free journal emotional intelligence

Oktober 27, 2009 deatma

Growing emotional intelligence through community-based arts.(Will Power to Youth program)(Report).

Reclaiming Children and Youth 18.1 (Spring 2009): p.3(5). (2921 words)

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Author(s): Jill Aguilar, Dani Bedau and Chris Anthony.
Document Type: Magazine/Journal
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COPYRIGHT 2009 Reclaiming Children and Youth

The community-based arts environments is uniquely suited to addressing the needs of young people in the area of growing emotional intelligence. The arts offer specific structures, systems, and dynamics that allow for the emergence of the emotional adolescent self. Leaders in the community-based arts field must consciously position their organizations and programs as primary tools in the work of the reclamation of youth and adolescent emotional life.

Each year the City of San Pilaf sponsors the Summer Arts Project for Youth. The program provides opportunities for local youth, ages 13-17, to participate in the development and performance of an original theatre piece.

Jason and Gilbert are both participants in the program this year. They are from different high schools. They also live in two very different parts of town. During the first two weeks of the program students are randomly assigned to work groups as they learn and develop various parts of the theatre piece. These two have found themselves assigned to the same work group three times in one week.

Jason was encouraged to participate in the program because of his strong verbal skills. He has a natural attraction to any public speaking opportunity. Jason is also great at generating creative ideas and persuading others to support his efforts.

Gilbert’s participation is mandatory, as ordered by his Probation Officer. His art is most often expressed in “tagging,” which led to a misdemeanor conviction and now probation. He was ordered to participate in this program.

On Tuesday, the group is making decisions about the storyline for the play. Jason is very vocal throughout the discussion–he seems to be on a creative roll. Gilbert can be observed as becoming more and more agitated every time Jason opens his mouth, but he remains silent. Ultimately the group agrees to a direction for the storyline that Jason has been selling.

Suddenly, a major confrontation occurs between Jason and Gilbert. Gilbert declares that all this is just a bunch of !@!*! He goes on to say that everyone is allowing themselves to be “played” by Jason, who doesn’t know how to do !@!*! except run his mouth. Jason responds with a long list of negative adjectives to describe Gilbert, which include, criminal, ghetto, no-talent, and dumb. The two are face to face, nose to nose, with everyone looking on. (Burbie, 2005, pp. 1-2)

The above scenario comes from a training program designed to prepare teaching artists to work with youth in the Will Power to Youth (WPY) program. WPY is a youth development initiative that nurtures self-respect, promotes mutual respect, encourages the valuing of differences, increases literacy skills, and fosters an appreciation for the arts among young people. Twenty to thirty young people are employed in each session. The program blends theatre arts, human relations, academic development, and workplace training. During the course of the program, a skilled facilitation team works to create and maintain a safe place for a diverse group of youth and adults to learn together and work toward a common goal, the production of an adaptation of a Shakespeare play. WPY is one of the many successful community-based youth arts programs conceived, designed, and directed by professional theatre artists.

In preparing to collaborate artistically with youth, it is critical for artists to be able to talk confidently about feelings, as well as to consider the various emotional settings that might arise in the context of that collaboration. Further, an adequate understanding of emotional development in youth yields important information that teaching artists may use to better understand how adolescents develop artistically, cognitively, and socially.

The brief overview of recent research offered below describes some of the ways that emotions play a part in various developmental tasks of the adolescent. A deeper understanding of adolescent development enables adult artists to support youth in the reclaiming of their own emotional terrain. Community-based arts settings are a natural environment in which to teach these skills.

Lack of Guidance for Youth

It is near-cliche to observe that adolescents often struggle with emotions. They, like Jason and Gilbert, encounter expansive feelings staked to their loyalties, their passions, and their very identities, perhaps for the first time. And in this sometimes turbulent context, the great tasks of adolescence must be attacked. According to Vygotsky (1987), the task of adolescence is for children to develop the ability to control their own will, to make decisions for themselves, and to carry out the activities necessary to make those choices manifest, in order that they may eventually participate in their lives as full adults. Adolescence is a unique moment in human development. It offers an ideal context for an introduction to emotional competency.

Many adolescents are overwhelmed and under-prepared when faced with discussing and regulating their own emotions and those of others around them. The lack of resources and information related to the successful management of emotions is particularly troubling considering that understanding one’s emotions is central to multiple facets of youth development, such as art-making, intellectual processing, and the development of deep and meaningful interpersonal relationships.

The youth who are the target participants for most community-based programs often have few opportunities to systematically build these skills. They are typically from working-class and poor families who cannot afford to pay for enrichment activities. While it is important not to make assumptions about who those children are and what their individual lives are like, it is equally important to be aware that they may contend with common stressors. For example, they may live in neighborhoods with relatively higher rates of unemployment, underemployment, and crime than the region at large (Brookings Institution, 2006). There may be few community resources to dedicate to health and recreation. Youth may attend schools that are struggling if not failing to provide a useful and meaningful education. They may encounter fewer opportunities to either produce or consume art (Woodworth et al., 2007). With stressors on all members of their communities, youth may not find many adults interested in or able to offer support toward their emotional growth. Given these circumstances, it becomes even more critical to incorporate the teaching of emotional competency into a youth program that targets these populations.

