Saturday, April 23, 2011

Dear Allentown School Board: Art Adds Real Value to Curriculum

Elementary Art Lesson: Tar Beach Cityscape

Here is an example of an art lesson that is interdisciplinary (reinforces concepts children learn in math, history, science, reading), and adds so much more because there are countless benefits that are specific to the arts. This is how professional certified art teachers add value to the school curriculum. This is how certified art teachers teach across the curriculum so students can make connections to other subject areas, and to their own lives. This lesson engages and motivates children, it is ACADEMIC, and also fun. Sequential art classes, along with music, physical education, and library, have been nearly eliminated from the Allentown School District curriculum.

The education reformers and politicians who are mandating more "rigorous" (awful word) standards, common core (college and career ready) alignment, more testing, scripted lessons, and uniformity do not understand how children learn. The business men and billionaires who influence education policy are not teachers. Bill Gates has no teaching credentials. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has no teaching credentials. There is no evidence that common core standards, increased testing, and corporate reforms improve learning. School board directors who approve cuts to arts programs should be made aware of the real connections between art and learning. I guess I need to spell it out, since so many people just don't get it and continue to view the arts as a frill.

This lesson can be adapted to any age. I've taught it to students ages 4-15. This lesson is inspired by the book Tar Beach, by Faith Ringgold. She is an artist and a writer. She writes about her own life experiences. She grew up in New York City. Allentown kids can relate to NYC, because some of them were born there, or have relatives who live there.

This lesson connects with literature, careers, architecture, culture, science, history, mathematics, elements of design, art history, geography, vocabulary, and community. I ask the children, "can you name a skyscraper right here in Allentown?"
Connecting to community is important, but with a scripted and standardized curriculum there is little opportunity to talk about The Allentown Fair, Pennsylvania Dutch Heritage, or anything else that makes our community unique.

Here is a breakdown of concepts learned:

Math: The difference between 2-d and 3-d, shapes-rectangles, etc., forms, angles
Geography: NYC, George Washington Bridge, Hudson River
Architecture: skyscraper, factory, apartment building, etc.
Science: night time, phases of the moon, stars, clouds
Literature: The book Tar Beach is part of the lesson
Art History: Faith Ringgold
History: story takes place in 1940's, what life was like back then
Elements of design- overlapping, perspective, color, line, shape, emphasis, shading
Careers: artist, writer, illustrator, construction worker
Community and Culture: family, neighbors, PPL, city life, Allentown
Vocabulary: cityscape, 2 dimensional, 3 dimensional, black tar, foreground, background

And don't forget: art appreciation, critical thinking and problem solving skills, fine motor skills, social skills (sharing, working together, discovering common interests, appreciation for diversity), self-awareness, imagination and creativity, joy, sense of accomplishment.

I teach the drawing part step by step, starting with basic shapes and lines, so each student can be successful. I tell them if they can draw simple shapes and lines, then they can draw anything. Many children have low self esteem, and because of teacher cuts, very little instruction in drawing.

So, is art just an educational frill? Art IS a core subject area, as mandated by the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This is the kind of high quality education we are losing in Allentown, because of budget cuts, misguided reforms, mismanagement of funds, and short sighted decisions by our school board. All school board directors voted to approve cuts to the arts and teacher layoffs. Not one director stood on principle. They even approved hiring more administrators, who will be paid more than double the salary of a teacher.

How can we celebrate a $15.4 million dollar expansion to our art museum while our children are being denied experiences in the arts and equal opportunities to discover their talents at school? How can we celebrate the arts in Allentown while our school budgets are slashed, school buildings crumble, and class size explodes? It is clear that our children are not a priority. Our arts community (artists, patrons, business leaders, board members, institutions, commissions, and councils) should be ashamed. But instead, they celebrate with wine and cheese. I am not celebrating. There should be equality in arts education. Our children in Allentown should enjoy the same well rounded, arts enriched public education that the Parkland SD kids enjoy. The arts should not be reserved for the wealthy. Our political leaders, business leaders, and arts community have all failed.

pictured: 5th grade student work using crayons and oil pastels on blue construction paper.

