The buskers arrived on Friday, street performers from as far as Quebec and Michigan, jugglers, acrobats, and magicians, ringing the inner harbor and stretching up into town. It was a busker festival and the city was alive with upturned hats.
Acrobats unnerve me, but my kids were curious, so we took to the streets to check out the entertainment.
A few years ago I would simply have tried to steer the kids toward the mime with the accordion or lingered by the corner where Darth Vader played the fiddle, but blogging has encouraged me to take an attitude of learning to all I do (which is healthy for an educator), so I put on a smile and lifted my son so he could watch the woman standing atop a tower juggling oversized knives and flaming batons.
I figured there was a lesson lurking here for me if I just kept an open mind and paid attention.
Lesson #1: Don’t tell your kids that acrobats unnerve you. They’ll poke at you throughout the performance to ask: “Does this unnerve you, Dad? How about the handstand, does that unnerve you? How about balancing on that ball?”
Yes. It did. But that discomfort wasn’t what stuck.
It was an imperfect metaphor that struck me as the real lesson of the buskers. At the end of their performances most pause before their finale to explain the value of street performance. They remind their audiences that to watch an entertainment like theirs in a circus would cost hundreds of dollars for a family and that they do what they do because they believe in the democracy of entertainment. Street performances, they tell their crowds, allow anyone to see the show. Buskers earn their livelihoods based only on the generosity of those who watch, each giving what they believe the show was worth.
At their worst these speeches can sound a little desperate and a little sad. At their best they’re given with a dollop of humor, a smile, and the swinging confidence of someone who knows she is delivering good stuff.
Live, uncertain, and even sometimes unnerving, street entertainment and education overlap more than a little.
Done well, education makes students’ eyes widen with wonder and their minds expand with a new view of what is possible. Learning, like juggling, acrobatics, or magic, involves skill, passion, and a determination to succeed. And in the end, when things go right (as they so often do) the results leave us all applauding.