Guest post by Dr. Douglas Green
Art for Art’s Sake
I was a K-5 principal from 1993 until 2006. When I started, kindergarten was mostly structured play and socialization with some time devoted to letter and number recognition, learning a few sight words, and simple math operations.
There was also a lot of art time.
Now if you visit a kindergarten, it will seem a lot more like what first grade looked like in 1993. It seems that many school leaders have reasoned that if they push more reading and math lessons into kindergarten it will somehow translate into better test scores once the students get to third grade. This has resulted in a big reduction in the amount of time kindergarten students spend drawing, painting, cutting, pasting, and doing other things artistic.
The people who argue against pushing more reading and math into kindergarten believe that students need to reach a certain developmental level before such lessons can be effective. Trying to teach a student something they are not ready to learn only causes frustration for students and teachers alike. My fear is that many more students will start to dislike school in kindergarten. In addition to less art in kindergarten, I’ve seen the same trend from the first grade on. What I don’t get is how taking away crayons and markers from students and giving them number two pencils is a good idea. It’s like we are trying to make school boring on purpose.
As it is with other subjects, some students are naturally more artistic than others. How much is genetic and how much is due to resources at home is anyone’s guess, but most people think that both are in play. I was never very artistic, but my daughter was a stand out artist as early as kindergarten. She also stated clearly at age five that she wanted to make cartoons when she grew up. Fortunately, her mother and I had the vision to support whatever she was interested in. This required some learning on our part but we must have of done something right as she is now a working artist in New York City.
My advice is to go back to the future when it comes to art and play in kindergarten. I would even allow naps as needed unlike the old days when everyone had to nap at the same time even if they weren’t tired. I’m sure some students would go all day in kindergarten without a nap. Ideally naps could be possible for kids in all grades just like they are in many innovative businesses. As for art activities, try to allow for as much creativity and avoid the type of step by step projects where everyone’s efforts look pretty much the same.
For grades above kindergarten I would like to see more opportunities for students to illustrate assignments and make things. The maker movement that is being pushed in many innovative schools is something I believe that all schools should adopt. The good news for students who are less artistically skilled it that modern technology makes photography and videography available, easy, and inexpensive. There is no reason why student writing projects can’t include illustrations and/or photographs. There should also be opportunities for students to write scripts for videos that they then create either as individuals or teams. Here is just one more example of how the arts can integrate ELA.
High School and Beyond
One thing I don’t want to see are high school courses designed to teach specific software packages. Many high schools have courses for artistic applications like Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. When my daughter went through the high school, the art department didn’t have computers. This meant they taught her art rather than software. I realized, of course, that she would have to learn Photoshop among other applications so I signed her up for a self-paced online course that she finished in four weeks on her own. One of the problems I see with education is that every body of knowledge gets somehow crammed into the sacred semester.
Did I miss the part in the Bible where on the eighth day God created the semester and saw that it was good?
As someone who bought his first personal computer in 1979, I pretty much had to teach myself the software packages I wanted to use. Went I got my first Macintosh in 1984, I entered the world of pull down menus. This invention made learning much easier as you can search the menus until you find the item that you want to do. If a student can learn software on their own, how about we just get out of their way. If they feel like they need help, this is where self-paced online courses are ideal. This doesn’t mean that they can’t go to a teacher or another student for help.
This is the second part of a three part series by Dr. Douglas Green. Stay tuned for next week when Dr. Green finishes up talking about drama and music.
Dr. Doug Green is a former teacher of chemistry, physics, and computer science. He has held administrative positions of K-12 science chair, district director of computer services, director of instruction, and elementary principal. He teaches leadership courses for teachers working on administrative certification, and has authored hundreds of articles in computer magazines and educational journals. He retired in 2006 to care for his wife who had Lou Gehrig's disease. After her death in March of 2009, he started his blog at http://DrDougGreen.Com to provide free resources and book summaries for busy educators and parents. You can follow him on Twitter @DrDougGreen.
The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.