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Transformative Mistakes and Vulnerable Bodies

First day in class.

I feel excited and a bit anxious – as always when I am starting a new experience.

The teachers welcome us and, as a way to introduce themselves, they share their own art. A poem gets read, some music played, a song sung. And while we listen and watch… it happens: a little mistake. A perfect one. The performer acknowledges her mistake while going on singing, her apology becoming an improvised line, sang aloud as we audience members smile, get moved and feel suddenly closer to one another.

Here it is, our first lesson. We all make mistakes and, as teachers, we should never forget that, not even – especially not! – in front of our students.

Vulnerability is a word that came out from day one during Community-Word Project's Teaching Artist Training & Internship Program (TATIP). I loved my teachers and fellow trainees for that. As artists we are confronted by our own vulnerability every time we work on something. The creative process makes us vulnerable. And so it does someone else’s judgement on our work. We know that, and we are ok with that, what else should we do? But what happens when we are standing on the other side? Are we able to consider our students as extremely and beautifully vulnerable?

Judith Butler talks about vulnerability as the quality inherent to each life’s precariousness. We were all born needing someone. The presence of the other – the one who conceived us, the one who delivered us, the one who fed us – is the very same reason we are here. Our lives are all intertwined. Remembering this is the only way we can value each life as equally worth. By embracing our vulnerability we are making a political statement.

Can we bring this kind of vulnerability into our class? Can we think of a pedagogy that bridges the gap between adultness and childhood through vulnerability? Can we do this outside of a “rhetoric of emergency?" Vulnerability is not something that is given in specific situations, during stressful times or due to specific events. It’s a state of being that reminds us of who we are and what we want, outside of all expectations of what we should be.

On week two, I had my own moment of vulnerability.

We were all pretty new into the program. We were divided by groups and asked to perform a short community poem we had just composed. We tried one thing, and then another, then the time was over and we were completely unprepared. It was a disaster. Nothing worked. I felt really ashamed. Then something magical happened. During the lunch break I talked about it with M. – who was part of my group – and figured that we not only shared the same embarrassment but also the same sense of humor. So we just started laughing about that so hard that we were crying. We barely knew each other, but that moment of fragility brought us closer and made us friends.

Just as it happened with our teacher’s mistake, our own error proved to be a lesson, an empowering experience.

On our last class one of the facilitator didn’t come because she would be undergoing surgery a few days later. I couldn’t help but think that in a weird way that was the perfect ending of our training. A reminder of how vulnerability is, first of all, in our bodies and skin.

A pedagogy of vulnerability.

Of all the things that I have learned during my TATIP training, I cherish this the most. The idea of making space for mistakes to happen, embracing them, creating a complicity around them, laughing together, allowing them to become something else, a friendship maybe, or a moment of pure fun.

Or maybe just some spare thoughts about vulnerability…

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