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Lesson Plans

Problems for DBAE (was RE: Feldman's Art Criticism)

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Robert Alexander Fromme (rfromme)
Sun, 18 May 1997 11:16:46 -0600

At 08:36 PM 3/29/97 +0800, ltmg asked: "what are some of the
problems associated with Discipline-Based Art Education?"

Wow!, this question is the sort of thing that will put one on the spot and I
hesitate to find fault with a very positive force in contemporary art
education. For many of us, DBAE has emerged as one of the most solid
approaches to our subject. Unfortunately, some of the educational
situations which exist in the US and in other parts of the world are
difficult teaching assignments where every approach may well end with the
teachers and administrators feeling as if we have fallen short of their
goals. Recently, I have found myself thinking about DBAE as a potential
approach to difficult art teaching assignments. I would like to share my
thoughts in hopes of prompting others to contribute their experience and
expertise on the subject. First, however, we need to review some very basic
information on DBAE.

According to the Getty Education Institute for the Arts, "Discipline-based
art education is a comprehensive approach to art education that takes
advantage of art's special power to educate.." It has been developed to
provide a more " holistic, comprehensive, and multifaceted approach" to art
education. Those who support it believe that the visual arts should be an
essential part of every child's education. They are involved in this
approach to integrate content from four pursuits that contribute to art
creation, understanding, and appreciation.. The disciplines provide
knowledge, skills, and understandings that yield learning through art
production, criticism, history; and aesthetics. In the lessons, examples
are drawn from traditional Fine Arts and from "fine," applied, craft, and
folk arts from around the world.

The Getty Education Institute for the Arts also points out that, although
there are Discipline-Based Art Education curricula, DBAE is not a
curriculum. It exists in many forms to meet the needs of the populace it
serves. Even with a diffused curriculum all versions of DBAE have certain
aspects in common. Included in these shared facets is the idea that art
should be presented as a subject within general education and it requires
a written and sequentially organized curriculum where substance is drawn
from art production, criticism, history and aesthetics. This teaching should
produce understanding and skills that can be evaluated. The strategy is
administered district-wide with administrative and community backing. It
includes time and material resources, staff development, and provisions
for the appraisal of students, teachers, and the status of the program.

As an art educator I feel that DBAE offers a logical approach to the
subject and it has the potential to be very effective in the schools and
community where it is established and supported. However, its convictions
seem to be more of an " ideal" rather then something born of the real world
where my colleagues and I find ourselves working. Here are a few of my
observations and concerns regarding DBAE in the real world:

(1.) Discipline-Based Art Education requires community and administrative
commitment. The community and administrative commitment is not always
available for art educators and their students.
(2.) DBAE requires time for its original organization, implementation and
continued assessment. Time is not always available to educators and
(3.) DBAE requires financial support for its organization, staff
development, increased staffing demands, learning resources, and art
supplies. These financial resources are not always available.
(4.) DBAE requires a fairly broad-minded cultural environment where the
diversity (revolution and change in contemporary art making, in art
history, in various ethnic groups and from communities distributed around
the world) can be seen as acceptable and valid course content. Broad-minded
populations do not always inhabit the communities surrounding our schools..

In order to be a bit more specific, we can look at some situations and
experiences where DBAE has had difficulty.

(1.) The matter of community and administrative support required for
implementation of DBAE hits very close to home. I teach in a small school
district where the visual arts are seen as elective experiences for
students. We are not large enough to support an Arts Administrator on the
district level and although I am a classroom teacher, I am also expected to
coordinate any district wide art activities. Only minimal requirements for
art have been built into the state (Texas) guidelines. These specific visual
art requirements are applied to elementary and middle grades.

The way this all untangles in the elementary schools of our district is that
students have a little art or craft making experience as part of an
occasional art lesson presented by their regular classroom teachers.
Sometimes their projects combine art related construction with another
subject. Our elementary teachers are expected to be able to teach a wide
range of core subjects and their formal training in the visual arts is quite
limited. The art making which is presented in the elementary classes takes
place in the regular teaching classroom where tools, mess and behavioral
concerns often restrict the type and number of art lessons which are
presented. The elementary students seldom experience anything related to
criticism, history; and aesthetics since the teachers have little training
in this area, they have limited ancillary visuals and they do not have a
dedicated art textbook to help in their lesson planning and curriculum.

