What I’m Reading Watching: Notes from the Field, a one-woman show by Anna Deavere Smith
In developing Notes from the Field, Tony and Pulitzer Prize nominee Anna Deavere Smith interviewed more than 200 people living and working within the fields of education and criminal justice, including parents, students, educators, journalists, elected officials, prison inmates, academics, and activists. The resulting one-woman show explores the development and continuation of the school-to-prison pipeline in America’s public schools as well as themes of race and class disparity in America more broadly. The production is engaging, and Smith’s command of the stage is incredible as she takes on such a spectrum of voices, bringing visibility to populations and stories that need to be told and recognized more often.
Of all the perspectives Smith shares in Notes from the Field the ones that stood out the most to me were those of students. Whether the students were caught up in the criminal justice system in the blink of an eye or over the course of many years of “bad behavior” and “warning signs,” the stories they told illustrated a harsh and unforgiving disciplinary system which often has little regard for child development and has historically had a disproportionate impact within low-income and minority communities. As Judge Abby Abinanti, the chief judge of the Yurok tribe and one of Smith’s “characters” in the production discussed, “You cannot deal with children if you don’t have a sense of kindness and respect and if you don’t like them, and if you don’t have systems that like them and respect them… If [a student] does something wrong, then [he or she] needs to come closer, not be pushed away.” Notes from the Field is a challenge to all of us who work with or on behalf of children to advocate for an overhaul of how we approach discipline and consequences in classrooms—and police stations—across the country.