By Karen Jones • Photo by Joni Strickfaden
In 1971, the results of desegregation in the Ann Arbor Public Schools moved and stirred the soul of forty-year-old art teacher Carol Tice. Carol keenly observed the African American children coming from Jones Elementary School, and as she did, recognized that these newly bused in children would need a great deal of support. The desire to help them filled her thoughts and weighted her heart, yet she felt limited in her role as a teacher. She found herself wishing that her retired parents, who lived out of state, would come, nourish, and share their unconditional love and guidance with these children, just as they had with her when she was a child.
Carol began thinking about the displaced elderly living in nursing homes. Elders who had spent an entire lifetime learning to do the things that they were best at were now put on a shelf. She found herself inquiring at the Whitehall Nursing Center to see if they would bus a group of elderly persons to her art class. They would and they did. Somehow Carol knew it would turn out all right. Carol instructed the elderly to bring with them only what they loved to do. There was to be no tutoring and no assignments for the children. Carol knew benefits would be bestowed to all the children.
One elderly woman demonstrated the carding of wool while she spoke tenderly of raising sheep, sharing with the children the gifts the woolly animal imparts to all of us. A Native American elder brought forth from his culture the making of arrowheads. Some of the elders slept in wheelchairs, some drooled, but the children did not mind. Instead the children would compliment the grandpersons by telling them how soft their skin was and hugged them when they had to leave. Carol noticed elders who began arriving to class with combed hair and clean clothes. She noticed the children’s essence was changing, too, as a sense of common humanity began to bind the young and the old together in a most miraculous way.
During the inception of her volunteer program, called Teaching-Learning Communities (T-LC), Carol reached out to Dr. Margaret Mead, a famous anthropologist, for guidance. Dr. Mead immediately recognized the magnitude of the greater good of Carol’s work and shared its importance at speaking engagements across America. Dr. Mead would sometimes speak metaphorically about Carol’s work to her audience by saying: “The old moon holds the new moon within.” Both Dr. Mead and Carol believed that the light of our elders embraces and shines wisdom on our young, in the infancy of their emotional, intellectual, and spiritual growth.
Providence began to move. Carol’s intergenerational model spread into Ann Arbor’s 22 schools. This success led to Carol’s being appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979 to serve on the U.S. Commission of the International Year of the Child. This honorary appointment assisted in spreading the intergenerational programs across our fifty states.
Two years ago the University of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library on North Campus, which archives and documents the activities of people and voluntary associations in the State of Michigan, requested papers on Carol Tice and T-LC. There are ten boxes archived and shelved just waiting to be resurrected. The library also made materials available for download online, such as her interview with Dr. Mead when she visited Ann Arbor in 1976.
Today I sit across from Carol in her living room. She is 83 now. She has a round cherub face. The iris of her eyes is pristine blue like a brand new morning sky. Her eyes reflect the clarity she carries within. She is dressed in a pretty turquoise blouse and wears turquoise rings in honor of our Native American people whom she loves. I have a million questions to ask her but I have to settle for the following.
“Carol, did you ever run into problems with the Ann Arbor School District with your planning?”
“Oh yes, I applied for a grant from the State of Michigan for $100,000 for my T-LC program and got it. The school district wanted to fire me because grant writing was an administrative duty not a teacher’s duty.”
Carol chuckles, “The Native Americans got word of it and staged a sit-in on the steps of the school district’s building. The Native Americans loved what I was doing with the children. Then the union got involved and thought it would make good press. Needless to say I did not get fired!”
“Our young children are developing their worldview in schools today that are in lock down, trust is low, schools do not want people coming in from the outside.” Carol interrupts me and passionately says, “Even more reason to bring back T-LC. It is more necessary now than ever before.”
“What about pedophiles? How did you safeguard against those types of predators with the children?”
“We had middle-aged women as aides who oversaw the groups and were trained to intervene.”
“When you reflect back on the groups, do you have a favorite memory between the children and the elderly that surfaces over and over again?”
“We had an elderly paraplegic man volunteering who had no family. When he died the retirement center went through the trunk at the end of his bed. On one side of the trunk were his clothes. On the other side were the pictures and letters the children had given him.”
“When did T-LC dissolve?”
“Two years after I retired. A new superintendent came in and, well, superintendents change things.”
“I would like to know more about what made you who you are. What is one of your fondest early childhood memories?”
“My family was on a mission endeavor from the Presbyterian Church. My father was an astronomer and the principal at the school for Native American children. My mom was an artist. At that time, I was three. The Native American mothers would walk through my yard to get their children from school and see that I had no one to play with. I was just sitting playing in the dirt, so they began to bring me clay pots that they had made. I still have some of them. My father left that job because he would not follow the Church’s instructions to punish the children if they spoke their native language.”
“What do you remember about yourself when you began to attend school?”
Carol chuckles, “I didn’t color between the lines. I always colored outside the lines and I was very messy. I shared a room with my sister and she made us draw an imaginary line down the middle. Her side was neat and tidy. Mine was a total mess, but I knew where everything was. Later I learned to color between the lines. And even later, when I colored between the lines, the lines were my lines.”
“Would your family make you clean your room? Abide by the rules of neat, tidy, and orderly?”
“No, never, my mom accepted my differences.”
“How do you like to spend your time now that you are retired?”
“I am involved with Peace Neighborhood, which has programs for children and families affected by social and economic challenges. I volunteer teaching art to the children there. It is important for me to continue the work I did through the public school system bringing the young and old together. My early work with T-LC set me on a lifelong learning quest to find what we can do to help little children. Then later I tried to find ways to help teenagers, who in some ways are more difficult.”
“What was the work you did with teenagers?”
“I co-invented Peer Power Project with an African American social worker who had grown up in the African community, for a Chicago middle school. We worked with teenage girls whose mothers or sisters were 14 when they became pregnant. We worked with prevention. There was not a single pregnancy for three years. The girls I worked with would be seen drawing blood in gang fights at noon, then dramatically change and turn into children their own age when the elders from the community center were brought in. The girls were gentle with the frail elderly and kind, very kind.
I also am involved with Blue Lake Fine Arts camp. I started a philosophy there that was not academic but more student-centered. I teach visual arts to the children. Each child discovers that visual art resides within them. With positive reinforcement the visual arts within a child can spring forth on paper.”
Emphatically Carol says, “The right side of the brain must be developed for creative problem solving. I cannot stress enough the importance of right brain development, using art with children. Even music does not affect the right side of the brain the same way as art does because the left brain is more involved with music.”
“Is there anything else would you like us to know?”
“Yes, there is. I have healers in my life right now to help my body feel better because I have a lot more I want to do. I am now the old moon. I used to be the new moon absorbing the wonderful mentoring and receiving positive affirmations from the old moons close to me.”
Carol smiles, “Now I am both the old moon carrying my younger new moon within.”
Interviewer Karen Jones is an occupational therapist, writer, and keen observer and lover of the holiness of nature. She has a strong admiration for powerful women enacting social change. Her email address is email@example.com. Carol Tice can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.