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.

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