Andre Le Moine
Art Is Not a Reward:
Pitfalls and Promises of Arts Integration
When I looked up from helping Maria with the perspective of her drawing, I saw Felipe running across the room with purple paint all over the back of his crisp, white uniform. Anna was holding the guilty brushes while three students were sitting in the corner planning where to go shopping after school.
“Hold it!” I shouted over the din of creative seventh graders.
“Everybody in your seats. I warned you that if this happened, we wouldn't have art today. Take out your books and turn to page 35.”
After reflecting on what I said, I realized that I had done the equivalent of saying to a rowdy reading class that they would be denied books for a week. The idea is absurd, but that is exactly what I had told my class. Although I value art and I paint on my own, I had just communicated to my students that art is not vital to learning; I was treating art as a reward for good behavior that can be taken away like recess. This event caused me to reflect more on student perceptions of art that are sometimes perpetuated by teachers and administrators.
The chaos that led to my bold and foolish decision to take art away was simply a matter of my reacting to poor classroom management. Normally I had an orderly classroom that was used to working independently as well as collaboratively. There were clear procedures, expectations, and consequences. But during art projects, self-control often deteriorated and time on task fell. It seemed I had allowed a second set of expectations to take over, which seemed to imply that students can't be creative and in control of themselves. Certainly a portion of the blame is on the faulty unconscious notion that creativity and art arise out of chaos, when in fact quite the opposite is true. Art is a skill that requires focus, discipline, and effort, just like reading or math. If problems arise, there have to be reasonable procedures and consequences. If I do not hold a student accountable for the project, I have reinforced the notion that the project was just a reward.