It is misleading to speak of a world as it is, or even a single world. It makes more sense to think of various versions of the world that individuals may entertain, various characterizations of reality that might be presented in words, pictures, diagrams ... each of these symbol systems captures different kinds of information and hence presents different versions of reality. All we have ... are such versions ... through them do we gain access to what we casually term "our world."
(Gardner, 1980, pp. 92-95)
What does it really mean to be a preservice teacher in an Art for the Elementary classroom at today's university? As a preservice teacher educator, I find myself asking this question on more than one occasion. Preservice teachers often come into my classroom with preconceived notions of what art is and how it is to be "used." One such preservice teacher recently requested an advising session to let me know that what I planned to teach in my course over the semester was not going to be of value to her, as she was teaching first grade and did not understand how art could possibly be important to children learning to read and write. This encounter was after the first class meeting in which I had simply handed out the syllabus and given a course overview. In our advising appointment, I asked her if she had ever taught first grade. She promptly replied with, "No, but I have observed a first grade class ... twice." I assured her, based on my experience as a preservice teacher educator for the past 6 years and having taught in the public school system for more than 12 years, that she would indeed learn something about art that would help her teach in her first grade classroom. She did not appear convinced when she left my office.
Art and art-making are defined as special forms of experience (Dewey, 1980), and these experiences are viewed in multiple contexts. The central role of this narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; Olson & Craig, 2001) is to explore the relationship between the preservice teacher and art, as well as art's role in accessing the learners' knowledge communities (Craig, 1995) based on the experiences of preservice teachers, all of which are occurring in an art for the elementary classroom within a university setting. The earlier encounter is one example of the misconceptions preservice teachers have about art, and the types of notions that have prompted this narrative inquiry and brought me to a crossroads when it comes to leading students in experiences with art. The crossroads are neither the art for the elementary content nor the variety of learning experiences given to preservice teachers in the art for the elementary classroom.
These crossroads involve dealing with the preconceived notions of preservice teachers about what art is, and the "knowledge communities" (Craig, 1995) they access to understand and explore art. These knowledge communities refer to any personal, practical, professional, internal or external resource that an individual accesses to make sense of their world; that is, how they come to know, or in this case, how they come to know art. These crossroads that are encountered lead to many forks in the road where decisions are made in attempt to disrupt what was previously understood as an art curriculum in an art for the elementary classroom. Instead, these crossroads make art practice for the elementary preservice teacher reflective, personal, and powerful, changing assumptions and adding to the ever-changing knowledge communities that individuals draw from to make sense of their world.
THE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Most preservice teachers are preconditioned by prior education experiences to try to construct the "right" fixed answer, while others, who are more open, will begin to take risks in creating, looking at, talking about, and writing about art without regard for a "right" answer. The processes initiated in this art for the elementary classroom were intended to provoke thought and encourage voice while making meaningful art. …