All reading and math makes Jack a dull boy


The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David.

All reading and math skills — without exposure to the arts — makes Jack a dull boy — and not much of a reader, argues Jay Greene. “More research is beginning to show that a broader education, including the arts, may be essential for later success in math and reading as well as the proper development of civic values and character skills, including tolerance, empathy, and self-regulation.”

Kindergarten and first-grade teachers are spending less time teaching music, art, dance and theater, research shows.

Long-term success in math, reading and science depends on the general knowledge and fine-motor skills learned through the arts, studies show, Greene adds.

Researchers urge teaching children “a better understanding of the world”  by improving science and social studies instruction and building foundational skills through “the arts, music, dance, physical education, and free play.”

Greene’s research has found that “field trips to art museums and to see live theater” not only build general knowledge, they “change student values to promote greater tolerance and empathy.”

LA schools open secret art collection


Los Angeles Unified’s art and artifact collection includes: (clock-wise from upper left) Pastel on paper by Raymond Nott, Desert Arab Man by Gordon Harrower Coutts, Chinese Junks by Arthur Edwaine, The Lazy Day by Ahn Young-il, Red Figure Skyphos (drinking cup, on low-footed base), Mesopotamian Cuneiform Tablet, Don Quixote metal relief by Salvador Dali.

Los Angeles Unified is providing a peek into its collection of more than 50,000 art works and artifacts, reports KPCC. Fifty pieces — including a metal sculpture of Don Quixote by Salvador Dali — will be displayed online.

A new Artscape site will turn the collection into a resource for teachers and students, the district hopes. It will include a gallery of students’ art.

How did the district get all that art? Apparently, it’s all from donations. “The pieces have been stored in a few schools and administrative buildings; many were locked away in vaults,” reports KPCC.

If it’s only going to be displayed online, the district could photograph it, sell everything of value and use the money to fund art supplies and teachers.

In defense of knowledge

The Knowledge Matters campaign is lobbying for schools to teach a broad curriculum including history, science, geography, art and music — especially to “those least likely to gain such knowledge outside school.”
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You’d think there’d be no need to ask schools to teach knowledge,  but it’s being pushed aside by drill in reading skills and by the belief that kids don’t need to know anything because they can just look everything up.

“Fifty years of solid research demonstrates that broad knowledge is vital to language comprehension and deep knowledge is vital to critical analysis,” argues the Knowledge Matters campaign. “Through broad and deep knowledge, students become the informed, thoughtful citizens our nation—and world—needs.”

Escaping the ‘prison house of self’


Freddie Bartholomew as David Copperfield and W.C. Fields as Mr. Micawber in the 1935 movie.

College professors are killing students’ interest in literature, writes Gary Saul Morson, a Northwestern humanities professor, in Commentary.  That’s bad for democracy.

Some professors teach a “dense thicket of theory” focused on “the text.” Students look for symbols. Others encourage students to judge the “author, character, or the society depicted according to the moral and social standards prevalent today.” A third interest-killing variation sees literature as a documentary of its times.

These approaches “fail to give a reason for reading literature,” writes Morson.

Reading a novel, you experience the perceptions, values, and quandaries of a person from another epoch, society, religion, social class, culture, gender, or personality type.

Literature provides practice in empathy, he writes. “We follow the life of Dorothea Brooke or David Copperfield moment to moment, and we live with them for hundreds of hours, always living into their experience, growing along with them, approving or disapproving their choices, and perhaps changing our minds as they change theirs.”

Here’s the money quote:

We all live in a prison house of self. We naturally see the world from our own perspective and see our own point of view as obvious and, if we are not careful, as the only possible one. . . . The more our culture presumes its own perspective, the more our academic disciplines presume their own rectitude, and the more professors restrict students to their own way of looking at things, the less students will be able to escape from habitual, self-centered, self-reinforcing judgments.

