Monday, March 26, 2012

The Art of Small Actions

Every day that we draw breath, as we walk this Earth, our surroundings and ideas change all around us with the energy of life. In our students’ lives, as well as our own, we are exposed to an assortment of actions that, in turn, have reactionary effects, no matter our background status. Children learn this reality as their lives are growing and taking shape, influenced by the world around them. Our classrooms should not ignore the contemporary issues that they face each and every day, but embrace them (whatever they are) and learn how to engage in and continue growing through whatever influences their every life. We, as educators need to help them foster the idea that even in small actions, when combined with other small actions, great possibilities can occur as an end result.
    Students who are faced with issues such as crime in their neighborhoods, domestic violence and/or drug abuse, or are simply bombarded with the vast ‘pop culture’ media of our age, sometimes do not understand how to interpret these ideas, to change them, to question the morality or truths that they posses. By questioning the student’s knowledge of the world around them and incorporating these ideas into lesson plans of a greater thematic idea, of suffering and pain or rites of passage, educators will help to make the information that the students are learning more relevant, more meaningful and easier to translate and then communicate.
Students need to be helped to realize that their confusion in understanding these ‘facts of life’, that they go through in an every day-in-the-life, are the some of the very same enduring ideas and themes that many artists, writers, musicians and thespians have attempted to communicate and have struggled with as well. When educators take on a thematic approach, that of teaching to those enduring ideas, with the lessons that they teach, the contemporary issues that students deal with daily, from the culture that surrounds them, students will gain a vast understanding of how to deal with those contemporary issues.
Teaching from a thematic approach will encourage students to think deeply and compare their lives to those of the subject they are identifying with. However, this is unlike an issues-based curriculum, where the contemporary issues they face are the basis for instruction. A thematic approach will prove to help students to become more sympathetic to those enduring ideas and find ways to convey and identify with the reasons why they are lasting experiences across the history of human kind and how they have affected their lives at present, Instead of dwelling on the issues at hand, they will survey the topic and then relate it to their lives.
If placed properly throughout the curriculum, contemporary ideas, when paired with enduring themes, can serve the classroom environment as an engagement tool, a motivational tool, a jumping off point to the greater, more heart-felt meanings that lay beyond the subject matter that they are studying. For, “it is important that children imagine and work to realize the possibilities of a world that values other than material possessions and cultural practices that disrespect and destroy.” (Guay, 313) They will come to realize that cultural issues and moral values, beliefs and conflicts throughout history have not changed, but the commentary on these themes and how others have dealt with them have. To bridge this gap from their social lives to the classroom will not hinder them, but bring them closer to being able to carefully and critically analyze their every day choices in cause and effect.

Contemporary Issues in Art Education; Yvonne Gaudelius, Peg Speirs; Prentice Hall; Upper Saddle River, New Jersey 07458; 2002

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