[Originally posted in October 2010.]
One Saturday in 1997 I got a call from a stranger. Our new classroom building for the Waldorf School of Baltimore had just had an open house and the caller had been through the tour. He was interested in the effects of architecture and design on the education of students and asked many insightful questions. He was interested in the ways light, color, form, and particularly meaning could be employed as pedogogical tools. In the two hour conversation that ensued we covered a lot of territory. Bill Staffa, the caller, had left a job working with dolphins at the National Aquarium and was embarking on a career with the Children's Guild, an innovative program for children with learning disabilities. The Children's Guild was also one of our clients.
One topic that intrigued me was his description of how he used ballroom dancing as a teaching tool for inner city students. He spoke of how students at first found themselves almost frozen in fear at the prospect of dancing with a partner and following rules and a routine. It struck a nerve with me. I was one of those people who feared dancing. He talked about building on the little victories of each lesson. Ultimately the progress becomes recognizable and the students take the experience, of building on little these victories, into the classroom in other subject areas, such as math or reading.
A week earlier I had seen a video on the work of Douglas Cooper, then Head of the Architecture Departm
ent of my alma mater, Carnegie Mellon. At the end of the video, professor Cooper says, "I used to think the only thing I do really well is draw; now I know I can dance, too."