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Lesson Plans

Diane Gregory's questions

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Fri, 22 Mar 1996 13:10:17 -0600 (CST)

Dear Diane

These are wonderful questions. I imagine most of us grapple with them on a=
regular basis. (At least I hope so.) At the risk of using more than my=
fair share of space, I'd like to respond in a general way to some of the=
issues you have raised, keeping in mind that I will probably think of much=
better comments as soon as I press "send".=20
You ask what makes a good art teacher, and I'm sure you will receive many=
wonderful replies from this group. I am as eager as you to read them. For=
myself, two thoughts come immediately to mind. First I would suggest that=
the one quality I have found common to ALL good teachers of ANY subject is=
that they have high expectations of their students. This attitude implies=
an inherent respect for the student (it indicates that you believe in their=
potential to do well) as well as a reluctance to accept anything short of=
his or her best effort. Even in first grade, I will not accept work which=
has been thoughtlessly produced. People tend to live up or down to our expe=
ctations. (Perhaps one of the reasons for many of society's ills today is=
that we have lowered our expectations so far - but that's another=
The second quality that occurs to me is that good art teachers respect=
themselves and their discipline. They understand the importance of art as=
a means of transmitting culture and as a primary avenue of self-expression=
and are able to educate not only their students but parents, administrators=
and fellow teachers about the important place art should hold in the=
curriculum. The arts, when they are well taught, help students to develop=
critical thinking skills which can enhance their lives in many ways. =
University educators need to focus heavily on the importance of the arts to=
culture. Art teachers need to have a sense of what a child loses when he=
or she has no respect for or understanding of art: they are unable to=
decode visual language and are thus denied access to an enormous amount of=
cultural information, and they are denied a means of expression which may=
be, for some, their best hope of being "heard". I know that there are=
still art teachers out there doing cookie-cutter "pumpkins in October" and=
I can't imagine where they are being educated, but we need to stop=
trivializing what we do and wasting the few precious moments the curriculum=
gives us.
Your question about art content, while extremely valid, is also quite=
telling. I have been teaching art for over 20 years, and have grappled=
with this question on an ongoing basis, probably because I have created an=
extremely structured curriculum which is content based. I say the question=
is "telling" because it sums up so many of our attitudes about art=
education. Can you imagine asking this question of a science teacher? A=
math teacher? A literature teacher? We wouldn't think of saying to a=
musician " Here's a piano. I won't teach you any fingering or how to read=
music or what Mozart thought or how improvisation affects Jazz, but I=
expect you to be able to make great music and judge it as well." But=
somehow some of us have decided that it is "inhibiting the students'=
creativity" if we give them the tools of the trade. When did we decide=
that education was harmful? Why should students have to reinvent the=
wheel? While some teachers are admittedly too rigid, and student products=
should always be unique to the maker, I have never seen a student lose=
creativity as a result of learning various skills or theories and=
practicing them. Quite the opposite.
As to the relative importance of making good art versus developing=
aesthetic/critical judgement I would respond with the question "how can you=
MAKE good art if you have no critical or aesthetic judgement? Art is=
constant decision-making even when it seems spontaneous. The better my=
ability to judge, the better I am able to critique my own work. Also,=
while all of my students will be visual "consumers" only a handfull will=
create art as a career or even as a hobby, so the critical skills serve=
everyone. (And, fortunately, I do not need to make this choice as we can=
use each skill to enhance the other. Judgement hepls us "make" and=
"making" helps us judge.)
This response is already way too long so I'll keep my thoughts on questions=
7 and 8 for another time. I will simply close by saying that perhaps the=
greatest service you can provide your students is not so much to provide=
"answers" to all these questions but to make sure they are always asking=
them. As Dr. Nancy Johnson says, "when the question is answered, the=
learning stops'. True education is probably what we get while we're=
LOOKING for truth, not so much the truth itself. Sounds to me like you're=
doing a hell of a good job of "educating" your students if they are asking=
such important questions. Keep them coming.

Eileen Prince
Art Teacher, Sycamore School, Indianapolis, IN =20

  • Maybe reply: DebbieDBAE: "Re: Diane Gregory's questions"
  • Maybe reply: EILEEN PRINCE: "Re: Diane Gregory's questions"