George Szekely (1996) The Art of Teaching Art
Diane Ravitch (2010) The Death and Life of The Great American School System
I have to admit I never intended to draw any connections between these two books, but I have.
As a graduate student at Pratt Institute in the late ’90s, I studied closely with Amy Brook Snider. She was a marvelous mentor–an intellectual’s art educator, an artist’s art educator. In my memory, she cared less about training us to write lesson plans than in educating us to channel our artistic observations, inspirations, and ideas into motivating experiences for our students.
“A successful art lesson is a work of art. Teaching art is a creative act, no different from the act of creating in any other media,” (Szekeley, p. 43).
Amy didn’t teach from textbooks. She relied on the art and design in museums and galleries throughout the city as well as its rich visual culture to inspire us. She assigned readings from the philosophical writings of artists and educators from a wide range of disciplines. I am so thankful for that introduction to art education and I long to return to it. I long for the mental time and space I had at that point in my life to roam the streets of the city and to live amidst the writings of Henri Rousseau, John Dewey, Maxine Greene, and Nel Noddings.
Of course that was all before the onslaught of No Child Left Behind.
“We must take care that our teachers are well educated, not just well trained,” (Ravitch, p. 1).
The course I just finished teaching on curriculum in Art Education focused on backward design and the use of big ideas and essential questions to ensure lessons addressed specific learning outcomes. I realize that art teachers today are working in an environment governed by accountability. I realize that the ability to clearly state our goals for teaching and learning is essential to making the most of our time with students. However, I can’t imagine any of this leaves you with a burning desire to go and make art with kids.
I’m not convinced we ought to tie our future to our ability to define our lessons in whatever language administrators are currently peddling. Rather, I believe the future of art education lies in the classrooms where people who are passionate about art are sharing that passion with students. I believe the future of art education lies in distinguishing art classrooms as places where something different is happening than in any other part of the school.
That something ought to be grounded in art historical references and concepts. That something ought to integrate content from academic disciplines and students’ lives. That something ought to be richly woven into and through authentic investigations and experiences with formal and informal art forms and materials. That something ought to address published standards for teaching and learning in our states. But most important, that something ought to look, and feel, and sound, smell vastly different than anything else in the school.