Monday, April 18, 2011

Elizabeth Willett and the DBAE

           Educational leader, historian, innovator, newsletter editor, collaborator, curriculum and grant writer, ecologist, mathematician, and philanthropist are only a few of the many vibrant fibers Elizabeth Willett, weaves into her fabric of everyday life in and outside of her career as professional art enthusiast at Oakhurst Elementary School in Lubbock, Texas.
In her eleventh year of teaching, Willett’s pedagogy is a reflection of those many strands, weaving the student’s minds through what would be deemed a discipline-based art education (DBAE) program at its finest. Leading by doing, her voice in the community and surrounding state of Texas carries a modest tone, but her firm stance, presence and partnership with vital arts organizations (district trainer and curriculum writer for Binney and Smith/Crayola Dream Makers Program and newsletter editor and treasurer-elect for the Texas Art Education Association to name a couple), convey that the arts play an essential role in the every day, that the spice of life comes from the experience, the expression, and not being afraid to question and dream.
A qualitative approach that very much mirrors the California Visual Arts Standards and that of the DBAE, Willett helps and allows her students to view, process the information, analyze it and respond to it with a language that they are familiar with, encouraging the Spanish speaking children to respond in their native tongue (CA Standard 1). She helps them to make connections to relevant mathematics and language, producing a visual connection to the world around them through discussion and visualization of the work of the artist and that of their own work, creating figurative examples similar, but related to their own lives (CA Standards 2, 4 and 5) while raising funds to create projects and plan trips that will allow her students to grow universally as well as culturally (CA Standards 3 and 6).
Holding with a formal structure of delivery paired with an underlying positive reinforcement at every moment of exchange, her classroom and the subject of study, discussion and implementation of the product of art produced, integrates many other disciplines into the threads of her fabric of leading. Tapping into her students’ multiple intelligences, modeling the way, and encouraging her students to think more deeply about community, world and self, that every discipline is interwoven and more easily understood if explored through the arts, helps to produce students with no discipline problems, only interested, excited participants.
The benefits of a program such as hers values the individual voice within the student while coupled with the views of others throughout history as well as those sitting directly to their left, that having a voice is acceptable. The drawbacks are few, given that her passion for the arts is evident and dyes the threads of the fabric that is designed into each extra curricular role that she takes on. Ringing true with the voice of Elliot Eisner, Willett’s art program exemplifies and champions that “arts are fundamental resources through which the world is viewed, meaning is created and the mind developed.”

Monday, April 4, 2011

Education for a Democratic Society

The John Dewey model of Progressive Education, of social justice that is vital to a democratic society, promoting critical thinking, creativity and self-direction in modes of acquiring knowledge and the interest in continuing to do so throughout one’s life, the “group consciousness”, a holistic effort, should be the primary thrust of education. To emphasize “the teacher’s role…should…encourage each child to develop intellectually, emotionally, physically, perceptually, aesthetically, socially, and creatively through art-making” (Stankiewicz, 38), as stated by Viktor Lowenfeld, or rather to develop the whole person and “promote values that transcend the boundaries of the art lesson” (Children and Their Art: Methods for the Elementary School, 1982, section eight) and explore how this will contribute to a wholesome society, giving meaning to this life.
            To understand the meaning, to break it down, would be to open up a cosmic truth that is so evident and rudimentary that we can only guess at why it could not be seen when it is plain as the nose of our faces. Creativity and curiosity of how things work, why they work the way that they do, and the expression of how things could be made better is an innate, divine if you will, trait that every person is born with. To be able to explore something on a structured level, to question why it is so freely and without ridicule, to understand that there is “no such thing as a noncreative person,” (session 5) opens up the individual to a myriad of potential answers to any query and continues to make their life worthy of the trip. To not foster the child-like attributes of such is to help an individual in society lead an unfulfilling life.
            What this means for art education, or education in general is a recognition of the split between being educated and learning. What Dewey and his contemporaries understood and believed in is of the latter, that the individual must be engaged and interested in what they are learning in order to retain and transfer this knowledge throughout the rest of their livelihoods as people. Their intent was to create a basis for the education of the learner through incorporation of and a balance between the delivery of the knowledge and fuse it with the interests and experiences of the student, no matter how vast, because their voice was unique to them alone and their motivation imperative to their future as innovators and contributors to a common societal growth.
            For progressive education to work, educators must be able to see each individual tree, plainly in front of them, contemplating their contribution to the vastness of its diversifying grandeur that makes up the forest. They must first examine the bark and leaves, roots, shoots and branches (qualities) that make each (student) unique and incorporate this knowledge into the understanding of how this balance of individual differences (character and background), through meaningful structure and guidance, fosters expression and creativity that strengthens the whole community through the self-motivated discovery.