Monday, July 23, 2012

A Still Life

College painting class,  in the mid 1980's.

This is a large painting I completed in college, a long time ago. I did not really get the reflections right, or some of the shapes, but if you look at my art work along this blog's sidebar you can see the direction I went after my early attempts at traditional painting. After this painting class, I discovered Pop Art, (thanks to a really cool non-traditional professor), and had more freedom to develop my own style. Gotta learn the rules before you can break them, I guess. I think I got a C on this painting. I never liked following rules. This is hanging in my parents' house.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Teaching About Where We Live

PA Dutch Hex sign
Student art work, Allentown cityscape
 I believe it is important for children to develop an awareness and understanding of their community. The arts are central to a community and its history, and central to being human, so therefore, the arts should be an essential part of any school's curriculum. But here I am, still fighting to restore our school arts programs, which never should have been cut in the first place.

I teach children about the buildings in Allentown, PA, our parks, the Pennsylvania Dutch influences- like Hex signs at the Farmers Market. Have you seen those circular designs and ever wondered what they were? When I teach a paper sculpture lesson I talk about the roller coasters at nearby Dorney Park, or about our new destination playground at Cedar Beach park. Art communicates where we live, and our experiences in that world. And art work is not just what we see at galleries and museums, but also the local folk art, collectibles, public statues, or crafts that have meaning to a particular group of people.

 Today, even though "rigorous" (stupid buzz word)  state and national common core standards are at the center of public education, we should not forget to teach children about their local community and its history.

Due to budget cuts and bad decisions by our school board,  elementary school children have not had many opportunities to learn about the art, architecture, music, or dance that makes our community unique. Social studies has been greatly reduced or nearly eliminated from the school curriculum. Holiday celebrations are not allowed. There are few opportunities for field trips, school plays, due to the amount of instructional time spent on testing and test prep. But still, we hear the corporate reformers pontificate in platitudes about college and career readiness, and world class standards, and "value-added" accountability measures. It's all nonsense. We hear about test score success. As if everything a child does at school MUST be measured. As if this corporate jargon has anything at all to do with developing engaged human beings living in a community. The arts are all about being human, and about human relationships. When I think about my public school experience I think about the playground, the class plays, learning an instrument, my state report, show and tell, field day, glee club, painting in art class, the Halloween parades, my teachers, my friends, my neighborhood. That's what sticks.

“The opportunity that Hawai’i offered, to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect, became an integral part of my worldview and a basis for the values I hold most dear.” 
                                                                                                  ---President Barack Obama

Thursday, July 5, 2012

New Metrics for Arts Assessment? No thanks.

joyful student work- Kindergarten
My thoughts on arts assessment: (Without even getting into the reasons why it's RIDICULOUS, WRONG and CREEPY to measure creativity). I don't support the development of new metrics to measure the arts in school, or data driven instruction, or standardized tests as a way to legitimize an arts education. Sad to see that even the NAEA (National Art Education Association) supports data collecting and making pie graphs, in order to assess learning in art class. See this 2010 NAEA Convention on data driven instruction. Data-driven instruction is the latest education reform/accountability fad, but it's not very practical or realistic. A student's art work IS the data. As if art teachers who travel from building to building teaching from carts or out of boxes, with inadequate resources, have the time or energy to analyze data. Teachers should have the freedom to focus on meeting needs of students, displaying student art work, or just giving kids opportunities to MAKE something. Art time at school is very limited. And teachers have lives and families outside of school.

NAEA already has common standards and assessments for teaching visual art, as they always have. I agree, that older students should be included in creating rubrics for art lessons, since rubrics are mandated. But teachers have been writing and implementing these assessment rubrics for years, I don't understand why there needs to be all NEW rubrics for measuring creativity. Is this just a reformist scheme to re-name and re-package what teachers have been doing all along, just so the reformists can take credit and their cronies can profit? And I worry that all this data crunching will take away from instruction time. Will we now be hearing art teachers say, "now let's make a pretty pie graph using complementary colors so we can measure what we have learned!" Art time should mainly be spent on art production, exploration, and experiential learning. Talking and writing about art is a good way to assess learning.

 Art teachers are trained to assess their students, and must be able adapt to needs of students in a given community, depending on poverty level, culture, etc. We assess while we teach. Expertise comes with experience, and new teachers should be mentored by more experienced teachers. Sharing ideas with other teachers should be the primary professional development. Also, the arts have been cut from many districts that serve poor children. If there are going to be common core standards and common assessments for both students and teachers, then the arts should be MANDATORY. Obviously the "accountability" movement is not about helping children. And, with all due respect to the ed experts, I think there is too much over-thinking about arts assessment. I am open to trying new ideas, and improving my teaching, but not if it interferes with what's in the best interest of the students I teach. We need to get back to a more humanistic way of teaching children. Paul Goodman got it right back in 1966. (see my previous post) And teaching disadvantaged children, is completely different than teaching middle class or wealthy children. When are we going to seriously consider the impact of poverty on learning when developing these assessments and learning metrics? 

FinallyI know when students are learning. They smile, they talk, they share, they create, they think, they hug, they thank, and they engage in the learning process. Time and money would be better spent on working to restore arts programs, and finding ways to provide an equitable, fully funded, arts education to all children. Stop taking the joy out of teaching and learning!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Paul Goodman on Education Reform (1966)

Writer and activist Paul Goodman said this back in 1966, when he was interviewed by William F. Buckley, but it is so relevant today:


The leaders, the educational decision-makers, Goodman says to Buckley, "have a theory of social engineers; they don't have the theory of human teachers or artists. The theory of a social engineer is you can analyze everything down to its least elements...but this isn't  how a person learns. A person learns by an intrinsic need or reaching out, and what you reach out to is what's interesting, and if the text isn't interesting then why bother?" Here's more info on Goodman's ideas about Education.