Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rocking the Crayolas

Tuesday is my Art Education graduate class, a very hands-on, practical course with little controversy save for the continual din of side conversations. Until today. Several of us students had just finished sharing our clay lesson plans with the rest of the class. The subject of play therapy came up, and somehow our professor wound up discussing the large number of kindergartners failing. Belinda from my table laughed to herself at the absurdity of calling a five year old to task on lack of studiousness, and the lone white male in our class, Connor, (who happened to be sitting next to me) said in an incredulous and forceful tone, 'How do so many parents send their kids to school ill-equipped?' The professor, who herself had been an art teacher in public schools for many years, enlightened this gentleman as to the many valid reasons why a child would not be prepared to pass kindergarten, which is not even a mandated grade, as another student pointed out. After listing reasons such as lack of English language fluency, lack of previous experience in formal early childhood programs, and lack of time from economically strapped parents whose priority is putting food on the table, Connor came back with, 'I don't understand how parents can't take one hour out of the day to teach their kids the basics, like the alphabet.' The classroom mood swiftly alighted with the wrath of parents being directly accused of denying their children the best education. These comments hit home for many of these people- a mix of multi-cultural adults who had themselves struggled to not only survive a biased school system that denied the merits of their own rich heritages, but are currently either parents or teachers of children struggling with these same challenges. It was unfortunate that this young man was white, because it is nearly impossible to view his comments as anything but race directed when the inequalities which children in inner-city schools face are inherently attributed to their race. Had a person of color made the same comments, though naive in content, I doubt the class reaction would have been a defensive one. After several passionate responses addressing the inappropriateness of the man's words, I glanced at my scissors sitting on my desk ready for today's construction project. I hoped they wouldn't get used prior to our scheduled assignment. The guy was up against the wall, with the rest of the class completely disgusted with him. He told them that he did not intend to target any culture, and that his comments were directed at children in general, which includes Anglo-Saxon white children. The damage was already done. I had that sick feeling in my stomach that you get when you know there's nothing you can do to save anyone. When that happens, I talk about Rafajella, the six year old student I have been tutoring for the past year. She's an English language learner, but she's Eastern European, so she represents both sides of the coin. Maybe she had the neutrality to diffuse the pressure.'Globally, we have one of the poorest education systems amongst other industrialized nations. The parents of the Serbian student that I tutor want her to be able to keep up with her classmates, but they've admitted to me that it's their believe, as well as the belief of their homeland education system, that children should not be taught to read until they are seven years old. Maybe we should stop looking at the U.S.'s model of education as the right standard.' The professor said that she was glad we had this discussion, and released us for a much needed break, after which we would come back and start our construction projects. Belinda and I headed for the bathroom. We were both surprised at the reaction of the class to the initial comments about lack of school-readiness in our children. Sometimes it's hard to relate to comments that don't directly speak to your own personal issues. Amelia, who moved here from Malaysia five years ago and works very hard to keep up with the graduate courses with her continually evolving English skills, joined our conversation. Belinda asked her if she was upset by the comments. She said at first she wasn't, but then she became very angry when she realized what was being said. Anger is a very powerful force, and once it was ignited in our little art room, it was difficult not to get swept up in it. I felt it sucking me in too, before I had a chance to analyze what the two sides of the issue really meant. It was good to talk about this thing before re-entering the class. When we returned, we each worked on our construction projects. I was doggedly trying to make an old egg carton into a lizard. Belinda was making a free-form play structure (with advent calendar windows). Connor was silently making what looked like a machine gun. After a few minutes, the professor asked us to go around the room and talk about our work. Someone made a cute subway rat. Another person made a cheerios box vacuum cleaner. Connor lifted his piece and told the class it was a telescope. I wonder if he was sending subliminal messages for us to take in the whole picture? I think we could all benefit from capturing a realistic viewpoint. None of us is free from bias, and we all have much to learn. As current and future educators, let the lens of clarity first be pointed inward.


paz13 said...

Tamar: That was an interesting side discussion you had in your class and shows how some topics can cause immediate controversy.

I liked the way you summed it up when you said the lens of clarity should be pointed inward but I bet many people don't realize it pertains to them.

How did the lizard turn out?


Tamar said...

Thanks Kevin- there is so much more diversity in NYC (compared with the little town I used to live in)- it's one of the best parts about living here. With that diversity comes more opportunities to understand different ways of viewing things- and sometimes that leads to conflict. Most people, being human (hopefully), don't realize that they can't change anyone but themselves. I'm still learning that lesson :-)
The lizard looked crazy to me, but got a few appreciative 'awww!'s from some of the girls in the class.

paz13 said...

Tamar: You brought up a good point about diversity. With diversity there are different opinions and various ways of looking at things. Many times people resist making a comment that could cause controversy. In your particular instance this was not the case and people appeared to be uncomfortable. I think it's good to be amongst a diverse set of people since you can learn a lot about others.

Enjoyed the post and the lizard at the end.