Friday, September 11, 2015

"I'm Still Crafting Here"

This summer I'm reading and commenting on the book What If Everybody Understood Child Development? by Rae Pica.

Chapter 25: In Defense of the Arts

This chapter just made me sad. And a little angry. (Well, maybe a lot angry)

Rae tells of a school that canceled a kindergarten show to focus on "college and career ready" activities. The principal/teachers' letter defending the action does nothing to make the situation better. The core of the letter seems to be that canceling the show allows focus on lifelong skills (through becoming strong readers, writers, coworkers, and problem solvers). But I guess the part that really irritates me is this ending: "We are making these decisions with the interests of all children in mind." What? Definitely not the interests of all children. (I might say that the interests of all the children are being underserved by canceling the show, but that's me.) As Rae responds: "Are there not children with the potential and passion to go on to become brilliant chefs, landscape designers, master craftsmen, and architects or to become writers, painters, choreographers, composers and actors? What will happen to their potential and passion when given no soil in which to grow?" Amen. (Go read all of Rae's response to the letter in this chapter. It's great.)

I hear about schools and administrations that cut down time for art, music, and other creative subjects to focus on "academics." It's more important they often say. We have limited time. 

Yes, we have limited time. But at my last school, kids spend 2 hours a week in these subjects - 1 hour in art and 1 in music. We can't even allow a fraction of the time to be focused on these more creative pursuits?

I think about my class of second graders that I had. In that classroom, I had students that were great artists. In fact, they often wanted to draw more than anything else. Some of these student were ones that struggled in other areas of school. I tried to find ways to incorporate their strengths in what we were doing--drawing vocabulary words, listening and responding to music in different ways (drawing writing), offering drawing as an option for responding, drawing math problems, sometimes assigning a drawing to everyone as part of what we were doing. While this was not great arts instruction, it was a way to help some of my kids be as successful as possible, recognizing strengths.

Paper strip art (Brick by Brick)

Maybe my life as an early childhood educator influenced this approach. In my preschool and kindergarten experiences, we always had art and music and dramatic play as options for learning and exploring. In my church kindergarten class now, there are several ways to explore and express each week. Just this past week, I watched a boy cut and glue paper strips to create his own ideas. He worked for a long time. He started to take his creation to the "take home" table. I pointed out a separate piece he had worked on and asked if he was taking that, too. He turned back to the table and worked to incorporate that into his creation. Then he began to add more to what he had done. As we talked about it, he said, "I'm still crafting here." 

I worry about those kids who relate to music or art or acting or dance. Where are the places that they can excel, that they can be the best and use their strengths? Are we pushing out those opportunities in the name of academic success? Maybe we should use them to enhance academic success. 

Or maybe not. Art and music and drama and dance are valuable pursuits in their own right. We should pursue these to help us think creatively. We should do these things because they are fun. And they can help make well-rounded people for the future of our society.

Some links from the book---

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