Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images News / Getty Images
Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images News / Getty Images

In my second group in Juvie today we were acting out phone calls. I have these funny big phones.  One participant pretended to call the other.
“ Hey, there.  Picasso is here and he wants to talk to you.“
The other girl answered, “Why is his name Picasso?  Is he messed up?”

I was surprised by her answer.
“Do you know who Picasso is?”  I ask.
She looks at me,  ”Yeah,” she says matter-of-factly.
“He is that painter that draws people all messed up.  Man, he is one fucked up psycho!”
I laugh.
I had so many unspoken questions.
Who told you about Picasso?

Where did you see his paintings?
What else did you think?

We continue the class and I think about the amazing power of art:
The power to transform;
The power to leave an impression even if it’s a “fucked” up one;
The long lasting effect it can have on the way we see the world.

I have had the great fortune to be part of an absolutely amazing fellowship at the American Jewish University called “ Dream Lab”.
Seven artists led by a remarkable, sensitive, wise, wise, WISE academic who gets it. The fellowship is about exploring creativity, learning and Jewish education.

 The group is brilliant – all very different, but a little the same.
All are talented beyond belief, funny and profound thinkers.  It is truly a privilege to sit among these people.  I am humbled and not always sure how I got a place at this remarkable table.

 We meet once a month.  Our recent meeting was shortly after my Picasso episode.
At this session we were exploring how to assess a learner and what is the language we use when we assess. We read a story written by a kid.  The evaluation directions we were given were very clear. First be silent, observe, and take notes, which is not an easy task for a group of strong-minded artists! 
Then, say what you noticed,  “I noticed…”
Then raise questions, “I wonder…”
Reflect, “I imagine….”
Discuss implications, “We have learned….”

 My dream lab fellows are frankly a dream team, fun, funny, deep thinkers, true educators.  I could write pages about how we talked and analyzed, I so enjoy this group!

 When I drove home from our session, it was late.  In my head was the echo of the discussion I just was part of.   I started to think what would have happened if I had approached my Picasso girl in this method?
I noticed you know about Picasso?
I wonder where you learned about him?
I imagine you found his paintings a different kind of art than you were used to?

What did you learn from seeing his paintings?

 As my car went down the 405 highway, I sighed and wished that the world would use this approach.
Instead of focusing on the crime these kids commit,
Instead of judging them for the life they did not choose, but were given,
Instead of blaming them for things they do not have control over, and asking insensitive and difficult questions that my girls will never be able to answer.

 You know the silly “why” questions:
Why did you do that?
Why are you like this or that?
Why did you make the choices you did?

 As if there is one answer and not years of neglect, abuse, unequal opportunity and unimaginable racism that are part of the long complicated answers to the “simple” questions the system asks again and again.
How brilliant would it be if this straightforward, respectful way of questioning learners was used on the girls I work with!
I noticed you are so incredibly angry!
I wonder who has hurt you?
I imagine that trusting is not something you do easily?
What have you learned, and what can I do to change that?

 My God!  Could you imagine that?

 One of my girls once told me that nobody ever talks to them the way I do
“You look in my eyes, and you see my words,” she said.
“I try,” I say.
Oh, how I try!
“I’d be a different person if people here talked to me like that.”
“I know.  I know,” I said.

“We all would be” I add.
The Picasso girl came to me after class.
“You know it’s not that I didn’t like that Picasso dude.  I just don’t understand why he needs to put the eyes of the women all over the place.“
“Maybe he feels like his women have eyes everywhere,” I say.
She stops and thinks.
“Although, I, too, really don’t know,” I add.
“Yeah, maybe,” she said.
“And maybe he was just totally stoned out of his mind.”
I laugh out loud.
“Maybe,” I say.  “Who knows?”
“You are okay, Ms.,” she says.
“You,” I answer, “are much more than okay!”
We walk to the gate together talking and speculating about Picasso.