Bare Feet, Teaching, and Kids

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disney-rapunzel-tangledI’ve been teaching a lot of art classes the last couple weeks. I’ve taught a lot in general, kids, adults, in all situations, overseas, in Ohio, here in Florida, but I’ve never taught quite in this combo. This summer I have my first job teaching art to kids as “Barefoot Justine,” meaning that I’ve never had to walk into a class full of kids barefoot and teach.

2 things happen, first off, the kids want to strip off their shoes (and socks) as soon as they begin to assume that I might not stop them. Of course, I am not about to stop them. I’m not sure I want to be responsible for starting them or encouraging them down this path, not kids. Kids can be careless, can get hurt just ’cause they’re reckless. Yet, as a kid I spent most every summer barefoot, as did quite a few of us… then things changed. Here in the States the environment grew very uptight, very conservative, very Purell, and bare feet are, of course, sensual, daring, and in the minds of most people “dangerous,” and definitely not Purell. Of course all those negatives may be true if you’re not vigilant. Yet in all good conscience I can’t discourage a kid from the simple joy of being barefoot no matter what. Hell, I survived many many barefoot adventures as a kid, and I think perhaps my hesitation to encourage kids to do the same is hypocritical on many levels, and a sign that even I have been corrupted by the irrational foot-phobia of America as it is now. I guess the bottom line in my thinking is… screw this new and frightened America, go barefoot kids, have fun, get dirty, get hurt, get over it! Be free, live free, live barefoot!

One thing I know, no question in my mind, is that kids (people) don’t want to wear shoes. Kids haven’t had the joy of being barefoot beaten out of them by an irrational culture of phobic frightened adults. Given the opportunity, unlike most adults who would never consider stripping off their shoes in public, kids are free of programming… off go their little shoes.

And the other thing that happens are the questions… lots of questions. Today the questions with this group of kids were endless, penetrating, exploratory, revealing. I’ve never endured such a lengthy interrogation about my being barefoot. I realize that what most tugged at the minds of my classroom of little barefoot acolytes was that I am so hardcore. See, the first questions are, “Where are your shoes?” What shoes? I don’t own any shoes.

Usually this is followed by a few questions or satisfaction, so off go the kids, but not today. These kids interviewed me, editorialized, considered, and talked about this for nearly the first half of the class… all the while we worked on our projects. They wanted to talk about everything: what do I do about going into stores, don’t my feet get cold, and on and on. One wanted to tell me about someone in their family who hates shoes. More than once I have had a girl tell me that when she grows up she’s never wearing shoes. Well, good for her!

OK, sure, you might think being barefoot is risky… so is skiing, kayaking, biking, playing sports… get it? Ask yourself how many dangerous skull-cracking activities you participate in in your spare time? Are they more dangerous than being barefoot? I bet they are. But there is something more important than all that in there… being barefoot in public means you haven’t bought it. You haven’t bought the socialization, the Purell, the fear, the conformity, the deadening of your senses. Bare feet are rebellious, alternative, and anything but conservative, safe, or boring.

Of course I don’t push any of this one way or the other, but if they ask I will tell them, and I will tell them the truth.

So, as far the kids in my classes, go for it! Free your feet, free your minds!

The right to shoes, the right to choose, I choose barefoot.

4 responses »

    • Thanks for the comment. I’m still working with these kids, will be tomorrow, too. Today when I came in they were all barefoot, and wearing the little toe rings I handed out to them yesterday. Their parents don’t seem to mind… that’s a relief. One of them walked off through the parking lot and I had to remind her to go back in and get her shoes before she went home. Sly, perhaps she meant to do that.

  1. Going barefoot is what is normal, but there are very few normal people. Why because very few people can think outside the box. Even fewer can think outside the shoe box! Barefooters are for sure a special breed.

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