Saturday, July 21, 2012

Teaching About Where We Live

PA Dutch Hex sign
Student art work, Allentown cityscape
 Each community has its own unique attributes. Children learn to value themselves and others, when they develop an awareness and understanding of their community. And learning really sticks when kids can make connections to the real world, or to themselves. The arts are central to the real world, central to a community and its history, and central to being human, (they always have been), so therefore, the arts should be an essential part of any schools curriculum. But here I am, still fighting to restore our school arts programs, which never should have been cut in the first place.

I teach children about the buildings in Allentown, our parks, the Pennsylvania Dutch influences- like Hex signs at the Farmers Market. Have you seen those circular designs and ever wondered what they were? When I teach a paper sculpture lesson I talk about the roller coasters at nearby Dorney Park, or about our new destination playground at Cedar Beach park. Art communicates where we live, and our experiences in that world. And "art work" is not just what we see at galleries and museums, but also the local kitschy stuff, collectibles, public statues, or crafts that have meaning to a particular group of people.

 Today, even though so called "rigorous" state and national "standards" are at the center of public education, we must not forget to teach children about their local community and its history. Parents should make sure that school instruction time is not primarily spent on rote learning exercises, with disconnected facts from worksheets, or mainly material that will be tested. I know I'll be asking a lot of questions about WHAT exactly my child is being taught at middle school.

Due to budget cuts and bad decisions by our school board, I know that elementary school children have not be given many opportunities to learn about the art, architecture, music, drama, or dance that makes our community unique. Social studies has been greatly reduced or nearly eliminated from the school curriculum. Holiday celebrations have been nearly eliminated. There are not as many opportunities for field trips, school plays, or project based learning, due to the amount of instructional time spent on testing and test prep. But still, we hear the empty suits pontificate in platitudes about academic rigor, and college and career readiness, and implementing world class standards for excellence through a standards aligned system with resiliency and "value-added" accountability measures. We hear about test score success. As if everything we do MUST be measured. As if this corporate jargon has anything at all to do with developing engaged human beings living in a community. The arts are all about being human, and about human relationships. When I think about my public school memories I think about the playground, the class plays, learning an instrument, my state report, show and tell, field day, glee club, painting in art class, the Halloween parades, my teachers, my friends, my neighborhood. That's what sticks.

“The opportunity that Hawai’i offered, to experience a variety of cultures in a climate of mutual respect, became an integral part of my worldview and a basis for the values I hold most dear.” 
                                                                                                  ---President Barack Obama


turtlelearning said...

Angie -- love your blog!! Thank you for your inspiring words and art.

Mrs. Dottie said...

Thanks for reading!

Anonymous said...

Very much enjoy reading your blog as well, Angie.

When I was in elementary school, I learned about who I was and where I am from in a traditional fashion. We were integrated into the community and institutions (fire dept, post office, etc.) in primary grades. In intermediate grades I was exposed to the PA cultures and state info. And in late elementary school and middle school, we began learning about national affairs.

Seems like a logical progression.

Now, you'd be lucky to read a generic story in some vanilla setting that you might be able to liken to your own cultural experience.

And THAT'S considered social studies!

Mrs. Dottie said...

Thanks Anon 3:29. It's like we are in the Dark Ages of public education, especially in the districts that serve poor children, and sadly my child is part of this experiment. Don't know how much longer I can subject him to test mania. Parents should be protesting daily at the ASD admin. building, and demanding full restoration of arts programs, phys. ed, library, social studies, and other important subjects that have always been part of a public education, and are still offered to children in wealthier districts. I just read an article in our paper about how the arts are thriving in the Lehigh Valley. What are these arts organizations doing to restore arts programs in the ASD? Nothing. No mention of how our school children see an art teacher only 9 times per year. Phonies.

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