Dress up days are almost always a crapshoot. For every successful Pyjama Day is a clunker that leaves students either puzzled or uninspired. At most middle and high schools a few standards hold sway (usually with alliteration) so seeing “Throwback Thursday” on the Spirit Week calendar doesn’t particularly raise anyone’s hopes. But students have the fundamental ability to surprise us, often in creative and clever ways, and last Thursday at ACMA was an example of what makes me hopeful about the future.
Populating the halls on ACMA’s Throwback Thursday were the almost to be expected bell bottoms, poodle skirts, and leg warmers, all done with the eye of an artist, and…
For anyone who thinks that “kids today” have had their creativity zapped by technology, their spirits broken by school, or their innovation stifled by a world of questionable priorities, I offer ACMA’s Throwback Thursday as exhibit A that the kids are more than all right.
On Thursday ACMA students took the concept of “Throwback” and made it their own.
Rosie the Riveter walked passed me holding hands with a fantastically robed Jedi master, the 1940s meeting “a long, long time ago.” Sharks and Jets shared the hallway with Robin Hood; a student wearing a bowler hat and pinstripe suit high-fived two Jazzercise instructors. At lunchtime I saw an Egyptian pharaoh.
Now in and of itself this may not sound crazily important, and I suppose in the greater scheme of things it isn’t, but this combination of youthful exuberance and wild creativity, made manifest by students who constructed their own costumes and were willing to spend a school day as 19th century banker or Laura Ingalls Wilder reminded me that I have the good fortune to be surrounded by students who are innovative, thoughtful, and willing to put aside inhibition and play.
These weren’t simply costumes plucked off the wall at the Halloween store; the spikes on my punk rocker’s wrist and neck would have passed muster in 1983, the tinted glasses and tie-dye shirt one student wore looked like they’d been around since 1969, and the Beavis and Butthead t-shirt one student sported felt authentic. Even these more conventional approaches to Throwback Thursday had been put together thoughtfully, an approach that I see many students take to most of the subjects they care about.
For the more adventurous or theatrical, that forethought exploded into the reality of flappers and fedoras for Throwback Thursday.
Once again, the takeaway wasn’t just that creative kids like dressing up in costumes (though they do), but that when they want to, today’s youth has the potential to innovate, to take an established prompt and make it their own. This is as true for something as little as a dress up day as it is something big like climate change, period poverty, or school safety.
Unfettered by the many limitations those of us over thirty put on ourselves and the cultural expectations dictated by our greater society, students know that the world is theirs for the changing. Many of this generation aren’t going to do what we expect them to do, or at least not in the way we expect them to do it. Instead, like that Jedi and Rosie the Riveter, or pharaoh, or punk rocker, they will build on the history the know, express the passion they feel, and create the reality they want to see.
Maybe I’m sentimental, it’s an accusation I’ll own up to, and maybe today was just a great dress up day during Fall Spirit Week, but I choose to recognize it as more. My older eyes saw in my students an expression of creativity that will lead to a better world, a sense of hope wrapped in an expression of joy, a bright future dressed in old clothes.