Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dear Art: The essence of all stories, please come back because,

You are, “the extension of the power of rites and ceremonies to unite men, through a shared celebration, to all incidents and scenes of life” (Dewey, 1958, p. 271). It is through you that narratives unfold as symbolic voice, unmasking the truths of existence. Why then does education deny you as a part of the learning process? For, you give the voice of the teacher the means to share experiences with precision, articulation and imagination (Greene, 2001, p. 25). You empower as connections are made that ignite inquiry.

“Democracy is a story, or a set of stories, we tell ourselves. Stories of democracy have moral, aesthetic, and psychological as well as political resolution” (Beyer & Pagano, 1998, p. 391). A democratic classroom is one in which all voices are heard, stories are shared and an individual’s experience is expanded. Diversity is realized through the diverse community interaction of the educational environment. “Democratic stories require a new vocabulary that provides us with metaphors for our self-creation. And self-creation is not just moral and psychological; it is political, and it is an aesthetic act” (Beyer & Pagano, 1998, p. 393).

Art, you are oblivious to race, gender, wealth, social status, learning ability and handicap. You do not victimize students through a blame-the-family, stock story, mentality. Your defining power is stronger than the statistical standard of accountability that manifests as a number without human value, without a soul. You give the stories of students’ respected significance, empowering inquiry and insight that become Eisner’s “cognitive event” (Eisner, 2002).

All students must be given the ability to learn through experiencing a variety of ways to both think and express thoughts. Through you, students become problem solvers as they are given a heightened cognitive awareness that is expressed in “flights of the imagination” (Eisner, 2002, p. 9). Because of you, students unite in interpretive expression, instead of becoming victims of penciled-in bubbles. Differences identify the unique, not the adequate. For, who has the right to place judgment on either?

Teachers should not be afraid to take risks, explore, and discover the unknown. You provide a way to expand consciousness through new perceptions, reaching realities that are different and present discomfort rather than the safety and convenience of NCLB’s standards and benchmarks. To ignore your significance is to limit possibilities by both student and teacher.

As the essence of all stories, you have always provided the path to progressive thought. Through the visual arts, drama, dance, and music, oppressions are communicated as you reveal truths, expose contradictions, and propose transformation (Boal, 1985). The thicknesses of conformity, complexity, compliance and cowardice (West, 2001) are illustrated, symbolized, and characterized. Encounters are provoked and awareness is motivated “not in extrinsic demands, but in human freedom” (Greene, 1995, p. 39).

You are not a privilege, but a benefit that should not be reserved as an elite, educational gift. You are a part of life, an intrinsic part of the human experience that is acknowledged in universal stories. To banish you from the educational community results in learning that is fragmented and incomplete. Dewey (1958) recognized the need for you to be “the incomparable organ of instruction” but also realized that too often “we are repelled by any suggestion of teaching and learning in connection with art” ( p. 347).

My journey has just begun as I uncover the importance of your integration with the established NCLB core curriculum. You are necessary as a part of all education and your beauty in and of itself must have its place. Beyond being an artist, I am an art educator and art integration is my passion as a teacher, curricularist and theorist. Courage will come from the students, teachers, administrators and parents who share in the possibilities of transformative, magical experiences heightened consciousness. The entirety of a culture can connect, understand, and take ownership of a classroom that by its essence is democratic. Cultural stories become transformed as an entire educational community perceives, experiences, and reflects through enlightened inquiry.

Hannah Arendt, as quoted by Greene (2001), perceives education as the point “at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.” (p. 75) Greene (1968) expands this perception when she states that teaching is “where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new” (p. 196).

Art, you cannot be extinguished. Though you have disappeared from education, your absence of power has evidenced itself through that which is imprisoned within the statistical. In May of 2011, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities published the report Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. In its forward, Arne Duncan posits “experiences in the arts are valuable on their own, but they also enliven learning of other subjects, making them indispensable for a complete education in the 21st Century” ( p. 2). Without you, Art, education cannot be whole. I will work for your return.

With Much Love and Respect,

Jill Lynn Hare Drama teacher, art integrator

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