Meet Freddy Carnes

Teaching Artist for Kids in Free Minds

When Freddy Carnes arrives to teach a few doors down from the Free Minds—the Clemente affiliate in Austin—he might be carrying a guitar, a box of costumes from a Shakespeare play, or a stack of journals kids will fill with their writing through the year. One thing is for sure: he’s there to create some magic.

Freddy is a teaching artist at Creative Action, a Free Minds partner organization that provides arts-based youth development programming in Central Texas. For four years he has offered the children of Free Minds students their own humanities class, mirroring the adult curriculum in engaging, kid-friendly ways.

When Free Minds students read Hamlet, their kids learn the “To be or not to be” monologue, complete with hand gestures. When they read the ancient Greeks, their kids sing a song Freddy wrote titled, “Poseidon: God of Wind and Sea.” When they discuss Frederick Douglass’s narrative, the kids learn about Douglass as well as Harriet Tubman and other historical figures. They ask what it means to stand up against injustice and how they too can be role models.

For Freddy, bringing the hands-on learning of Creative Action to Free Minds kids was a no brainer.

“From the minute I heard of it, I knew this was a very forward-thinking way of approaching college education and something we need desperately,” he said. “Through the liberal arts we are challenging students in the way they think about the world and themselves and their community. We are investing in them to become leaders.”

A seasoned theatre artist—he’s co-written and directed more than 40 operas—Freddy has worked with Creative Action since 2005. His teaching has brought him into schools, community centers, and museums. He believes in not underestimating the abilities of even the youngest kids to understand complex texts and ideas.

“Kids can handle a lot more than you think they can, especially if you give it to them in a way that they can understand. It will lead to really interesting discussions.”

Those discussions extend beyond the classroom. The Free Minds-Creative Action partnership promotes intergenerational learning, and parents and kids report finding new ways to connect around their shared classwork. Parents are both modeling education for their kids as well as engaging in it side by side.

At graduation each spring, Freddy calls children to the stage, one by one, to honor their hard work. He hands them the writing journal they have kept all year. As kids walk away to the applause of the audience, they are carrying their own words and the knowledge that will support them into the future.

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