The Art of Teaching: Learning from "Invisible" Teachers

By Ulbricht, J. | Art Education, September 1999 | Go to article overview

The Art of Teaching: Learning from "Invisible" Teachers


Ulbricht, J., Art Education


While observing a student teacher, I overheard an art teacher say, "I'm not your mother, and I'm not your father, I'm your teacher." I remembered this assertive comment when my son persisted in taking his fifth year of Spanish. When asked about his intentions in taking so much Spanish, he responded by saying he enjoyed the subject and the teacher seemed to care for her students. My son's comments made me wonder what his experience had been in other classes and whether his other teachers might have forgotten the importance of good interpersonal communication skills while teaching the content of their subjects.

The writing of this paper resulted from the two experiences described above as well as a growing interest in "invisible" art teachers (Blandy, Bolin, & Congdon, 1998). Unofficial, unrecognized "invisible" art teachers can be found in the home and community. An earlier study (Ulbricht, 1976) documented a dozen "invisible" local community members who were named by students in Iowa as artistic models. Although art teachers often have the impression that their students come from homes with little or no art training, "invisible" teachers such as parents, media, and members of the community actually teach children a lot about art. With this in mind, it is the purpose of this article to explore some of the ways parents informally teach art and to suggest that various exemplary behaviors outside of school can be adapted for the art classroom.

PAST HISTORY

As indicated, well-meaning parents play an important informal teaching role in the art education of their children, from pointing to scribbles and asking what they represent, to encouraging or discouraging careers in art In the preindustrial period, prior to the latter part of the 19th century, parents trained children at home in the utilitarian and decorative arts. Ata time when it was expected that children quickly master adult behaviors, arts and crafts skills such as drawing, weaving and woodworking were taught in many middle and working class homes. Wealthier parents often provided an education in connoisseurship for their children.

Wilson (1974a) contemplated cultural and parental influences after completing a study of art training and its effect on students' critical behaviors. In his earlier study, Wilson (1972) evaluated the use of critical behaviors among students who enrolled in high school art. Following his study, Wilson questioned whether positive results were the outcome of increased years of art training or did they occur as a result of influences found in the home and community. Wilson (1974a) speculated that, in addition to school art training, the culture (including parents) could have influenced children's critical art skills and motivated continuous student enrollment in art classes.

WHY STUDY ART TEACHING BY PARENTS?

The reasons for studying art teaching by parents are numerous. First, previous art education research has focused primarily on the artistic development of children and classroom teaching practices, and consequently the influence of parents has seldom been considered. Second, since little research has been done on the influence of parent teachers, the extent and nature of their influence on the education process should certainly be studied. Third, since Wilson (1994b, p.269), and others including Haggarty (1936), McFee (1961), and Neperud (1995) support the concept of community and classroom connections, exemplary parents in the community should be studied so teachers can incorporate their significant attributes and values.

In addition to the reasons mentioned above, another rationale for the study of informal parental education relates to the growing interest in home schooling that substitutes for regular school attendance. While there are no national statistics, it is estimated that as many as 1.5 million school age children-a number five times larger than a decade ago-are currently being formally schooled by their parents at home (Kantrowitz & Wingert, 1998, p.

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