Education Letter to the Editor

Procedures Matter, Even in Arts Education

May 10, 2005 2 min read

To the Editor:

It’s amazing how those who write to promote their own policy, philosophy, or ideology often resort to demeaning others to make their point. They may use degrading coined terms like “drill and kill” or “sage on the stage” to criticize teachers, for example.

That’s what Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond did in their recent Commentary (“Arts Education: Not All Is Created Equal,” April 13, 2005.) In what was otherwise an excellent essay on the need for and excitement of having an arts program, they managed to blunt their positive message by criticizing one school’s conduct policies. Singled out were two signs in a hallway in the school, one asking students to “stay in line” and the other reminding them to bring their uniforms to school. The authors’ implication was that such a school resembles a prison and stifles creativity, if not achievement.

Staying in line and bringing uniforms are not “rules,” as the authors assert; they are school procedures. Rules have to do with discipline and carry punishments. Procedures are used to maintain, without fear, threat, or punishment, effective, smooth-running classrooms and schools.

An excellent art teacher in Las Vegas, whose students have a permanent display at the city’s airport, has taped lanes on her classroom floor so the students know the line of traffic when they move from place to place. She does this, she says, to ensure that her classroom is a place where students don’t bump into one another and spill water and paints. This teacher also has her students each bring one of their fathers’ old shirts to school to wear as a “uniform” protecting their clothes from paint splatter.

As she says: “Each procedural activity has a practical, time-saving, safety-ensuring element to it that fosters and enhances the creative process. By confidently following simple routines in the housekeeping aspects of art production, students are freed from unnecessary frustrations, insecurities, and accidents—and are able instead to focus their energies on the creative process.”

Procedures are important in society, enabling groups to function in acceptable and organized ways. Adherence to procedures shows respect and consideration for others. We stand behind a line in a museum so as not to touch or damage a fine painting. People leave their pews in organized lines at the end of a wedding, stand in lines at the checkout counter at a market, get in a line of traffic to pay the toll on a highway, and go through security at the airport in organized lines. As the British would say when they “queue,” it’s the proper thing to do.

When we have policies, programs, or practices we want to promote, we should do it with professionalism, grace, and style, sharing with others the excitement of what we have to say. We should not try to win our point by making someone else lose.

Harry K. Wong

Saratoga, Calif.