. . . Democracy depends on having a strong sense of the value of diverse opinions. If one imagines (as the Soviets did) that one already has the final truth, and that everyone who disagrees is mad, immoral, or stupid, then why allow opposing opinions to be expressed or permit another party to exist at all? The Soviets insisted they had complete freedom of speech, they just did not allow people to lie.

“Great literature allows one to think and feel from within how other cultures think and feel,” concludes Morson.

Students don’t judge contemporary art, writes Michael J. Lewis, also in Commentary. They don’t care.  “While the fine arts can survive a hostile or ignorant public, or even a fanatically prudish one, they cannot long survive an indifferent one. And that is the nature of the present Western response to art, visual and otherwise: indifference.”

High Art has removed itself from a conversation with the culture, and now lectures from barren cul-de-sacs to acolytes in sack-cloths,” responds James Lileks.

More time for ‘purposeful play’ in kindergarten


Therese Iwancio playing a game with her kindergarten class at Cecil Elementary school in Baltimore. Photo: Gabriella Demczuk, New York Times

Kindergarten teachers are asking students to learn reading, writing and math skills once taught in first or second grade, reports Motoko Rich in the New York Times. In some districts and states, teachers are being trained to use “purposeful play to “guide children to learning goals through games, art and general fun.”

A study comparing federal government surveys of kindergarten teachers in 1998 and 2010 by researchers at the University of Virginia found that the proportion of teachers who said their students had daily art and music dropped drastically. Those who reported teaching spelling, the writing of complete sentences and basic math equations every day jumped.

Schools with more low-income and minority students were more likely to cut back on art and music while increasing the use of textbooks, reports Rich.

Educators in low-income districts believe their students need explicit instruction in academics. “Middle-class parents are doing this anyway, so if we don’t do it for kids who are not getting it at home, then they are going to start at an even greater disadvantage,” said Deborah Stipek, the dean of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford.

I wonder how often “purposeful” play is effective at achieving its purpose. All play and no work makes Jack a dull boy.

 

Artists transform ‘prison-like school’

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Before and after for a Miami middle school in the newly artsy Wynwood neighborhood. 

Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, once known for empty warehouses, drugs and gang violence, is now a mecca for artists, reports Eleanor Goldberg in the Huffington Post. Jose de Diego Middle School, where 96 percent of students live below the poverty line, no longer looks like a stark white “prison.”

This year, Principal April Thompson-Williams persuaded the district to fund an art teacher for the first time in years. And she worked with local arts groups to get the school painted for free.

“Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the amount of wall space,” said Robert de los Rius, owner of WynwoodMap.com, “just amazing canvas for art.” He organized the painting: 73 artists from Miami and around the world participated.

He also launched a fundraiser to develop an arts program called the “RAW Project” –- Reimagining the Arts in Wynwood.

“This is a critical time where kids choose who they want to be, what they want to be and what they want to get into,” Diana Contreras, a Miami artist who participated in the project, told HuffPost. “And they need a way to express themselves.”

Students feel calmer and safer in the new environment, Thompson-Williams said. The middle school is losing fewer students to charters.

Core-ish art teaching

Teachers can integrate the arts into Common Core classrooms, according to a video series by the J. Paul Getty Museum and Teaching Channel.

Here’s one on finding “evidence” in a painting to support an argument or “claim,” a very Core-ish endeavor.

Better parenting in 2015

Modern parenting is impossible, writes Jordan Shapiro in Forbes.

 . . .  the ideal parent is exhaustively selfless and giving, but also stern and principled. A good parent always puts the child first but somehow miraculously avoids creating a spoiled brat who thinks s/he is the center of the familial universe.

The father of two elementary-school-aged boys, he’s come up with 5 Ways To Be A Better Parent Next Year.

This year, I want to teach my kids about money. Not just financial literacy, but the socio-economic realities of the world. I want them to begin to think about how their own personal wealth (likely measured in their minds as quantity of video games and toys) impacts the world as a whole.

