Tuesday, October 03, 2006

School Circus

Why is it that elementary schools so often include the Circus as an educational theme? It's a bit archaic, isn't it? And perhaps a bit impractical -- you know, it's not like intimate knowledge of the characters and activities of a circus serve any greater purpose to equip children for the rest of their lives... Perhaps the pedagogues of the world could better explain this to me (maybe there's something with the circus involvings a lot of role-playing and hands-on learning... or that there are a lot of songs about the circus... or that you can use the sights and sounds of the circus to teach more general concepts like shapes and colors). But c'mon -- the circus?

Then again, after visiting Elliot's class circus this afternoon, it occurs to me that nothing brightens one's spirits quite like a room full of four-year-olds and five-year-olds prancing proudly in circus procession.

Thus, it must be the nostalgia of educators and parents that keeps the class circus in circulation. I remember my own experience in the circus put on by the kindergarten class of Winskill Elementary in Lancaster, Wisconsin, circa 1982. I was the ringmaster. It seems that I was a naturally thespian youngster. With a wave of my hand and a swoop of my voice, I could summon magicians and tigers, acrobats and strong-men. What a thrill! The experience remains as one of the clearest, earliest memories of my life.

And it seems to me that Dutch schools must have been doing the exact same things as the Wisconsin schools were doing decades ago. The "grandstands" were filled with excited parents, and the teacher exhibited extraordinary enthusiasm that clearly rubbed off on the students. Everyone was grinning from ear to ear.

Especially my son, Elliot.

Elliot was given the honor to play the part of the clown -- colorful wig, face paint, costume, and all. And not just any clown: he was Clowntje Piet! He got to stand in front of the class and act out a song (sung by the rest of the class) about a poor clown who finds himself very sad because of his broken balloon, only to be revived by the hopes of a new balloon which he blows, and blows, and blows -- until it pops! It was classic. We clapped and cheered -- and cheered and clapped -- and the teacher even decided to go through the song a second time. And Elliot simply beamed from pride in a performance well-played.

Just like his father.

As the circus continued with plush bunny toys being pulled out of a magic hat and giggling lions jumping through hoops flaming with red and yellow crepe paper, I just kept smiling and thinking to myself: I'm glad that elementary schools so often include the Circus as an educational theme. Why ever would we hope for anything else?


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