Wednesday, December 3, 2008

an animated solution

Duncan went to his first after-school basketball session yesterday and Daisy will have hers on Friday. Watching the coach at work, I remembered that I returned from France with a mission and that I must contact Michelle Rhee and Barack Obama at once about the following:

In France there exists a legitimate job entitled “Animateur” or “Animatrice.” These are the people, usually young, very often male, who hold diplomas (either nonvocational or professional) in sports, leisure activities and animations and who staff the before- and aftercare centers housed at every school. They design and provide the ateliers (workshops) in sports, pottery, drama or cooking that are offered by every school system, who play with the kids at countless “vacation villages” while their parents pursue adult recreations, and who—because this is also standard in France—staff the Centres de Loisirs that take the place of school during the numerous and lengthy school breaks. In Vincennes there was a cadre of young people—GUYS—of many cultural backgrounds employed by the Ville de Vincennes during the summer to work the trampolines set up for free in the town square, and to work the ice rink set up in the winter. They ran the Festival du Sport in the spring and were, with very few exceptions, cool, kind, skilled and attentive to even the youngest kids.

I’m researching the official process for licensing animateurs and animatrices, but in the meantime, this is my big idea. We—I mean Americans—should start thinking laterally about the benefits of a national service requirement for young people, about the need for quality childcare and the need, particularly in inner-city communities, for more opportunities and more positive role models for boys. I bet every one of us knows a teenager whose big talents are in the area of PLAYING, and while very few will get to do that in a major league sport (and I think I'm right in saying there IS no major league Playstation, Warcraft or Wii), what if there was a 1-year diploma to be earned in the subject of, let’s call it, Playcare?

What if there were a legitimate professional path in this country for people, male and female, who enjoy kids and like to play but don’t want the demands of full-time teaching? This might be because they’re taking a year out before college, or because they’re deciding whether to go to law school, or because they are artists or performers with other work to do, or it might just be because they don’t have grandiose mainstream professional plans and because PLAYING is their true best thing.

I don’t have all the facts and figures, of course, but I do have this gut feeling that many of the social challenges we face, both downtown and in the ‘burbs, could be at least partly addressed by making creative, active childcare a real career. There are teachers, I bet, who will tell me that first on our agenda ought to be achieving true professional status for teachers and the salaries that go along with that. But when I think of all the kids aged 16-24 who don’t necessarily excel academically, who may be hanging around the streets waiting to be trained and employed, who could be recognized as contributing members of society and earn a living organizing after-school games for their own younger siblings, those concerns fade.

I’ll be getting back to you on how I’m doing with my mission. In the meantime, I’m grateful for Brian the babysitter, who can always be relied upon to goof off responsibly with my kids when I don’t have time, and for Monsieur Iba, the senior animateur at Duncan’s school in Vincennes, who played clowning and drumming and all kinds of fun, and for this guy, Cyrrr63, who takes his animations very seriously and is blogging about them in France.