He also plans more family adventures — real life can be as exciting as a quality video game — and more exposure to art.

Educated in Quaker schools, Shapiro experienced the silent meditation of Quaker meetings. He worries that his boys can’t sit still — certainly not silently.

. . . the ability to intentionally disconnect for 40 minutes seems especially important in a world of smart phones and social networks. I have no objection to our modern virtual experience provided it becomes a supplement to, rather than a replacement for, tangible experience in physical space. Meeting for worship seems to be a good way to practice disconnection and presence.

He hopes to take his children “to the local Quaker meeting house in order to teach them the skills required for being present, quiet, and silent.”

UI president apologizes for public art

A public art piece created by University of Iowa faculty member Serhat Tanyolacar stood on the UI Pentacrest for less than four hours before it was removed. (Mitchell Schmidt/The Gazette)

Today’s college students are delicate souls. When University of Iowa students saw a Klan-costumed sculpture in the “Pentacrest,” they didn’t look at the newspaper stories about race riots and killings printed on it. They didn’t consider whether it might be anti-Klan. They were too distressed.

It was removed within hours. Not “soon enough,” said President Sally Mason in an apology for letting a professor display his art.

“For failing to meet our goal of providing a respectful, all-inclusive, educational environment, the university apologizes,” she wrote.

Mason, who was out of town Friday, said in her message that she plans to meet with concerned students Wednesday to “prepare a detailed plan of action” that will include input from those affected by the incident. The plan will look at how the university can “better meet its responsibility to ensure that all students, faculty, staff, and visitors are respected and safe.”

Mason also shared plans to move quickly in forming a committee of students and community members to advise her on options for strengthening cultural competency training and reviewing implicit bias training.

The university will provide counseling for the traumatized.

Serhat Tanyolacar, 38, a UI faculty member raised in Turkey, apologized “for the pain and suffering I caused to the African American community” and begged for forgiveness. He’d hoped to “facilitate a dialogue” on the history of racism. Instead, he used his eight-year-old “mixed-race” son to defend himself from charges of racism. (Does he get free counseling?)

Artist Serhat Tanyolacar

Artist Serhat Tanyolacar

Removing the artwork likely was “viewpoint-based discrimination,” said David Ryfe, the director of the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, in the Daily Iowan.  Still, Ryfe said, “If it was up to me, and me alone, I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”

On his blog, Ryfe says he doesn’t want to ban “artistic expression.” He supports a ban on “hate speech” — “defined as speech uttered with the intention of demeaning and/or intimidating a category of persons (based on race, sexuality, gender, and so on), especially categories of people that have been historically marginalized/threatened.”

The journalism professor hasn’t worked as a journalist, ever.

Sensitivities also are delicate at Smith, where President Kathleen McCartney apologized for a pro-protest email that said: “We are united in our insistence that all lives matter.” It went on to say the grand jury decisions in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have “led to a shared fury … We gather in vigil, we raise our voices in protest.” Not good enough.

“Too many of today’s students want freedom from speech rather than freedom of speech,” Greg Lukianoff, President of Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), told Fox News. “It’s hard to challenge minds while walking on eggshells,” he said.

Love, art and fear in Florence

In John L’Heureux’s The Medici Boy, a failed monk and failed artist narrates the story of the Renaissance artist Donatello and his passion for the vain and “whorish” Agnolo, who becomes the model for his bronze David.

Enemies of Donatello’s Medici patrons try to destroy the artist using Florence’s laws against homosexuality. Penalties start with fines, exile or public torture and burning alive — or dead, for those who confess. Yet sex between men and adolescent boys was so common the Germans called it florenzen, and the French called it “the Florentine vice.”

The narrator, Luca, struggles with love, jealousy and fear. Will Donatello burn in the public square? Will Luca burn in hell?

L’Heureux was my creative writing professor many years ago. We didn’t waste time to unleash our creativity. We wrote stuff.