(This post was updated on 10/28/11)

UPDATE 3/8/13-  There are now plans proposed to eliminate all related arts specialists in the ASD elementary schools, with the exception of 4 music teachers, 50% reduction in related arts at the middle schools, and reduction of arts at the high schools. 144 total lay offs planned, on top of loss of over 210 positions 2 years ago. This is a crime and injustice. Speak up! Our children are being denied equal opportunities in the arts and robbed of a quality education. Narrowing of curricula to focus only on standardized tests, does not prepare students for college or life! New career focused charter schools are just job training, and these fads are short sighted and misguided. Skills learned in art class prepare students for any job, and beyond.


Anonymous said...

Today on TV Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke about the importance of a well rounded education, the value of the arts and early childhood education. He claims that Race to the Top is correcting the problems of NCLB, particularly the narrowing of curricula, and punishment. But yet RTTT includes plans for increased testing in order to measure growth (value added and tied to teacher performance). It does not make sense. And while he is talking about the importance of the arts and early childhood education, drastic cuts are being made in these areas in districts all across the country. Obama's education policy is really a continuation of Bush's right wing agenda to privatize.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Anon, thanks for the astute comment. It boggles my mind that the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, was never a teacher. His mom was a tutor. He's the top guy, and he has no background in education. I am really disappointed in the Obama administration, and even though I voted for Obama, I would never support his right wing education policies. Our government is controlled by Wall St. and even Democrats are pushing the corporate agenda. These are very scary times, and unfortunately people are too self absorbed with Facebook to notice.

Chalk Duster said...

I really wish i could teach your lesson in my NYC classroom. Actually, I think I might just do it! We have this EXPO project that we do in June and this may be just perfect for it. I love Faith Ringold and read her books with my kids when I taught elementary school. I'm also going to post your blog on mine. I am so pleased to meet another fellow blogger who shares my serious concerns about Education Deform. We need to keep fighting the good fight, and spread the word to as many parents as possible. Oh, and God help us all if Trump runs for president and wins. Or worse yet, Plain. I'll move out of the county. I'd rather live in Antarctica.
Thanks again for your fabulous ideas!!

Mrs. Dottie said...

Hi Chalk Duster, thanks for commenting. And thanks for writing a blog to inform people about what's really going on in our schools. I just found out that the National PTA is on board with the "core standards" policies, and has received generous funding from The Gates Foundation in order to brainwash parents into believing that govt. ed policies are good and equitable. One of those policies is to tie teacher evaluations to student standardized test scores.
What a sham. I am on the board at my son's school PTA, and I chair PTA events. I try to talk to parents about what's going on, but most are too busy to really listen.
And the media is corporate, so they misinform parents.

I am so happy that you want to teach my lesson in NYC! Best of luck to you. Thanks for linking to my blog. Wish more teachers would speak out.

Ce-Ce Gerlach said...

Angie, I am a candidate for the Allentown School Board, but more importantly I am a teacher and a parent to my two adopted God-daughters. Art and creative expression is the only way that I have been able to break through to my kids, both of whom have experienced mind-wrenching tramatic events. I teach at a non-profit organization called, The Children's Home of Easton. Each of my students have learned to shut off their emotions, but they have not turned off their creativity. You have my PROMISE that if elected to the school board I will do all I can to fight for the arts in our public schools.

Ce-Ce Gerlach

Mrs. Dottie said...

Thank you Ce-Ce, you have my vote! We need teachers on the school board! I am a former ASD art teacher, and I am currently subbing in the district, and my son is in 5th grade at Muhlenberg Elementary, where I volunteer. So I get to see a lot, and I am not happy with the curriculum. ASD children deserve an equal opportunity to discover their talents. The arts should not be reserved for the rich kids while our city kids sit all day in test-prep factories. The Allentown arts community should be outraged, but apparently school children are not a high priority for the wine and cheese crowd.

Mrs. Dottie said...

"When students look at their schools, they learn a lot about the value society places on them and their opportunity to get a good education. These crumbling structures are in effect symbols of the inequality that pervades American society." Randi Weingarten

Think about this when you visit the new art museum and cafe.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Something I did not even mention in this is post is the fact that certified art teachers are trained to teach a discipline based art program. The disciplines of art are: Art Production(making things)
Art Criticism: talking about art
Aesthetics: is it art?
Art History

Each lesson should have all these components, along with all the other stuff I wrote about in my post.

Yeah, sure, anyone can teach art.