Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Problem With Art Education

One of the biggest issues with art education in the schools is the need to actually look at art. Art by nature is a recording of events and emotions and images created within the context of a culture. What's acceptable to one culture is taboo in another. What's acceptable at one point in history is forbidden in another. That's the part of history that I thought everyone above the age of seven understood.

But I was wrong.

In a move reminiscent of the worst of the Nixon presidency, an elementary teacher with 28 years of service and experience is now on paid leave for the rest of the year, due to a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Now I realize that I am an art teacher and probably have had more exposure (no pun intended) to art than the average person. But I am pretty sure that even in the wilds of Frisco Texas, people are aware that in an art museum you may just see some "nekkid people". The actual term is "The Nude" and it's considered a viable genre within the categories of art history. The Greeks used the nude to symbolize the epitome of perfection and balance. The Renaissance artists used the nude to symbolize innocence or purity. Sure the nude has been made earthy and "dirty" as in "The Nude Maja" and let's don't forget those hefty dames painted by the likes of Rembrandt and Reubens. But in all honesty, do we really want to classify Bottecelli's "Venus" along with the likes of Paris Hilton? What drives art to be ART above and beyond the common reproach? And why is it that the good people of Frisco seem so ignorant of the differences?

I think it comes from two sources. First of all, within our society, and our schools, there is a movement afoot to compel schools to adhere to social behavior as ordained by specific religious teachings. I have no issue with morality. But I don't want someone coming to what is a public school and demanding that their personal religious needs be served over and above what is good for the general population. Secondly, I think some parent are so worried about child abuse that they literally see molestors around every corner. Too many parents are on campaigns to insulate their children from the rest of the world. They do more harm than good because these same over protected kids come into high school without the skills to operate in modern society. They either become the willing accomplices of the worst kids, or social outcasts due to being held back from developing the ability to deal with the world's problems by learning to avoid issues before they start.

What is the saddest part of this whole thing is that art is already under seige in our schools. Many elementary schools have cut music and art from the general curriculum ignoring how both art and music can provide positive reinforcement to academic classes. and concepts. It's no secret that many of the top students in schools are also in performing or visual arts. But as testing rises to become the be-all and end-all of the school's records, it's becoming a situation that chews up budgets leaving little for anything other than core classes and PE.

But in the end, it's this one teacher who ended up out of a job after 28 years. She did everything we teachers are told to do. She got approval, she got signed permission slips and she got parental chaperones. They didn't go to a bar. They didn't have an unhealthy lunch, but one kid went home and complained they saw a nude statue. And for that the teacher has lost her job. It make me wonder if they kid had gotten in trouble in her class and this was payback. It makes me wonder if the principal was looking for a way to trim the budget by getting rid of a higher cost experienced teacher. It makes me wonder if the principal was threatened by someone who was better liked. But in the end it makes me wonder at what point we lost all common sense and allowed the cranks and bigots to make decisions for us. Shouldn's a school board have more sense than to knuckle under to a loud mouthed parent? In the end this will go to court and be very nasty, if the news reports pan out. And with what I have seen as evidence, the teacher will end up on the winning end because she will have a much more lucrative retirement via the out of court settlement that will come about than she would with a TSR pension.

But down the road, when art is gone from the schools, who will teach the kids about beauty?


c said...

I heard Jonathan Kozol say anyone who looses there job over a moral issue will find a better job in the future.

What is good about this whole ridiculous situation is that art education has been brought into a larger social discourse. I haven't been reading much about it but the feeling I get from most people is that this was extreme.

EllenK said...

It's just another example of administrations that see themselves as customer service venues. They would rather lose the employee (teacher)than admit the customer (parent) might be mistaken or worse yet, totally wrong. It happens quite a bit in larger more affluent districts from what I can gather. I know with support systems like that, I won't ever apply to work in that district.