In the middle school, 6th grade students are expected to have two semesters
of theater, music or visual art training according to our State guidelines.
In the 7th and 8th grades, visual art classes are included in the curriculum
as electives. Art supplies, tools, textbooks and ancillary materials are
available for our middle schools. Although, the majority of the lessons
involve art production, some effort is devoted to issues of art criticism,
history; and aesthetics . In the middle school, the visual arts program
involves a specific learning environment and extensive supplies for student
projects. Our two middle school art teachers have been trained in art
education and have a wealth of experience in the field. They are given some
freedom to build, amplify, and change their course content as needed. They
are expected to work with classes averaging from 28 to 30 students.

Art is not a required subject for high school students in our district and
the students who take art classes are choosing those classes from an
assortment of electives including music, dance, foreign language, and
computer related courses. Courses in our electives department compete for
students with physical education and a host of other courses, such as,
auto shop, electronics and small engine repair. Our students have a
variety of choices which are not part of the core curriculum but which
offer them experiences beyond the required basics of math, science,
literature and social studies.

We are an ethnically mixed population including substantial numbers of
Mexican-American, African-American and Anglo-Americans in our district.
Many of our students come from homes where the income is near or below
poverty levels. A substantial number of our art students have been
identified as individuals with special educational needs. Several of my
current high school art students read at a 3rd grade level. Art classes are
also targeted as testing ground for students who have had serious behavioral
problems in their past but who are wanting to try to return to normal
classroom learning situations. Some of our students are affiliated with
gangs in the community and refuse to get involved with any of their classes
because it will appear to their "homeboys" that they are "selling out" or "
buying into the system".

We are on the block schedule and each semester, students come late into the
classes from another school system (which is not on the block schedule) and
they have no chance of passing the course with a credit for their time and
effort. . Other students will not be given credit even if they are
outstanding as art students because they have very poor attendance. Other
students enter or return to our classes in mid semester after incarceration
in youth facilities or after extended hospital stays. In each case, the
students will be expected to attend their assigned classes until the end of
the semester while knowing that they will not be granted credit for any work
that they accomplish. .

So, in the minds of our community and our administration, the role of the
art program is varied. Our classes are to add another dimension to elective
choices offered in addition to the core (critical) learning of the
educational system. Since we compete with other elective classes for the
better students we must make the course fun, interesting, and productive,
but it can not be too demanding of their limited homework time.

For the substantial number of students with special needs (with reading
difficulty, with limited attention spans, or with other mental, physical, or
psychological hardships) we must alter and individualize their learning and
we can not expect the majority of the course content to be developed around
a heavy concentration of art criticism, history; and aesthetics where
extensive reading and writing are will be required as part of the lessons
and as part of the assessment of their learning.

For the students with no hope of credit who have transferred into the class
from another school, from the juvenile detention center or from the
hospital, and for those who have an attendance problem, we must try to
motivate and engage them in order to keep their time in our class from
turning into something akin to incarceration.

For the little "gangsters", we must tolerate their presence as long as their
behavior is not disruptive to the learning of the majority of our students.
We must continually attempt to motivate and engage these kids in hopes that
they will eventually "buy into our art room learning".

So, when Discipline-Based Art Education must have community and
administrative support for its implementation, we will have a very difficult
time getting it established in our district where those who teach the
elective courses such as art are expected to provide a variety of social
services for the institution . I fear that DBAE will have difficulty as an
approach to real world art education in many U.S. communities like ours
where all children are required to attend school until a certain age without
regard for their lack of motivation and lack of interest in learning.

DBAE will also have a very difficult time getting established. where
traditional logic in many communities continues to place a priority on a
core body of learning (math, science, language, history, etc) while art and
other enriching experiences are elective and involve the democracy of choice.

