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Lesson Plans

More on elementary generalists and art specialists

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Elizabeth Paul (epaul)
Mon, 20 Jan 1997 19:06:21 -0600

More on this discussion about the role and place of art educ, and who
teaches it, in the elementary school. First, let me say I think it's really
great to be having this discussion. All of us on this list believe in the
importance of art in schools (I assume) so I think this is a great
opportunity to raise some of these difficult issues and hear different
perspectives. Ultimately, I think it will help all of us in our advocacy on
behalf of the arts.

I whole-heartedly agree with everything Kit Eakle said about the teaching of
the arts in elementary school. Well-said, Kit.

This discussion has been very engaging to me and polite. Besides, I have a
pretty tough skin about this, and regardless of what anyone says in the
context of this listserve and whether any art specialists, general ed
teachers, or administrators encourage me to teach the arts, I will without
doubt teach the arts.

But I do want to raise the awareness that I think most general ed teachers
(particularly student teachers as I am) who may be less committed to the
arts or less aware of its importance or feeling they already have way too
much to do, would be discouraged by some of the feedback here. I don't think
it was in any way meant as discouragement but when someone wants to teach a
subject well and thoughtfully, I would hope they would be actively
encouraged rather than having it suggested to them that it's perhaps not
their place because they aren't a specialist. (And I am rather liberally
paraphrasing, but that is how it came across to me.)

Frankly, I think that sort of territorialism and insistence on being
"separate but equal" is what often hurts arts education at the elem level.
As Kit pointed out, in elem school the classroom teacher teaches it all --
math, language arts, social studies, science, even P.E. often. All those
subjects valued by our society and believed to be "must-teach"s are
purposefully expected of the main classroom teacher. To keep art out of the
main classroom as a separate thing does indeed cause it to be viewed as an
elective and easily removeable when the budget is under the gun. What
usually happens then is that the only art in the classroom is the fluff art.
Which in turn reinforces -- in kids, administrators, parents, teachers --
that art is really not that important or meaningful and is just for fun to
kill time with no real substance. Hence the importance of integrating the
arts into the main classroom and the main curriculum. Ideally, this would be
building off what the kids are doing with an art teacher, as kids sometimes
now have computer specialists and then use those skills in their main
classroom as well.

The child tired of making the same thing over and over, referred to by San
D, or the kids who have the thrill taken out of art by high school are
almost undoubtedly those kids who are in schools where art isn't taught at
all or is taught as meaningless fluff. Just from last quarter, I have a few
horror stories about classrooms in which I observed; at times art was the
most boring, time-wasting, stifling thing -- it was heart-breaking!

San D noted that not everyone could teach art (I liberally paraphrase
there). Well, I would say that any good elem classroom teacher can, with
appropriate training and resources. Some will teach it better than others
-- just as some teach math better or science better or language arts better.
And, as noted in my previous email, I would again argue that having the main
classroom teachers involved and valuing art would increase, not decrease,
the demand and value placed on having art teachers in the schools. If the
rest of the faculty doesn't understand arts' role, importance, and
difficulty of teaching it well, then they aren't likely to lobby for adding
- or keeping - an art teacher in these money-tight times. However, if those
general ed teachers can show others what they do in their classrooms as
generalists and say "Yes, this is great but it could be soooo much more if
we had someone here whose expertise was teaching the arts, wow, then it
would be really great stuff." That's how to get more art teachers, I
believe -- by making ALL teachers and anyone else around understand the role
and importance of the arts, and be able to lobby together for arts' place in
the schools.

A small personal story: the first lesson I ever taught was about two years
ago. I chose art because I had been working in art ed for several years and
felt I had more resources to draw on and therefore could do a lesson better
than in math or reading. When the teacher told the kids I was going to
teach an art lesson, they enthusiastically asked, "What are we going to
make?" I said, "Well, we're not going to make anything, we're going to talk
about art." "Oh," they said dejectedly. I thought, geez I'm dead in the
water before I've even started. Well, the short version is that, using the
Vaquero poster by Luis Jimenez (from Getty through Crystal Productions),
within 10 minutes those kids were so engaged in their small group work and
then whole class discussion with the posters that what was supposed to be a
30 min lesson lasted an hour. And even then, I had to cut them short a
little and rein them in because the regular teacher needed to move on.
Those kids already had a love of making art because they were lucky enough
to have a teacher who gave them more than fluff projects; now they found
they could also enjoy and learn from looking at and talking about art. I
don't think that's a small lesson, particularly for those kids who may not
feel they are good enough at the artistic part. They can still enjoy, learn
from and about art. And ideally, they will come to understand arts'
importance and significance regardless of whether they are "talented" or not.

I guess my point with that in this discussion is that general ed teachers
(e.g., me) DO and should have an important role in the teaching of art. No,
I'm not an art specialist, but that doesn't mean I can't teach it well if I
have the resources, support, and training. And given that California doesn't
have many elem art specialists (as I believe Mary Erickson pointed out in an
unrelated email), I have even more commitment -- and a bigger row to hoe --
in making sure my students are exposed to engaging, substantive, creative
art education. Doing, talking, thinking about art. I can only hope that
those of you out there who are specialists will help me along that path so
that I do foster kids' excitement and enjoyment of art. And so I can point
to what I'm doing when trying to convince other teachers, administrators,
parents, and students that the arts are important and worthwhile and basic
to a good education.

Thanks. I look forward to more discussion -- Elizabeth Paul

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