Each day I post a new MCAT CARS Passage. This is for anyone who wants to practice for the CARS Section.
Every article is selected to meet the AAMC MCAT criteria for CARS.
Subscribe by email to receive a new practice passage each morning.
March 19, 2017 – MCAT CARS Passage
Question: What is your summary of the author’s main ideas. Post your own answer in the comments before reading those made by others.
“Ch-ch-tsss. Ch-ch-tsss.” On a chilly Wednesday morning, Baja Poindexter sounded out the steps of the rumba to a classroom of fifth-graders at West Athens Elementary School, located in one of Los Angeles’s most violent neighborhoods. She encouraged her class of mostly Latino students to do the same. They tenuously clasped each other’s hands in ballroom dance “frame,” or body position, and swayed to the music at “Miss Baja’s” command. “Side, together, to the lady! Side, together, to the gentleman!” she bellowed.
Toward the end of the hour, the students grew restless and squirmy, the volume of their chatter drowning out Poindexter’s voice. She paused. “You’ve got enough things against you in the outside world. When you come to school, it should be a safe space for you, but you have to make it that way by being respectful to each other.”
Poindexter is a teaching artist for Dancing Classrooms, a nonprofit based in New York City that brings ballroom dancing to schools primarily in underserved communities. Started by the dancer Pierre Dulaine in 1994, the 10-week program was featured in the 2005 documentary Mad Hot Ballroom and uses ballroom as a vehicle for teaching elementary- and middle-schoolers social-emotional skills like respect and teamwork and, by extension, empathy. For many underprivileged students, in-class time with programs like Dancing Classrooms is the only time they will have regular exposure to the arts.
“You can’t touch someone in a ballroom-dance frame and that person, for any length of time, be an ‘other,’” said Rodney Lopez, the global program director.
For Poindexter, 26, teaching ballroom is also an empathic exercise. Growing up in Chicago’s South Side, she started working at age 12 to help financially support her family while participating in every free or low-cost dance program she could find. She often used dance as an outlet for the same frustrations she sees in her students at West Athens. She said one of her classes last year descended into a collective crying fit when students threw verbal jabs at each other about relatives dying from gang violence.
“They’re at a disadvantage, and, at some point, they realize they’re at a disadvantage,” she said. “Will dance keep them away from some of these negative things? I do believe that, and that’s why I teach.”
And by the end of 20 classes, which culminate in a regional showcase and competition, the effects in the classroom are palpable: In a 2014-2015 survey of L.A.-area school principals, 66 percent reported an “increased acceptance of others” among their student bodies, while 81 percent of students said they treated others with more respect, following the program. Rob Horowitz, the associate director of the Center for Arts Education Research at Columbia University’s Teachers College, recently conducted a two-year study on the program in New York City whose results have yet to be published. In year one (2013-14) of the study, 95 percent of teachers reported their students improved cooperative and collaborative skills; researchers observed 95 percent of students demonstrating cooperative skills.
“They’re more respectful toward the girls. In the morning when we go into class, they always say, ‘Ladies first.’ [After the 10 weeks], I call them ladies and gentlemen so they remember,” said Michael Peñate, a teacher.
It’s a similar belief in the power of movement that prompted Ricka Glucksman Kelsch to start Dance and Dialogue. The free one-day workshop convenes middle-schoolers from various socioeconomic strata in L.A. County to take master dance classes in different genres; last year’s event featured a class taught by a deaf instructor. They also bond with each other by sharing personal stories in small group sessions modeled on the Native American talking circle. Topics range from coming out to parental substance abuse, and Kelsch credits the willingness of students to share to their common interest in dance. “These kids don’t know each other. They would never tell each other this,” she said.
Kelsch teaches dance part-time at the elite private school Crossroads School for Arts & Sciences in Santa Monica (the Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel and actress Kate Hudson are alums) and was partly inspired by her own privileged students, some of whom she said “didn’t know that some students wake up and, less than a mile away from Crossroads, don’t have food to eat, don’t have outfits to put on, wear the same clothes every day.”
In its first year, Dance and Dialogue drew 80 students; now in its third, the workshop is expanding to two days (one for middle-schoolers and one for high-schoolers), and Kelsch anticipates over 300 students will participate. Approximately 80 percent of the students will hail from underprivileged communities.
Studies have shown the cognitive benefits students experience through being exposed to dance and other art forms, which is then linked to improved test scores and grade-point averages, especially for disadvantaged students. However, empathy—the notion that someone can share in and feel the feelings of another—is a squishy concept. It’s also not always easily quantifiable, although a 2010 University of Michigan study indicated declining rates of empathy among college students which some attribute to lack of interaction and play with peers at a younger age, qualities inherent in dance.
“[Dance] is incredibly effective in terms of social-emotional development and in terms of being able to incorporate kids from different backgrounds, different ethnicities, different social backgrounds and have them do something common,” said Columbia’s Horowitz. Horowitz is leading a two-year study on Dancing Classrooms commissioned by the organization.
While the long-term effects on students’ capacities to be empathic aren’t yet clear, Horowitz’s findings suggest a lasting impact. “Empathy is hard to observe, but we do see kids helping each other with the dance or seeming to care about each other. We know that we can’t reduce everything from the arts to a number, but we work on it.”
Adapted from theatlantic.
Leave a comment below with what you understood to be the author’s main ideas. Ask about this daily passage in office hours/workshops for help.
Subscribe to my Daily CARS mailing list by entering your email.
The full list of daily articles is available here.
This was an article on Dance.
Have a great day.
MCAT CARS Instructor.