It's an Attitude

By Hicks, John M. | Art Education, May 2004 | Go to article overview

It's an Attitude


Hicks, John M., Art Education


I believe it is way past time to get out "heads out of the sand."

During the late 1980s a junior high art teacher was explaining his program to parents at an evening open house. When he mentioned that recent lessons related directly to the business world, a parent in the back row woke up from his nap and became very attentive.

Why Teach Art?

Dana Gioia, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, believes that art is not a luxury. Does any outsider agree? Why do we teach art? Do parents think about why we teach art? Does the general public? Do our peers? Do boards of education and administrators? Do academicians in other fields think about why art is taught? Does the business community? Those in the K-12 trenches often wonder why they teach art when treated like strange relatives from the other side of the tracks.

Public school art education in the United States has been around for over 125 years. Professional art education associations of one kind or another have been with us for at least 100 years. The National Art Education Association has provided information and support to art teachers for many decades, but the truth is that most public school art teachers battle constantly for recognition, adequate funding, adequate classroom and storage space, and support-often without success.

I have been a member of NAEA for 48 years. From my point of view, the overwhelming preponderance of negative attitudes about art education from people outside the profession is being ignored. I believe it is way past time to get our "heads out of the sand." The sand is much deeper these days because of increasingly diverse student and parent populations, and major repercussions from the 9/11 tragedy. These two factors are not the focus of this material but weigh heavily on art teachers and art programs.

Here are comments from two retired elementary art teachers to support my point of view. A conclusion contains insights regarding potential directions for developing positive attitudes and relationships. After 125 years of only marginal success, focusing on something different certainly can do no harm.

Elementary Art Teacher #1

I retired after 26 years. There were good times and not-so-good times. I have reason to believe that during my early and middle years of teaching I was a good art teacher. I attended state and national conferences and made a point of being exposed to new ideas and to trying new methods and lessons. My curriculum focused on relating art experiences to the lives of students. I must admit that the anti-art attitudes and behaviors dished out by the administration finally got to me in my later years. Still I never gave up trying to do my best. I know that my experiences were common to other art teachers, and I know that in most places throughout the country these same negative conditions remain.

"I had 30 hours beyond my BFA when I was hired but I was asked to get a master's degree. By working evenings and summers, I received my MFA degree. My first assignment was to teach art at two elementary schools. One principal was new to his position. My first days at one school were met by student comments such as, 'We got rid of three art teachers last year. How long are you staying?' Along with student comments were parallel comments by the new principal. he said he didn't like art, didn't know anything about it, and didn't care to. I was to do my job and leave him out of it. The second principal required daily reports of my 'progress' as a new teacher, then complained about it to other teachers in the building.

"When an art assignment in a single school became available, I jumped at the chance. There was an art classroom, but supplies were located in six different areas of the building. I found out the student population was nearly double the designed capacity. The superintendent was invited to address the PTA and provide solutions to the overcrowding. …

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