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From: Larry Seiler (lseiler_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat Dec 07 2002 - 06:09:22 PST

Having taught in larger high schools...and now into my 4th year of a K-12
population of 300 students, it has taken awhile for me to see this
"personality" that other staff members here have talked about with
particular classes. Kids that are nearing graduation that have gone to
school together since earliest ages. For example the sophomores which would
number about 28...were in sixth grade together, third, and will be as
juniors etc;

I would hear teachers warn, "o'boy, wait 'till you get those 7th graders!"

For the past three years, I've really enjoyed the results of my juniors and
few senior independents painting quarter; putting out a good body of work.
Typically, the first few weeks are rough, and I have to implant a lot of
cheerleading, prooffer faith where they lack it that the work will progress,
will in the end turn out.

Interesting with my present junior that they are whiners, for
one....and look to collectively settle into mediocre stinkin thinkin. I
have been observing this group mentality or mob dynamic. If one student
says, "I suck at painting stinks!" and a nearby student agrees
and says the same, they connect a bond. Then another points out they suck,
and still another....until evidently "stinkothelogically" speaking they give
themselves permission to put forth very little effort.

If I stink, and you stink...and others stink....THEN stinking must not be so
bad, it must be typical, and therefore okay. If we as a whole can't really
move beyond "stinko" then there's little reason to make effort to push

I took them and their paintings after two weeks into it out into the hallway
and had them line them up against the wall. We all stood back and just
looked at the body of work together.

I asked them how many thought as a whole there was represented some pretty
fine paintings beginning here? Well...the opinion was unanimous that they
all looked pretty good. Then I asked, "how many of you think your own
painting isn't coming along very well?" hahaha...and about 2/3's of the
groups hands went up.

We went back into the room and talked about that disparity. How is it we
all agree the work as a whole is impressive, but yet the majority would say
our own personal work is poor? I pointed out, that it is typical for
artists to be their own worst critics... and also told them about group
dynamics and how negativity is like a virus.

Still...unlike any other junior group...I've been hearing pleas and cries
for help nonstop.

I have a bunch of demo's online for painting, and a gazillion art
magazines...and I think I'm about to introduce a new criteria for which to
grade...and that is perhaps what I'll call the "Self Help" factor. I'll
give it a rating from 1 to 10....and before I rescue someone so-to-speak,
I'll insist the student spend some time looking at other artist's work,
perhaps go over more demo's, etc;

What the students want to do is find a source to blame for their
"stinked'ness"...such as perhaps my expectations are unreasonable. The
inference that all other junior classes before them have put out very nice
work and survived without injury...might be they lack the talent, but that
would be true for one or two...not a whole class, thus they are not likely
to grab for that straw as it would be too ridiculous I think.

I had several students quit 20 minutes early the other day....and say they
just don't feel like painting anymore. I laughed, and told them we have
about five more weeks to go. I brought up Howard Cosell. He was very
insightful with boxing and could call a good match, but I'm sure could not
have fought his way out of a messy room. So, I told them if they wish to
quit, that would be fine....but since this is a painting course, they would
then study what it would be like to be art historians. I would require them
to study and report on the major art movements beginning with the Byzantine
on thru the modernists. If they can't paint, then they can at least know
all "about" painting. Their eyes of course got quite large...and they
muttered they would prefer to paint.

I spoke to our counselor and said next year, I will give her slips for
juniors wanting to take this course to sign. Sorta an "I won't whine"
clause, or a short essay on "Why I'm Not a Quitter!" She had a good

At anyrate, doin' the lunchroom chat thing....the Spanish teacher and
Literature teacher both had a good laugh and assured me that this group is
just like this in their classes as well. "This is too hard....!"

One boy in my class whom I admired for his athletic ability just quit
basketball because the coach was demanding too much, in his opinion!

So...there you go...a group dynamic which works to convince each other that
mediocrity is preferrable to the effort at hand, or that the price to
succeed is too high.

Ah well....this too shall pass! hahahaha.....take care all,

Larry S