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In response to the Curriculum Issues Seminar-week two, we would like to rem=
ind you that our perspective is as trainers of K-5 classroom teachers. A q=
uestion that often arises in all of our workshops is: What is a theme?
What is a concept? What is a unit? =20
We think the theme of AMERICAN IDENTITY would work well to organize instruc=
tion and stimulate interdisciplinary thinking because it is actually a broa=
d concept that will encompass many IDENTITY themes that are lived out over =
time. Some of these might include, ethnic identity in America, symbols of=
national identity, group identities, gender identity, and the role of the =
artist in all of these. =20
It seems that it is necessary to pinpoint a specific period in time to com=
pare with today in order to make this theme managable. Otherwise AMERICAN =
IDENTITY is just too large and unwieldy a theme to explore in any depth.
The time period we have selected is early America around the time of the Ci=
vil War compared to the present.
The art image we selected to begin with is News From the War, an 1861 Harp=
er's Weekly illustration by Winslow Homer. At this point, it is ESSENTIAL =
that the teacher decide just what it is that he/she is addressing, the con=
cept of identity, the art priciple of repetition, the exploration of stars =
and stripes as a national symbol, the process of printmaking, or a myriad=
of other possibilities. This seems to be a real struggle for all of us.
It is very easy to get lost unless we figure out this guiding objective. A=
t the same time, we all need to be alert to the magic of an unexpected rele=
vent tangent that fires up the whole discussion.
We complemented Homer's Civil War drawings with music of the time period an=
d a letter written by Sullivan Ballou, a major in the 2nd Rhode Island volu=
nteers. This letter was to his wife, whom he never saw again as he was ki=
lled a week later at the Battle of Bull Run. The letter and the music is f=
rom the PBS series on the Civil War.
The interdisciplinary connections seem obvious,ie. write a letter to someon=
e you love, research the Battle of Bull Run, who were the Rhode Island vol=
unteers, where is Rhode Island or Bull Run, How did Homer's field drawings =
get from the battlefield to the pages of a magazine, and on and on.=20
The thread that laces these different subject areas together in a cohesive =
manner, is the class-created timeline.
It would contain the images, events and developments that were concurrent a=
t selected points in time for each of the subject areas being studied. =20
We have used the theme of AMERICAN IDENTITY with 5th grade classroom teach=
ers. THIER goal was to amplify the study of the Civil War with art. OUR g=
oal was to assist them by using a DBAE approach with Harper's Weekly illus=
trations by Winslow Homer. All fifth grades have a set of six reproduced H=
arper's Weekly pages in their school. We would love to use this as a beg=
inning to organize a study of 19th century art in America, however art in =
our elementary schools is most often used as an integrative tool. We try t=
o get the art component of an integrated lesson to be given the same valu=
e as the other subject areas. While classroom teachers can fly with the DB=
AE component of art history/culture, and are willing to learn to facilitate=
critical viewing and aesthetic questions, a meaningful art production stop=
s them cold. It is at this point especially, that a certified art resource=
person is crucial, because while the theme of AMERICAN IDENTITY has been e=
xplored and amplified, the soulful act of making art, has not. It is o=
ur greatest frustration.
Just for your info, the art production we did with the teachers was develop=
ed around the variety of ways that stars and stripes have been used as the =
symbol of America. We compared the stars and stripes in Winslow Homer's d=
rawings to the flag paintings of Jasper Johns and the commericial use of s=
tars and stripes during this year's presidential campaign. Each teacher di=
d several original sketches using the repetition of stars and stripes. One=
was selected and transferred to an EZ CUT BLOCK. These were printed indiv=
idually and as a class flag.
As always, the teachers loved this experience, but few will replicate it wi=
th their students.
All schools need art teachers=21
Linda and Mary
Tempe School District =233
=22Putting Kids First=22