Although there has been some recent interest in the development of emotional intelligence (Salovey & Mayer, 1990; Goleman, 1996), there has yet to emerge any serious movement to incorporate those values and principles into the core curriculum in public schools or in other settings where youth development is a focus (e.g., youth sports, faith communities, or community-based agencies). Youth in all settings are most commonly left to their own devices and personal histories for cues in their emotional development.

In spite of the apparent scarcity of training in emotional intelligence, its importance is rarely disputed. Emotional intelligence is defined by Salovey and Mayer (1990) as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions” (p. 188). These abilities support key processes in building strong interpersonal relationships (Eisenberg, 2000), of art-making in theatre (Wolf, Edmiston, & Enciso, 1997; Vygotsky, 1971), and in cognitive development (Eisner, 2002; Salovey & Mayer, 1990; Zull, 2002). Given that these and other aspects of youth development are supported by skilled emotional competence, high-quality community-based arts curricula must incorporate this instruction.

Emotions in Productive Activity

While it may seem unusual to some to include the term emotion in discussions of various sorts of intellectual activity, substituting the terms mood or motivation makes the conversations more familiar. Those who study human endeavor of all sorts have long recognized the role that mood and motivation play in the individual’s capacity to marshal his or her personal resources toward attainment of a goal.

Art-Making. Vygotsky (1971), and Wolf and colleagues (1997) have addressed the unique role of emotion in the theatre arts. Wolf et al. examine imagination in dramatic production and note that “rather than separate intellect from affect, drama, like life, weaves the two together” (p. 496). Vygotsky nurtured a lifelong interest in the theatre, specifically in Stanislavski (1936), the father of modern acting technique, and he expended considerable effort toward understanding the relationships between emotion and the theatre arts. In his dissertation, Vygotsky (1971) draws a connection between imagination and emotion in this elementary example:

   If at night we mistake an overcoat hanging in our
   room for a person, our error is obvious, the experience
   is false and devoid of real content. But
   the feeling of fear experienced at the instant the
   coat was sighted is very real indeed. This means
   that ... all our fantastic experiences take place on
   a completely real emotional basis.... Emotion and
   imagination are not two separate processes; on the
   contrary, they are the same process. (p. 203)

In this instance, he appreciates the full complexity of emotions in life and art. Vygotsky further distinguishes emotions, which are always unclear, from sensations, which can be known clearly. The inherent ambiguity of emotions makes them a source of creative potential.

Like Stanislavski, Vygotsky described texts as incomplete and merely suggestive of the thought and emotion that lie beneath (Stanislavski, 1936). Accordingly, Wolf et al. (1997) state that actors “need not only deliver lines on stage, but also create hypothetical affective worlds of their characters off stage by negotiating among actors, for the ‘full person’ has to interact with other characters/players” (p. 496). Because human emotion is the stuff of artistic drama, emotional knowledge and skills relating to the self and to others are vital to the professional development of the actor, the playwright, theatrical designers, and directors. These theatre artists develop a common vocabulary related to key concepts introduced by Stanislavski such as motivation, want, need, goal, objective, conflict, and tactic.

As theatre artists explore these concepts in relationship to the characters in a play, they use a vocabulary of emotion. For example, a director may ask an actor to consider Juliet’s motivation in her monologue that begins “Gallop apace you fiery footed steeds, towards Phoebus’ lodging” in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Act III, Scene II). What does she want? What is her need? The answers to all these questions involve feeling words. Juliet is motivated to speak because she wants to bring on the night so that Romeo can to come to her. She wants Romeo, love, connection, sexual release, passion, friendship, joy, and bliss. The conflict is that, because their love is forbidden, while it is day she cannot see her love. The conflict causes her to feel tension, desire, anticipation, hope, fear, anger, frustration, and impatience. Juliet uses various tactics as she talks. She commands, pleads, cajoles, seduces, threatens, and rages.

Community-based arts programs that include high-standards of theatre practice introduce this kind of emotional vocabulary with the safe distance of scenes and characters in a play. This vocabulary is then transferable to the more personal dynamics that take place in the process of expressing one’s own emotions and developing deep and meaningful interpersonal relationships.

Cognitive Development. Emotional intelligence has been observed as it interacts with the other intelligences in the development of cognition (Gardner, 1983; Zull, 2002). In examining the role of emotions in intellectual development, Salovey and Mayer (1990) assert that moods and emotions–both “bad” and “good” ones–may 1) increase flexibility in future planning and problem solving, 2) support inventive thinking, 3) direct or re-direct attention, and 4) motivate and sustain persistence at challengin


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