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June 25, 2021

Vijay Gupta on How Educators Can Find Beauty in What’s Broken

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      The following coverage is from ASCD’s Annual Conference, happening virtually this week, June 23-25. Register now to access all presentations on-demand through July 25. Learn more.
      “So often the wounds and the ache and the trauma that we encounter in our world is a result of not being seen,” Vijay Gupta, a world-renown violinist and social justice advocate, said in his captivating address at the ASCD Annual Conference Friday morning. Gupta admonished our society’s tendency to ostracize and even criminalize our most vulnerable—a tendency he urged educators to resist.
      “The artist’s way and the educator’s way and the citizen’s way is to pay attention to what aches within,” he noted.
      That might have been what drew Gupta to one of the most impoverished areas in the country more than a decade ago. In a moving encounter with Nathaniel Ayers, a fellow Julliard-trained musician who suffered from mental health issues and ended up on Skid Row, Gupta was introduced to the epicenter of American homelessness. Situated just a mile-and-a-half from Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, where Gupta had performed, Skid Row contains nearly 3,000-4,000 homeless inhabitants every night.
      “When I first encountered Skid Row, I felt something in my body that I didn’t have words for,” Gupta sad. “[I felt like] I had been punched in the gut.”
      Not long after that fateful day, Gupta cofounded Street Symphony, a nonprofit that brings musical programs to the homeless and incarcerated communities of Los Angeles. “I began to understand that the offering of music is really about creating a mutual space of listening,” he said. “That mutual space of seeing and being seen.”
      Indeed, there is beauty in the broken. Gupta highlighted the Japanese craft of Kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery with gold-flecked lacquer. The practice illuminates the cracks and shards in porcelain instead of hiding them. Kintsugi is a famous metaphor for healing, the musician explained. “We know that bones are stronger where the fracture has happened. We know that our scars are really what tells the story.”
      As we begin to recover from the pandemic and reckon with social injustices exposed, Gupta said, we must decide, “What will we make from the shattered pieces of our lives?”
      “As we heal, as we find the golden glue of connection that joins us together…we [must] begin to understand that we need the fragments of each other. We need to lean into the hard edges in each other that we will now find and be willing to forgive. Be willing to see a new story. Be willing to put the shards back together.”
      Gupta challenged the 4,000 educators in attendance: “I ask all of you what your new narrative is. What your vision of the world is and how that vision [will] translate into a creative daily habit.”
      Gupta said that he turned to Instagram mid-pandemic to share daily 30-45 second clips of his practice sessions. Embracing that vulnerable daily practice reminded him of the vision he has “of a more connected, a more courageous, a more empowered world.” He called on educators, too, to bring creativity into their work, to come up with better “convening rituals” and habits—whether that means starting meetings with a poem or taking a moment to breathe together as a group and “find that softness” that can lead to richer dialogue. We must all become “instruments of change,” he said.
      Before closing out his address with a moving instrumental rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, Gupta shared poignant lyrics from the musician’s famous song, “Anthem.”
      “There’s a crack in everything,” he said, “that’s how the light gets in.”

      Sarah McKibben is the digital managing editor of Educational Leadership.

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