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Lesson Plans

Re: totem poles

[ Thread ][ Subject ][ Author ][ Date ]
Thom Maltbie (tmaltbie)
Tue, 14 Oct 1997 16:23:25 -0400 (EDT)

Peggy Woolsey said:

> I know that the totem pole is a much used object of art and craft
>projects in schools, scout groups etc. But using plastic buckets, or paper
>bags somehow doesn't acknowledge the importance of the use and
>understanding of wood by the northwest coast peoples.

and Evelyn Miller said:

>Although my lessons
>connect to the classroom curriculum such as studying art and history of the
>Hopi Indians, I keep getting requests to make pilgrim hats!

(I'm sorry for clipping your posts)

Now I'm putting on my flameproof suit to ask these questions:

Aren't plastic bucket totem poles in the same boat as paper pilgrim hats?

Is the study of other cultures (or even "our" own) too complicated and
important to treat with triviality?

Do our students have a culture or are we intent on borrowing one from a
different time or place?

Where is the artmaking in this?

Peggy, thank you for your post.

I struggle as a teacher to make the history and ethnicity of art "real" for
my students without making it "plastic". I also struggle with the need to
draw out their own thoughts and beliefs through their art, as I struggle as
an artist to make a statement about myself. Can students make a statement
using their own vocabulary or should they be using the vocabulary of
another (and distant) culture? I'm not saying that we shouldn't teach art
history, but does this mean that we trivialize the beliefs and traditions
of another culture (not to mention the integrity of the materials) for the
sake of having a product?

Several years ago, I read an essay in which the writer compared life to a
house. The rooms in the house are the various stages in life, both
chronologically and spiritually. The doors, hallways, and other transitions
in the house are the rituals and rites of passage that a culture provides
to the life to emphasize the importance of growth and the difference
between the stages (rooms). Is contemporary American life a house with one
big room and no transition to ease the growing pains.

Please discuss.

Later that day . . . after having written the above, a sixth grade teacher
came to me to ask if I would spend the scheduled art time in his room where
they were working on visual presentations about Ancient Egypt. I was
impressed. He had prepared them with numerous resources and they were
well-versed in Egyptian art and culture. Most impressive was that they were
excited about doing these things. My point is . . . I couldn't have
prepared the students so well during our 45 minutes each week. When the
classroom teacher is on the ball, this kind of cooperation is easy. I do
feel comfortable acting as a resource and a consultant in this kind of

Thom Maltbie
South Ripley Elementary School - Versailles, IN 47042