Stephanie, the one female student in the small class, was reading aloud when I walked in and took a seat at a large table along with six students. Despite the interruption, she plugged away, scooping words off the page like a persistent snow-shoveler.
When she finished, teacher Mathew Klickstein picked up with his lecture on writing, wordiness and criticism. The staff listened attentively and participated eagerly. They edited down a few wordy sentences and penned a group tweet for their Twitter page.
The classroom is found within an office complex in Longmont. It’s a space dedicated to Imagine!, a nonprofit organization that addresses issues of independence and quality of life for those with developmental disabilities. Klickstein’s class is a part of the CORE program, which takes Imagine!’s consumers (that’s what they call their participants) out into the real world through classes, activities and even employment.
They get jobs, go on field trips and, now, they write reviews for Yellow Scene.
It was an idea that came from Klickstein, who is a writer and filmmaker, a longtime supporter of people with developmental disabilities and a freelancer for this magazine. He pitched the idea a few months back, calling it “a bold experiment in journalism in which a marginalized and disenfranchised sector of Colorado would finally have something of a voice…” The premise: Through the criticism class, he posited, he would work with Imagine!’s consumers to create monthly reviews for Yellow Scene. We would not pay the class, but we’d help them find opportunities to get out into the community and provide the budding reviewers a little space within our pages.
He had me at hello. Criticism is a hugely important part of any publication. It provides voice and gives a sense of confidence, style and candor. Anyone can be a critic, but not everyone can understand the care, precession and importance of criticism in the printed form. One has to be thoughtful, honest, constructive and well researched.
So why, you may ask, would we allow six untrained, inexperienced reviewers to use Yellow Scene as their bully pulpit?
Klickstein makes a good case: “I think the hardest thing to deal with in this population is being ignored and ostracized or alienated,” he said. “Special education kids get isolated. This is an opportunity for them to get out there and expose themselves. …I think anyone who writes for a magazine or sings in a play, there is a risk, but you do it anyway. The consumers here, they choose to be in this class. They are choosing to take that risk. They want to do this, and they are excited to have their work out in the community. I’m excited to give them a forum.”
We are also exposing our readership to something totally new. We don’t know how long we will continue the project, and we don’t know what this experiment will prove. But we know it’s an opportunity to give a medium of expression to those who have never had one, to show them and others that they are very capable, and to inspire our readers in the process.
Check out the class’ first review on page 68 and look for more to come. And if you have something you would like Imagine!’s criticism class to review, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. They will cover everything from music to food to shopping to…well, the world is now their oyster.
You and I are just lucky enough to read about it.