Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Importance of Art in Public Education

This is the last week of teaching for me and every year, the last week and a half is reserved for a "math art project". We do a curve stitching project where students actually stitch a design using nothing but straight lines. I'm sure some of you have done this project before, maybe just with pen and paper, or as I did MANY years ago, using nails and string. It's a fun project and it enables students to be creative. You would think that the assignment would be easy enough and that the kids would enjoy it, but having not had ANY art classes for most, if not all, of their academic career, because of school budget cuts, most of these kids struggled and their projects were not very creative.

I started the project with showing them how to do the basic design. I showed them how to make a circle, a cross, a square, and a triangle. Then I told students to experiment with these forms and come up with a design of their own. It could be abstract or they could make a shape. It could be a combination of shapes even. Just experiment and see what you come up with. It was up to them to come up with anything as long as they were creative and it was not just the shapes that I had shown them. Simple enough, right? Wrong! So many kids could not come up with something on their own. They just kept drawing what I showed them as an example. If I gave them an example of how to change a shape, then I got many drawings of what I had just drawn. These kids were unable to think on their own and be creative. They kept doing the same basic shapes just smaller or large or in multiples and asking me if it was creative. Some even wanted me to just tell them what to do since they didn't understand what I meant by be creative or experiment. This is middle school! How did we get here? How did we get to the point where kids can no longer be creative and are waiting to be told what to do?

I blame the government and all the budget cuts that schools are forever having to make. Art and music are usually the first things to go because they are not considered "important" enough. Apparently people don't see art as an integral part of growing up and learning to think. They don't see how having a good arts program can help improve test scores and improve a student's academic classes, in addition to help raise the self esteem of some students who's only success in school may be through the arts. Art helps EVERYONE and without it we are teaching students to NOT think outside the box, to NOT be creative thinkers, and to just do what they are told. I teach algebra and geometry and throughout the year I see how these kids struggle with abstract thinking and problem solving or creative reasoning. I truly believe that if they had had an arts program, this would not be the case. I realize this is just one person's opinion and belief, but I see it. I've seen it for 13 years. I see what we are producing as our future leaders and it's pretty scary.

Images: Images 1 and 2 (a work in progress) are acrtually really creative, but out of 132 students, I could only find maybe 5 examples of truly different work. Image three is what I got from most kids. This is a basic circle with the basic cross design in it. I showed them how to make each design seperately and their "creativeness" was putting one inside the other. Did I mention that they had over two days to just experiment with designs?

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