Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Discern a concern

 For A ED 502 Research in Art Education, we had to refer to a “stinging memory” that had a profound effect on our lives and/or teaching. We then had to convey what that memory was to the class without explaining it narratively, such as acting out or performing this general memory. I had a hard time with this. While I am a teacher and am used to being on the classroom stage, I am not a performer otherwise. Plus, I couldn’t even choose one memory that stood out to me. Upon reflection, I think I have figured out why.

A brief intermission of blissfully unaware self-reflection
I grew up in a middle class, blue-collar family in a Chicago suburb. My family was very supportive and molded my strong work ethic. I didn’t feel that there were limitations on me, but I also wasn’t aware of all of the possibilities and opportunities that were out there. I usually tried the best I could with what was presented in front of me, but I didn’t challenge myself or push myself to be an exceptionally high achiever. I settled for being good at being average because I didn’t know any better. Advanced opportunities seemed to be for the rich, the lucky, or those in the know. And I was none of those.

There were certainly disappointments in my life that wounded me, but no specific memories that stung. In reflecting on my childhood and the lack of these types of memories, I realized that any time something negative would happen in my childhood, I felt that I deserved it. Why? Because I thought I could have tried harder or because I thought that someone was better. Or if I did succeed at something, I didn’t attribute it to my achievements or hard work; it was because the applicant pool was small. It wasn’t until high school that I have a first biting memory in which a close friend ran against me for art club president. I was more interested and qualified to be president, but she was more popular and of course won. That stung because I finally realized I was deserving of more.

My current problem
While one of my fellow classmates was performing her memory during the first class, I immediately thought of a recent confrontation that really stung, especially since it was with a colleague that was also a friend. Basically, it was an incident involving the power struggle of art education with another area in the department of Art and Design. I am normally an agreeable person and would comply with the request (or was it a demand?), but I was deeply hurt by this request, both for me personally and for my students.  I was so tired of having art education be degraded and seen as dispensable. It seems like a petty problem, but it was just one event in a series of more frequently occurring instances in which art education is ignored, not respected, or even shunned. Art Education is generally undervalued as a discipline, and resources are taken away because it is often seen a frill or a fringe subject, even within its home disciple of the arts. Maybe the issue was always there, but I was ignorant to the situation and settled for the meager respect and resources Art Education was given. My position at the university was as a lecturer, which only reinforced this feeling of being undervalued.  It wasn’t until I realized that Art Education was deserving that I started getting impassioned about it. (Being on a state art education organization’s board does wonders for bringing about a sense of urgency in advocacy.)

When I began writing this blog entry, I started thinking first of my own experience with the perception of art education and the lack of respect for my field with former university colleagues in fine arts and the design areas. (I should mention that not all of my colleagues treated art education this way. Many were wonderfully supportive.) It seems almost cannibalistic to degrade art education and its students since art education helps to populate the fine arts classes. Without art education students, sections of fine arts classes would be canceled. Plus, how do the art and design faculty think that there are even art students enrolled in the school to begin with? It was most likely because K-12 art teachers inspired and influenced their students to continue with post-secondary study of the arts. And as a member of the College Art Association, I also see the inequalities within the different arts disciplines.  Art Education is not well represented in CAA. For instance, in CAA graduate student fellowships, only MFA students and PhD students in art history are able to apply. Art Education is not eligible. Nor is art education represented well in conference sessions.

Then I began thinking how K-12 art education programs are received. Budget cuts in K-12 education are pervasive nationwide. Unfortunately, one of the first areas to be cut is art education along with its performing arts counterpart of music education. Teacher education in K-12 programs is also changing as a response to state changes in licensure. For example, in Indiana, it was proposed that anyone could become an art teacher with a little bit of college and by passing an exam. No art education classes (or even studio art classes) needed.

From the K-12 art education program, I expanded my thoughts to the public perception and reception of the arts in general. Due to the current financial state of the country, there have been major budget cuts everywhere, especially in visual arts organizations, such as NEA and art museums, and in performing arts organizations (for example, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra is currently facing severe budget cuts that may require firing some of their musicians and substantially reducing pay and programming). Cultural opportunities are diminished and are replaced with mediocrity.  

Is it just the United States that has this problem where the arts are undervalued? What are the international perceptions on art education? I was in Fes, Morocco’s art capital, last year and visited a school for learning the traditional arts of Morocco, Le Centre de Formation et de Qualification dans les Metiers de l’Artisanat (The Center of Training and Qualifications in the Fields of Handicraft). The school prides itself in its focus on craftsmanship and focuses on career development and marketability of its graduates.  As translated from French in their brochure to English using an on-line translator, their goal is to “modernize an industry that has to fight constantly against the archaic clichés.” According to this goal, it seems that art education in Morocco also struggles to gain respect.

Questions I have for further research include:
What is the perception of art education within the arts, within K-12 education, and within the United States in general? What can be done to change public opinion that the arts are viable? Where is art education a priority? What cultures value the arts and the education of the arts? Advocacy seems to be an important key, but to what extent do advocacy efforts work?

Art Education is undervalued, underappreciated, and is the underdog, even within the umbrella of the arts. How can this be changed? 

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