Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The importance of art education (part 1)

I was recently asked to write about why art education. This post originally appeared on the blog called "Keep Forever Box."  Here's what I came up with: 

“Well with all the cuts in education, you must understand why the art teacher has to give up her room for a regular classroom teacher. It’s just common sense, right? Some things are more important than others”

A family member spoke these words to me years ago. He meant well, but it shocked me. You see, I am an artist, a perpetual art student and an art teacher in the public schools of North Carolina. In the few years that I’ve been teaching, my position has been cut or threatened many times, regardless of how great I am at my job. I have worked in a trailer with no sink where I carried in my own water for students to wash their hands. That’s hard when you have hundreds of students a week. I have pulled together amazing projects with a budget of less than 15 cents per student. I fundraise on nights and weekends so I can purchase good supplies for my students. I have also been repeatedly belittled through administrators' decisions about the value of my subject and I have lost weeks of precious planning time so that I could administer reading fluency tests that provided little to no meaningful data, even to the reading teachers. Appreciation is not a major part of this job. Sometimes my own family fails to understand the value of the services I provide.

Here’s why I still do it.
Art is not a sideline subject. Every single day, I hear parents, teachers, and administrators talk about the 21stcentury skills that they want our children to have. We want a workforce full of people who can think for themselves, troubleshoot, collaborate, problem solve, and clearly communicate their ideas. We want them to be persistent and overcome mistakes. We want them to be flexible and successful members of our society within an ever-changing working environment. We also want them to be tolerant of others beliefs and values, especially when they differ from our own. We want Steve Jobs reincarnate, only better, kinder and more socially adjusted. With today’s strict assessment techniques and test-taking government mandates, I firmly believe art class is perhaps the only subject that can still get us there. Here’s why.

A Day in Art Class
Every day in art class, I give my students a problem to solve. I propose an idea, or a challenge, and students typically work together in small groups to create a solution. Their process involves critical thinking (how do we do this?), collaboration (working with a group at their table), creativity (non-linear and often clever thought processes to come up with a solution with limited supplies) and communication (both while working in their team and to present results or communicate an idea to others through an end product).

In terms of Bloom’s Taxonomy, a common educational reference about higher order thinking, creating is right there at the top of cognitive ability. Memorizing facts for multiple choice tests… well, that’s the lowest level of learning and typically is meaningless in the long run. In terms of real life, art class teaches skills that apply directly to success in any job.

There’s a quote from Pinterest I love that says, “Art has the role in education of helping children become like themselves instead of more like everyone else. ” I don’t know who said it, but it rings true every time. There are many different kinds of learning abilities and different styles of leadership, but in art class, each and every student can find an opportunity to shine… to build self-esteem, confidence and to be proud of their accomplishments. Art class isn’t just about allowing students to express themselvesArt class is about modeling and practicing skills that will help children throughout their lives. These skills of collaboration, communication, critical thinking and creativity will help them build stronger marriages and raise happier children. It will help them secure their dreams in the work force and it will help them survive, overcome and thrive as they face difficult times or decisions.

We didn’t get to the moon with reading, writing, arithmetic, and multiple-choice tests alone. American ingenuity, creativity, persistence, and problem solving got us there. These are the exact skills that children practice in my art class every day.