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Learned from Childhood

In this issue of Cityview, we are featuring multiple stories related to Knoxville’s young people and the adults who work with, supervise, and inspire them.

To my mind, the best way we can immediately serve the children in our community is to throw our support behind the institutions and programs that have the clearest impact on their lives and future prospects. First among these is education. My conversation in this issue with the president of Pellissippi State Community college, the principal of Austin-East High School, and the director of Project Grad explores how we can work to achieve educational equity across our community.

There are a host of other ways Knoxvillians are caring for and interacting with kids, of course. In these pages, you’ll find stories on kids’ fitness, Big Brothers and Big Sisters of East Tennessee, the Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble, and the Appalachian Ballet Company, which is currently performing The Nutcracker, a ballet that features children in the cast, is enormously appealing to young people, and introduces kids to both dance and symphony—to the arts.

As a child, I was drawn to Tchaikovsky’s ballet, staying up late during the holidays to watch it on our black and white TV set whenever I could find it on. It was one of many engagements with the arts early in my life that molded my way of seeing the world. This wasn’t by accident. My father, a brickmason by trade turned technical writer to support his family, was getting a college degree through distance education over the course of a decade, and his education payed off for me as he wanted to share his experience. He introduced me to Hamlet, and encouraged wide and diverse reading.

One of the greatest gifts he and my mother gave me was to engage me with arts and letters in person. My father took a job in Lexington, Kentucky in the mid 70s, and from 6th-10th grade we lived just south of the city. Determined to encourage my interest in the arts, they bought subscriptions to a children’s program with the symphony there, where I fell in love with symphonic music during a performance of Peter and the Wolf. During intermission, some of the musicians came out to interact with us. Getting a chance to give the double-reed on a bassoon a try fascinated me and thrilled my imagination.

My parents also enrolled us in Audobon Society lectures at Transylvania University and a performing arts series at UK. These experiences were rich beyond imagining. At the same time I was attending lectures, I was singing in a choir and a gospel quartet, having learned to read music standing next to mom while we sang hymns. There is a strong educational argument to be made for the use of hymnals in church.

My early engagement with the arts shaped my life, leading to my first experience with Appalachian Ballet in the fall of 1989, when I saw them perform Cinderella during my first semester as a UT graduate student in literature. In front of me, dancers told a story that transported me back to when I first saw ballet as a boy. Years later, that experience remains.

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