Sunday, March 20, 2011

Progressive Education?

To reflect on my own general art education would not be fair to the educational system as a whole, but it seems that no measures were taken, in my rural setting, to help develop an understanding of the elements of the discipline. The teacher-figure did not serve as “a sympathetic listener and guide who won the children’s confidence and learned from them, while encouraging them to discover and express the principles of each subject” (Stankiewicz, 34), instead it was a constant struggle to find a socially acceptable outlet for my perceptive, introverted, intuitive need for expression.
            When art classes were afforded to be included in the elementary curriculum (I only remember an art teacher in the fourth grade and in high school), the ‘how’ or ‘why’ we were creating a project was not discussed, only the process to achieve something that somewhat resembled the art teacher’s model. By the time high school art classes were offered, the only way to fit ‘inner passion’ into my schedule was through independent study classes offered in the teacher’s preparation time. There, the teacher served as guide, but did not influence my thoughts beyond the theme of the project that was to be achieved.
John Dewey would more than likely describe my experience as a failure to educate the spirit of the individual, from an institutional reference. My education was no more a combination of the traditional as it was the progressive mode of an art educational experience. Neither was I educated in the “stimulation of the child’s powers by the demands of the social situations in which he finds himself”, nor was I instructed in knowing “what it’s end, use, or function” (The School Journal, 77) was.
As an educator myself, I have striven to give my students a freedom of expression with the materials, discussing the elements of art, historical figures and their significance to our culture, while relating projects to other disciplines such as math, science, and writing. This gave them the confidence to tackle vast subject matter with an excitement was that contagious, something that was not awakened in me until much later in life, taken out of the “passive, receptive, or absorbing attitude” (The School Journal, 78) and into the curiosity that is present in the making of art, based on principles of knowledge.
In his pedagogic creed, Dewey is fervent in his opinion that “education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform,” speaking not only of art education, but the institution as a whole. So, where in the last century and a half has the institution served the individual, to “prepare him for the future life…to give him command of himself”? (The School Journal, 77) It is possible, I admit, that my experience was a fluke, a mere slip in not peaking my interest, to develop those inert abilities. But, I would also wager to guess that I was not alone on the road of preconceived ideas of what society wants so desperately to stifle: creativity.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Progressive Art Revolution Through Technology?

All forms of technological advances over the course of history, from the written text of demonstrative books to the now prevalent white boards and Internet, have been established by innovative, creative minds who wanted to help instill an elevated culture in future generations, adequate social morals and values and to make knowledge more readily available. An educational revolution, like that of the early twentieth century may well be at hand.
“Progressive reformers believed that Americans had a social responsibility to change traditional patterns of behavior into patterns that were both conducive to regular work and tolerant of the accompanying boredom.” (Stankiewicz, 69) Today’s thrust into the modern world of visual over-stimulus could not only aide the art educator’s relation of cultural history, design methods, appreciation and color theory, but can also lend to an evolution of change by keeping students interested. “Access to images made possible by computers and the Internet” (Stankiewicz, 114) could serve as models but, time may be the greatest factor in holding most of these teachers back from exploring this avenue in its fullest capacity.
Many, if not all, arts programs are set on the back burners of our educational systems, the first to be cut when the budget is tight, therefore programs exist in time frames of half hour periods, once a week, if not once a month, which creates “a failure” for art educators “to use this great result of modern enterprise as a factor in the mental and spiritual training of the youth of today.” (Stankeiwicz, 107)
Institutions, agencies, publications and others that aid in the education process for the importance of the arts, like that of Davis Art, the publisher of School Arts magazine, established in 1901,, have been leading the way to create an ideal environment for learning and expressing through use of written word, pictures and also audio presentations. “Early twentieth-century…school art” once “emerged as a series of simplified projects, often lacking in content,” (Stankiewicz, 81) which may be another reason technology is oft not included into an arts discipline. While teachers will argue that there is not time enough in a class period, there is still time enough to demonstrate with it, because the school should be seen as “a repository of ‘the fading culture of the past’ as well as an active agent of the present.” (Stankiewicz, 79-80)
            Are art educators speaking against educating to our consumerist conformity through the non-use of this media “a stereotyped, frivolous incursion on the real work of art learning…the rise of consumer values” (Stankiewicz, 67-68), trying to remain true to the original voice of the aesthetics of the arts as a hand-eye visual media? As it is in business, immediate results can not be expected when an idea is conceived, a product is introduced or a theory of practice released, neither can this question expect a quick answer. The discipline can only strive forward toward the future as anything else, using the tools possessed, to the best knowledge, with the time allowed.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Industry and Arts Education

For more than a century, the arts have served as creative innovator to the world of education related to U.S. industry and career development. The drastic move of the economy from an industrialized nation to that of a technological workforce has made interlocutors, interested educational restructuring to benefit future productive citizens, re-evaluate the values present in our quickly changing world.
            Leading educators have penned and voiced their concern for more than two decades regarding the inadequate education that a newly materialized, No Child Left Behind strategy forces upon our students, to memorize and regurgitate uninteresting information, to follow an instructor’s directions and not ask questions. What has been lacking through the initiation of such programs, that of creative thought, has led to a further plummet in the achievement gap, a loss of interest from America’s most able-bodied and potential workforce, our children.
            “If the child is prevented from enjoying these experiences…the special sensitivity which draws them to them will vanish, with disturbing effects,” (Crain, 1949) once stated psychologist Maria Montessori. And while she was, at the time, denoting children of elementary age, this also rings true for individuals of all ages who have not been allowed to explore their guttural interests, to express and find their inner voice, to ultimately lead them to become more productive, thoughtful, well-rounded citizens.
            While the emphasis on drawing was once thought to be “needed for intellectual, moral, and economic reasons…that seeing correctly required trained powers of perception and visual discrimination”, the same holds true in today’s world of mass communication and video games. Whereas schools used to invigorate and encourage “student self interest and self-confidence” (Stankiewicz 10,12), the technology market outside of the classroom has now engaged them, teaching faster than an educator can keep up and that is where a vested interest must take place between the school setting and the economy.
            A myriad of educational institutions and business professionals have recently joined the conversation, creating partnerships with local high schools to provide internship and tech prep opportunities for those interested in pursuing college majors/careers in the arts (The FIT Tech Prep Program, established in 1991), provided on-the-job training with working art professionals (Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard & Nantucket School-to-Careers Art Internship Program), created opportunities for self-interested, tech-savvy students to engage in the instructional content (Academic Earth video courses) lending their voice to the discussion of  “which skills are lacking and what can be done to address this change.” (Help Wanted: Workforce Development & The New Economy)
What was once a truth in favor of an arts education over one hundred years ago, can still serve as “a means to counteract the loss of human dignity” (Stankiewicz, 46-48) that prevails in the present day society of school-aged children. The only obstacle remains in gaining enough interlocutors, from the business sector and concerned individuals alike, to voice their stance and participate in the reformation process of our educational system. The process has begun, but how long will it be before it takes complete hold?