(2.) When the community and the school administration are supportive of
Discipline-Based Art Education the changes which must be made within the
district will require substantial time for organization and for
implementation of this approach to art education. If and when DBAE is set
in place, substantial additional time will be required for the continued
assessment of the students, the faculty, and the administrators as required
by this approach. For most of us in education, our responsibilities are
quite demanding. Additional time for implementing catastrophic change and
extensive levels of assessment are not always available.

(3.) DBAE requires financial support for its organization, staff
development, increased staffing demands, learning resources, and art
supplies. Again, using my district as an example, nearly all of our
elementary teachers in each of our five elementary locations would need to
attend DBAE training or we would be required to hire additional, trained art
educators to handle the volume of children in our elementary schools. In
addition, extensive funds would need to be allocated for texts, lesson
guides, and to build sufficient functional ancillary materials.
Administrators and teachers in all levels of our district would be expected
to attend staff development on DBAE and on its operation and assessment.
In many communities, the additional financial resources are not always

I remember reading an email conversation ( dabssw: "DBAE in
Hong Kong") recently. In that conversation problems with DBAE in other
countries were brought to light. In the discussion, an educator had been
giving a workshop on DBAE to certified secondary and primary school
teachers there. After talking to the teachers in Hong Kong, the educator was
quite frustrated. She had been informed that, although their government was
considering the implementation of DBAE in their curriculum, there seemed to
be little financial support for the schools and especially not for art. She
was wondering how the teachers could buy all the visuals they would need and
she had noted that access to museums was also limited. She was concerned
that they may have difficulty finding and arranging to have artists visit
and share information about their work with students in schools. DBAE, must
face the reality that financial resources are not always available.

(4.) DBAE requires a fairly broad-minded cultural environment where the
diversity of revolution and change in contemporary art making, in art
history, from various ethnic groups and from communities distributed around
the world can be seen as acceptable and valid course content.

While reading the previous email conversation about DBAE in Hong Kong I
found myself thinking about another problem for this approach to learning.
DBAE seems to have been born of the educational climate of the United States
in the late 1960s . For Feldman, art classrooms in that time and place had
been "student centered" where individuals were encouraged to experiment
with materials and to explore creative freedom, developing and expressing
individual thought. They were aware of the variety of art activity from the
late 1800s and early 1900s in Europe and they had seen abstract
expressionism, Pop, Op, acrylic paints, raku, etc.. New ideas from other
part of the world were frequently embraced and respected for the potential
fresh insight which they could provide to the artist and student.

However, there are other places in our wold where teaching and learning are
not as accepting of the great variety of artifacts from global cultural
diversity. There are other communities in our world where education does
not involve student discussion and the exchange of individual ideas.

I mentioned the earlier e-mail about DBAE in Hong Kong and I can use another
part of the communication as an example to illustrate my present point. The
individual giving the workshop in Hong Kong had also discovered additional
problems for the DBAE approach which related to the traditional methods of
teaching in Hong Kong. There the teacher is the ultimate resource and the
esteemed model for the students. (Alas, how many teachers in the U.S. would
love to have this respect from their students? ) According to the message,
the children in Hong Kong are not experienced or encouraged to ask many
questions. In that culture, their traditional method of teaching keeps
discussion to a minimum. There, the traditional curriculum was highly
structured and each subject held its own criteria. Learning seemed to
involve subjects with boundaries and seldom involved lessons developed
across the curriculum.

I began this response to your letter saying that I would hesitate to find
fault with a very positive force in contemporary art education. I feel
that DBAE has emerge as one of the most solid approaches to our subject.
However, in the real world, it serves for many of us as an ideal rather then
as a reality. It has challenges which involve community support, time,
finances and cultural traditions which must be overcome before it can be
extensively applied. Yet, even without the complete organized approach,
Discipline-Based Art Education has encouraged many of us to include within
our lessons attention to art criticism, history; and aesthetics, in
addition to art production. Perhaps the most powerful contribution of DBAE
is the value which it has placed on art from many cultures and from our
global ethnic diversity. It is a positive force for a better world even if
it may face some very difficult problems in the real world of art education.

Bob Fromme

  • Maybe reply: Rosa Juliusdottir: "Re: Problems for DBAE (was RE: Feldman's Art Criticism)"