May 1, 2006
Art Education Advocacy/Wildcard Blog
I recently attended a seminar sponsored by the PAEA (Pennsylvania Art Education Assoc.) hosted at Mt. Lebanon High School. The discussion quickly turned to the importance of advocacy to keep the arts in school, and an elementary art teacher from Mt. Lebo expressed her dismay at the recent school board agenda item to consider cut music programs. Mt. Lebo is arguably one of the most affluent communities surrounding Pittsburgh, but as she explained, 70-75% of the taxpayer base doesn’t have school-age children and would probably resist/resent any tax increase in lieu of program cuts.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in working toward PA Teacher Certification in Art Education, it’s that any art educator must have a ready stockade of replies to the inevitable: “Art is a nice rest from the important subjects” or “Art Education is a luxury, not a necessity,” and in the age of NCLB, “If it's not on the test, we don't have time to teach it!” My family is making huge sacrifices for me to attend school, even though there is absolutely no guarantee of a job, or at best, a job that pays a fraction of the salary I previously earned, while constant justification and advocacy will predictably consume any spare moment. Why would an otherwise sane person make such a decision? The simple answer is that in order to develop the next generation into creative thinkers, young people need art and need to know that artful activities are important to adults. There are undoubtedly many students who find special release in art class, and even for those whose interests lie elsewhere, fostering an appreciation of creative processes will be important in their growth toward successful adulthood.
What the arts do not need are mush-minded rantings that bid the taxpayer against teachers and teachers against the government, like that as recently published by Alain Jehlen in NEA (National Education Association) Today. The article focuses more on the threat to social studies and science, but can be applied to what is occurring in art education as well. This article begins with “The so-called No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which has introduced children to the joys of bubble sheets, comes up for renewal in September 2007.” First, is Ms. Jehlen alleging that the NCLB act is something imaginary by writing “so-called?” If so, why doesn’t she just ignore it? Perhaps she should take Dr. Jerz’s EL 267 class and learn to write what she means!
Secondly, her feeble affectations are insulting. She quotes a high-ranking NEA official as saying: “At the ESP conference, a custodian actually started crying while describing what’s happening to some of his teacher-colleagues” and continues with “He said students are so upset that they’re blaming their teachers for having to take all these tests and deciding to punish the teachers by refusing to answer the questions.” Puuuhhhleeeeze! Didn’t this official have anything better to offer? As a mother of three very bright children, I can manipulate with the best of ‘em, and wasn’t exactly moved to tears by someone whining about actually having to earn their paycheck. There comes a time when (say, about 11th grade) the student is going to suffer some pretty serious consequences (i.e., not graduating, repeating a grade, settling for a minimum wage job, etc.) if they don’t lose the attitude and take responsibility for their actions, including test results. Any teacher worth their salary would be expected to make this crystal-clear.
To her credit, Jehlen offers the reader a link to NEA website where they can weigh in on the issue. The NCLB Act renewal will undoubtedly be THE hot topic in education in 2007 (just when I’m about to graduate), and there appear to be hundreds of organizations that will hopefully have their say in something that will affect public education as deeply.
The NAEA (National Art Education Association) has recently sent an electronic newsletter which indicates that “One third of school districts reported reducing time for social studies ‘somewhat or to a greater extent’ to make time for reading and math, while 29% said they had reduced time for science and 22% for art and music.” Another alleges a “20% reduction in programs in the arts with these proportions higher in urban and rural schools and schools serving heterogeneous groups…” Teachers of all subjects, not only the ones in jeopardy, are going to have to band together and remember the best interests of their students when this significant law soon comes up for renewal.
An integral arts curriculum has been shown to improve standardized test scores (NEA/OMG Study), better prepares students for the workplace by teaching judgment skills in a safe environment and enables students with different learning styles to find special expression. If the arts are integrated with seemingly disparate subjects like math or reading, students make connections and true education takes place.
There are so many dedicated art teachers whose work makes huge differences in the lives of their students. Some excellent resources include the Incredible @rtDepartment’s advocacy page, Elliot Eisner’s The Arts and the Creation of the Mind, and Americans for the Arts, where anyone can get involved in keeping art programs viable.
When I started classes to obtain teacher certification, I had no idea that so much of my efforts will by necessity be focused on art advocacy. I am ready to join those who have “been on the front lines” to help ensure that a free, appropriate public education includes a solid art program.
Jehlen, Alain. "Moving Beyond NCLB." NEA Today 24.8 (May 2006): 16.
Posted by BrendaChristeleit at May 1, 2006 2:43 PM