations of the community for the seemingly frivolous activities of fine arts.
Exposure to ballet was the turning point in d’Amboise’s life, which was characterized by the threat of drugs, gangs and violence. The turning point in my life was the exposure in elementary school to classical literature. My fourth grade teacher had a special bookcase behind her desk. On the top shelf there were books that looked old, thick, and intriguing. Although my reading ability was average at best the mystique of these thick old novels fascinated me.
Expecting that my teacher would scold me for daring to ask to borrow one of these precious books, especially since the reading level was bound to be way beyond anything I had shown her I could accomplish, I waited half a year before plucking up enough courage to ask to read one of her classic literature novels. To my surprise and great pride my teacher enthusiastically gave me the one she thought I would like the best, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin.
My teacher also gave me a pocket-sized dictionary and told me it was mine to keep if I promised to make it my best friend and to look up every word I did not understand. It took me three months of dedicated reading to finish that book and less than one day to ask for another to read. The fine art of classic literature provided me with an escape from the everyday realities of my low socioeconomic status and the struggle I saw all around me of people working two or more jobs just to pay the bills and the rent.
Opening up a classical novel transported me to different worlds. Worlds experienced by royalty and the privileged gentry. Worlds vastly different to mine yet the human struggles of the characters of self-acceptance and the desire to find the meaning of one’s existence were the same. Classical literature showed me different worlds, different lifestyles and let me identify with the characters living these different worlds.
Just as exposure to dance can show children with socioeconomic background challenges or physical disabilities a world of creative expression, borrowing a classical novel from the library can show ways that people from different times in history and different socioeconomic groups expressed their life experiences, their hopes and their struggles. The inspirational spark that the fine arts gives to anyone but perhaps particularly to a child is the gift to feel the world without barriers, if only for that brief time.
Exposure to the very different worlds I visited by reading classical novels led to my life long love of reading and the desire to experience as much knowledge as I could grasp, leading to a lifelong of love of learning. The exposure of fine arts to children is a unique mode via which the joy of creativity can be experienced and the barriers of everyday circumstances can be forgotten while the creative energy transports the child to worlds without limits.
d’Amboise, Jacques. I show a child what is possible. Essay.