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Lesson Plans


art ed biases (sorry - very long)

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EILEEN PRINCE (eprinc1)
Sat, 26 Oct 1996 12:15:56 -0500 (CDT)


Before I reply to Tommye Scanlin's question about the perception of art ed.
majors, etc., I'd like to applaud Carolyn's remarks about teaching drawing.
I, too, use a wide variety of teaching methods - contour, gesture,
perspective, simplification, etc. - to get my kids to "see". I serve on a
personnel committee for another private school and we recently interviewed a
teacher with the following philosophy in her portfolio: "I teach children,
not methods. I don't support any one approach, I do whatever it takes."
Those were the sentiments, if not the exact words. (We hired her.) One of
the things I love about this group is that most of us seem willing to try
anything that will help our kids succeed. The other comments about drawing
were terrific as well - and that leads me, in a strange way, into my answer
to Tommye.
Yes, I do feel that art teachers are looked down upon, not only by the
faculties in college art programs, (Steve Mannheimer's column last summer is
a perfect case in point) but by society in general. I used to "do" art more
than I do now. I had four one-woman shows which were well-received by the
critics. But I truly consider myself a teacher, not an artist. I tend to
find myself receiving different reactions from people I meet socially,
depending upon whether the person introducing me describes me as an "artist"
or an "art teacher". I think Kit Eakle made some very perceptive points in
response to Tommye's question, and I agree with them. But at the risk of
causing a "flame" of gigantic proportions, I would like to offer another
possibility: a lot of the art teachers out there are really bad.
When I address a group of adults, I often begin by asking how many of them
studied art in grade school. Most of the hands will go up. Then I ask,
"How many of you are still using something you learned in those classes
today? A skill, an attitude, a bit of knowledge?" If one hand goes up,
it's amazing. If I asked the same question about math or English and got
that response!!! Don't judge all art teachers by the yardstick of this
group or the people you meet at NAEA conventions or Getty Seminars. I know
this sounds incredibly snobbish, but we all know it is true. I used to
think that the "bad" art teachers were a generational phenomenon, and that
since we now know so much more from Getty and NAEA and Gardiner and Eisner,
etc., they didn't exist any more. I was wrong. On that committee I
mentioned earlier, I am ALWAYS at any meeting called to interview
prospective art teachers. I don't know where these people are being
trained, but the candidates are almost always pathetic. Most of the stuff
you guys take for granted: knowledge of art history, aesthetics, criticism -
not to mention creative ways of teaching studio classes - is foreign to
them. Whatever your views on DBAE, if I asked you what it WAS, you would at
least know a little bit about it. I still have parents tell me stories of
art teachers who have every third-grader make the same cookie-cutter pumpkin
at Halloween. (And talk about critique horror stories, a former student
visited me last week and told me of his high school teacher who tears up any
drawing she doesn't like.) The parents at my school are always astonished by
the stuff we do in art and music. We do incredible stuff in science and
Language Arts and all the other subjects as well, but they are not as amazed
because somewhere along the way, each one of them encountered other good
programs in those fields. Their appreciation of my program, while
flattering, says less about what I am doing than it does about what other
art teachers are NOT doing. And I understand their view, because I NEVER saw
a music program like the one at Sycamore.
Just as in EVERY OTHER FIELD, there are inferior art teachers, and, while I
believe things are getting much better, and I am constantly telling
visitors, parents, etc. what great art teachers there are out there, let's
understand that most adults had the other kind. In all fairness, maybe the
lack was a result of small budgets or overwork or classroom teachers trying
to do it, but in other cases, the teacher was simply bad. And since we
don't get art on a regular basis like math or science, we have less of a
chance to correct our perception that the whole FIELD is Mickey Mouse. If I
have 12 English teachers in my pre-college career, a few may be awful, most
will be adequate, and I will probably experience at least one or two who are
wonderful. But I may be the only art teacher my students ever have. If I'm
an idiot or poorly prepared, then those students may never know what art
class could have been and later, when some equally shortchanged bureaucrat
wants to cut the funding for the arts, they won't see any reason to say him
nay. (Not that I want to put any pressure on you guys - it's just that the
entire future of arts education rests on your shoulders!) I believe Kit
raised the point that perhaps the college faculty had survived teachers who
were not encouraging. I might go a step farther and suggest they survived
just the sort of teacher I have described here, and thus their opinion of
the whole breed is skewed. Of course, as my students wrote to Mr.
Mannheimer, what they SHOULD be doing is trying to fix the problem. The art
ed. faculty should poll the fine arts faculty and find out what THEY feel
should be part of an art teacher's education. The painters and sculptors
and printmakers should be mentoring the art ed students, not making them
feel like pond scum. A jerk is a jerk, and such prejudice solves nothing.
One of my college professors was of the opinion that most people who major
in art do so IN SPITE OF their earlier art classes. It was certainly true
for me. What we need to do is make peolple aware that bad teachers of
whatever subject do not represent all of us. Any suggestions on how we do that?

Eileen Prince
Sycamore School


  • Reply: Lynn Foltz: "Re: art ed biases (sorry - very long)"