Can Teaching Be a Political Act? If the Act of Teaching Is Fundamentally Performance, Can it Be an Act of Authenticity? / Scott Braun
As the United States careens towards this year’s presidential election, its citizens are considering the issues of class and education. The cost of a higher education is a significant barrier to lower income students, but it is not the only factor in the educational problems exposed by increasing income inequality. Analysis of the statistics made available by the College Board shows that family income directly corresponds to test scores on placement exams and SATs, and Census data demonstrates geographic correlation between income and educational attainment. Low-income neighborhoods generate far fewer college students. These statistics are unsurprising. Test preparation and tutoring are unaffordable for low-income families, and have become essential to students seeking higher education.
Ayana Evans works as a private tutor to students from families with the resources to pay the exorbitant fees her employer demands. As a Brown-educated woman of color from the south side of Chicago, she is an outlier to the statistics who recognizes the inherent unfairness in the availability of the educational system. As a fashion designer and performance artist with an unconventional style, she plays the role of a more mainstream educator in order to be accepted into the conservative homes of many of her students.
Evans has taken the opportunity of this season’s Jamaica Flux to create a performance that addresses her discomfort with this role and the realities of class distinction. She has gathered a group of students from the local neighborhood for two hours each Saturday from April 14–May 20 2016. She tutors them in preparation for the SAT exams, while performing abstract or strange actions. She rewards and punishes the students (and herself, based on their success) with further abstract performances.
These performances allow Evans to “not-perform,” that is, to perform as herself, and eliminate obstructions between teacher and student while actually providing a desperately needed service. By literally teaching the students as she performs, Evans does more than simply pointing to the lack of education available to low-income students. Her performance does the job of highlighting an imbalance by providing balance – an act that is at once authentic and political.