It is not that I am so smart. But I stay with the question much longer“-Albert Einstein

I had the pleasure once of teaching at a correctional facility. A nicer word for prison. In the span of 2 years, I taught 2 classes of inmates drawing, painting and sculpting. They were mostly drug cases or petty crime such as assisting loan sharks, gang activities or something else of the like. Their age group was pretty diverse ranging from 16 to 40 years old. Most of the older inmates were repeat offenders. Men who could not kick the drug habit.

I am not a trained art therapist and I do not pretend to be one, but in the time that I spent with these gentlemen, I have found that through studying the Arts (in this case, visual arts) they are brought into a world that transcends the prison that they were in. I am not just speaking about the physical prison, but the prison of the mind.

Through talking to them and reading their body language throughout the 2 years, I noticed a very progressive and clear change. A point to note here is that they chose to learn visual arts. The other choices were drama, music and theatre. This indicated interest which is in any area of study can be a major factor that affects the level of success of any student.

During the first few classes, there were apprehensions, not much talking and a fear of doing something wrong. No surprises there as they were in prison due to a wrongdoing. But in learning, we must be brave to make mistakes. I  had a difficult time trying to explain this to them at first but as I went through the basics of drawing and progressed slowly to more experimental coursework, these people started to show their wonderful artistic ability.

I concluded that, what these gentlemen lacked was guidance and a voice to cheer them on. One session had me teaching them how to draw a portrait of someone. It was not smooth sailing as they would look at even the tiniest inaccuracy as a complete failure of the whole. Slowly, as we got into the correct steps on how to draw a face and after going through these basics steps a few more times, I began to see a surge in their confidence and ability. By the 3rd portraiture lesson, I had a group of people who were very happy with their achievements.

Many of them were surprised at their own abilities. I had them compare their first few drawings to the latest work they did. It was a wonderful experience.

When they saw their progress through their own eyes, they realised that they, just like everybody else had the ability to learn, to apply and to excel.

Success breeds success.

What I found to be the biggest challenge to them was the beginning stage. The stage where they had to learn things that were not familiar to them. Where they had to forget what they knew or have made a habit and replace it with something better. Once they went pass that stage though, the rest of the way was smooth.

This can be applied to all areas of life I think and if we are students or teachers, indeed we are either one at some point, we must understand that the start of learning is always the toughest. But once we cross that point, there is no telling how far we can go. Just like what Einstein said, we must be willing to stay with the question longer.

Wishing you a wonderfully prosperous learning journey.