Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

We Love Our Public Schools: Art Teachers' Life Histories in a Time of Loss, Accountability, and New Commonalities

Academic journal article Studies in Art Education

We Love Our Public Schools: Art Teachers' Life Histories in a Time of Loss, Accountability, and New Commonalities

Article excerpt

Our study started during March 2011 in the midst of the social upheaval and political activism across Wisconsin that resisted the legislation and budget put forward by Governor Walker's office. Among many antisocial measures, this legislation included the derogation of collective bargaining rights to unions and the implementation of extreme cuts in public education that severely affected the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

With budget reductions of $182 million over the course of 3 years, 2011-2013, some questioned the viability of Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS). But as Kaiser (2011) reported during a school board meeting held in March, Superintendent Thorton affirmed that

MPS is going to survive... There will be 82,000 children that will show up in September and we will work hard to provide the best possible program. [But] it won't be the program that they deserve, (para. 11)

Some of the losses implied in this statement were the termination of math teacher leaders, school nurses, preschool programs, advance placement, children-at-risk programs, bilingual aid programs, poverty aid programs, school breakfast, and so on. MPS is the largest school district in Wisconsin, the 33rd largest in the nation, and has an enrollment of more than 80,000 students-with 80.9% from low-income households (Milwaukee Public Schools, 2011).

The impact of these cuts added to a history of reduced resources resulting from the urban crisis defining the city since the 1970s, the consequent social and financial inequalities between Milwaukee and its Metro area, and a privatization movement that over the last 12 years has brought on the loss of more than $50 million of public money to support school vouchers (Miner, 2011 ; Carl, 2011 ).

Parallel to the unfolding of these events, we started hearing the concerns of K-12 art specialists working for MPS, who felt uncertain about the future of their programs. During spring and summer 2011, numerous art programs were terminated, positions lost, and some teachers reinstated in different schools and communities.

A Study on Art Teachers' Life Histories

Through our experiences as teacher educators in Milwaukee, we collaborated with many art teachers who were affected. The loss of their jobs reduced the opportunities for our teacher candidates and challenged our social justice mission to create opportunities for public and quality art experiences for urban children. In response to this, we decided to:

* capture the testimonies of practitioners in a moment when public quality K-12 urban art education programs were disappearing in the city;

* learn about how the subjectivities of art educators were affected, formed, and reformed by these sociohistorical events; and

* keep a record of such programs and practices for future research and teaching.

We designed a study on Teacher's Life Histories (TLH) with the goal of providing insight into how policy reforms, new models of professionalism, and school government affect teachers' lives, their moral commitment to curriculum, and the craft of teaching (Goodson, 1992,1997).

In TLH, personal experience is not studied to capture the truth of a particular individual or voice. Instead, TLH examines how projects of subject constitution articulate in relation to larger sociohistorical narratives, triangulating personal testimony with contextual documentation and theory. In this approach,

[Theory] broadens the concern with personal truth to take into account wider socio-historical concerns even if these are not part of the consciousness of the individual... it permits us to view the intersection of the life history of men [sic] with the story of the society, thereby enabling us to understand better choices, contingencies and options open to the individual. (Goodson, 2008, p. 24)

Our study examined the TLH's of three art teachers-Sue, Steve, and Maggie-who have developed their careers within the last decade. …

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