Nilaja Sun Plays With 'No Child' Policy Nilaja Sun's play No Child received critical acclaim in the theater world. The show went from a one-woman show to a full cast of actors who portray teachers and children struggling to meet the standards of No Child Left Behind.
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Nilaja Sun Plays With 'No Child' Policy

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Nilaja Sun Plays With 'No Child' Policy

Nilaja Sun Plays With 'No Child' Policy

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This is Day to Day from NPR News. I'm Alex Cohen.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. We've been talking about education this fall - getting into college, paying for college, and last week, high schoolers talking about the presidential elections. Today, we turn to the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind plan.

But I know what you're thinking. We're not going to talk about policy. We're going to talk about something else and something a little more exciting, I hope. I'm joined by my producer Ki-Min Sung.

KI-MIN SUNG: Hi, Madeleine.

BRAND: Hi, Ki. So, what do you have for us?

SUNG: You know, I've been bothering you for quite some time about this play that I saw that was fantastic. It's called "No Child," performed by Nilaja Sun. She's an actress. She wrote the play, and she stars in it. She plays 17 characters - students and teachers and a janitor in a troubled New York City school. And I liked her so much, I wanted you to hear her.

Ms. NILAJA SUN (Writer/Actress, "No Child"): I've been a teaching artist since '98, so it's been about 10 years, and throughout the course of working in the schools, I realized there was such a beautiful story here that had never been tapped.

(Soundbite of the play "No Child)

Ms. SUN: (As multiple characters) What do people expect from prisoners? Jose? For them to succeed in life. Ah, but in the play. Coca(ph). They succeed by doing the exact opposite of what people expect. Uh huh. Uh huh. And how does that relate to our lives? Sure, don't nobody expect us to do nothing but drop out, get pregnant, go to jail - or work for the NTA.

Ms. SUN: There's a character named Nilaja Sun.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SUN: And she's a teaching artist who is also an actress, and there is a sense from her that she really wants to touch the lives of kids. And then we have Miss Tam (ph), who is a new teacher, and she holds the least amount of space possible because she is very nervous, and she's new to this. She hasn't been trained. She hasn't been trained in discipline, actually - how to discipline 30 kids who all want your attention all at the same time.

(Soundbite of play "No Child")

Ms. SUN: (As Miss Tam) Class?

(Soundbite of children's laughter)

Ms. SUN: (As multiple characters) Please welcome Miss Sun. She's going to be teaching a play and teaching you about acting and how to act. And we're going to do a play, and it's going to be fun - fun. This is stupid already. I don't want to act. I'm just trying to do my job, yeah.

What do you think this is? You can't go in without going through the detector. I don't care if you walk out, and now, you walk back in. Rules are rules. Put your bag in, and your selfish phone.

Hi, this is Ms. Sun from Malcolm X High. I'm looking for Jose Guzman(ph). He's a lead actor in "Our Country's Good," and I haven't seen him in class or after-school rehearsals in a whole week.

Jose is um - society might call him your troubled kid. He comes from gangs, and his brother was - gets killed, actually, gang-related violence. And he is raised by his grandmother.

(Soundbite of "No Child")

Ms. SUN (As multiple characters): Jose Guzman, Manuela. Jose, Jose, Jose, you made it.

My costume, abuela.

We had a very long week, but he love this class. He begged me mommy, mommy - our country good, our country good, what I can do? I say yes.

There's a moment when Ms. Sun is about to quit, and she mentions that it would be so much easier for her to teach drama in Connecticut.

(Soundbite of "No Child")

Ms. SUN: (As Nilaja Sun) They need a miracle, and they need a miracle like everyday. Sometimes I dream of going to Connecticut and teaching the rich white kids there. Well, then I'll have to battle against the soccer moms and bulemia and everyone asking how I wash my hair.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. SUN: (As Nilaja Sun) But I chose to teach in my city, the city that raised me, and I'm tired. And I'm not even considered a real teacher. I don't know how to survive as a real teacher, but they're doing what God knows and the worst thing - the worst thing is that all those kids in there are mean. Brown skin, brown eyes - stuck, I can't even help my own people.

What she's feeling right now is, she's feeling the pressure of teaching something that people find not really valued, and when it comes to No Child Left Behind, there's not much language about arts and teaching of arts, which, to me, is absurd, but is one of the reasons why I created the show.

It's not one of those pieces that you go to see, and you say, wow, that Nilaja Sun, she really gave it to the government, you know. Hopefully, it's one of those pieces that you just, you really actually see these kids as human and really kind of want to allow them to grow.

SUNG: That was Nilaja Sun, the creator and star of "No Child." Madeleine, this show is so great that it's being performed by an entire cast now, not just one person across the country, including places like Connecticut.

BRAND: Producer Ki-Min Sung, thank you.

SUNG: thank you.

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