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Encountering the Religious Element

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

By Denny Mather

There are many reasons for home schooling. Most of the people we met were doing it for religious reasons. I have absolutely nothing against religion (my main principle is “The Golden Rule”) but found some of the mothers rather hard to take when they tried to force it on us.
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Male Mythology and Boys' Art Making

Sunday, December 06, 2009

By Anna Grahame

As a drawing teacher, I observe this over and over again: Girls have beautiful lines and a well-balanced sense of composition and mostly draw hearts and beautiful faces. Boys, on the other hand, have a way of drawing their lines and lack a sense of composition that often remind me of how acomplished artists draw after having had a stroke or suffered from serious mental illness (Josephsson and Hill for example). And boys’ pictures are bubbling over with content, drama, and fascinating stories.

I have come to a conclusion like this: Girls at a certain age have form and no content while boys at the same age have imagination and lack form. If anybody should analyse this in neuroscience I am sure they will find that this has to do with human development and our neurochemistry. The similarity in artists’ post-stroke penmanship and young boys is a sure hint. I will return to this. 

I have taught comicbook drawing over a couple of years. It is usually boys who attend these classes and I would often have one girl among five boys. There was never a moment’s hesitation in my group about what they wanted to draw – they immediatley jumped into it and started drawing. The stories were full of action and violence. I never censored them, because I knew something vital was expressed that needed to get out.

I sense that there is something that I as a woman don't understand in boys' imagery, and I found it simply interesting to observe. The drawing was accompanied by lively chatting and giggling. This is something that I didn't interrupt either, sensing that they needed an area where they could be allowed to be loud and excited and sometimes a little wild – something that other adults usually frown upon.

My approach to teaching art is based on my own experience as an artist. Having had to work hard for many years liberating repressed aspects in my personality and art making, I have realized how valuable it is to be able to be loud and even aggressive while working on an art piece.The integration of the whole personality and the protection of its integrity is very important to me as a teacher in an art classroom.

The boys’ stories just blurt out on the page: Some good guys fought against evil guys and then they went into a cave and then there were bazookas and helicopters and kaboom it all exploded and then they went running back with the bongtongs and then someone was injured.

It went on and on like this and I could never comprehend the storyline, so messy and entangled this thing seemed to be. Between the boys themselves the giggling went on and on. They completely understood the story and made suggestions to each other and had their own world. Should I teach them how to build up a stoyline? Show them how to organize it?

I decided not to. The three boys from third grade kept working on their beautiful, dramatic, and messy stories, while the 5th grader had a clean storyline that was unfortunately a somewhat disguised copy from a popular pixar movie. Is this always the case? Does form chase away innovation? Does form lead to conformism? One nine year-old boy brought a diary with him full of stories, figures, etc. Beautiful and very personal.

This type of boyish male imagery is very popular among some of today’s contemporary art venues. Unfortunately thirty-something males exploit the fresh dilettantism a little too much and the authenticity that is still there in the children's drawings seem a little too fabricated in the adult production.

Another observation I made is that it is not just the kids with emotional "issues" who depict dramatic, violent scenes. One boy in the drawing group who had a quiet, sweet personality and who lived in a calm, balanced, harmonious household drew exactly the same scenarios as his more rambunctious friends. It seems that this is part of the male mythology that young boys share.

In the documentary Raising Cain there is an interesting passage about a kindergarten where  children are supposed to write stories. The girls' theme are animals, friendship, etc., while the boys’ stories are violent, often resulting in a character’s death. How the group handled the situation after the girls complained about the scary content was very revealing.

The problem seems to be the lack of understanding for boys' need of dramatic stories with violent content. I seriously doubt that this particular need for boys to work with good versus evil, the battle, the peak of the battle, and the resolution, leads to violent behaviour or points to violent behavior and problems in the home. I think it is a basic fabric of male mythology and that it is developmentally necessary.

If we as parents, teachers, therapists, etc., forbid them to access this mythology we are taking something vital away from them. If we pathologize it we are overlooking something crucial.

Further reading on the neurological development of boys can be found in the book Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. Here is an excerpt :

"The left side of the cerebral cortex grows slower in little children than the right side, in boys even slower.The testostreon in the blood of boys slows down this growth... While the right side of the brain is growing, it tries to form connections to its left counterpart. In boys the left side is not prepared to facilitate connections like this, that's why the nerve cells from the right side don't find a place to "plug In" and thus go back to the right side and plug back in there.This means that the right side of the brain in boys is richer in internal connections and poorer in connections across the brain halves. If the left and the right brain is poorly connected, they will have a hard time to solve problems that require both brain halves. Such tasks are reading, speaking about feelings, or to try solving a problem by calmly observing it instead of solving it with aggression or violence."
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I am no longer a teacher

Monday, November 30, 2009

I am no longer a teacher. I am an implementer.

 

By Carol

My deepest source of angst right now is NCLB (No Child Left Behind). It sucks the heart and soul out of learning for both students and teachers. I'm so agitated by NCLB changes my principal put in place last Monday that I dread going to school tomorrow.

 

The second grade team of three teachers were told we would be in a matriculation meeting all Monday morning to determine which children were neediest and how we could meet their needs. I saw this as an opportunity to contribute in problem solving. Instead, first thing, we were informed top down of some changes that would be happening in our classrooms and were subsequently handed an English Language Arts (ELA) lesson plan schedule showing us exactly what we would be teaching from the adopted ELA curriculum, on which day, which page, at what time, and for what duration of time. Fully implementing the adopted curriculum, they said, would guarantee that our students' needs to learn to read would be met. Any deviation from the schedule was verboden.

 

Having such a regimented structure in place would allow administrators and NCLB observers to walk into any of our classrooms at anytime and see the students being taught the same scientifically researched-based reading program, providing empirical evidence that the teachers are doing what must be done to get our school out of PI (Program Improvement) status. In other words, lockstep learning. In one fell swoop, creativity, innovation, teachable moments, spontaneity, and autonomy were banished from our classrooms. Any stellar lessons that a teacher has designed that are more effective than the ones in the manual will not be allowed. Nothing is to be taught during ELA time unless I can point to the lesson in my manual. I am no longer a teacher. I am an implementer. 

 

For what are we doing this? The students' authentic needs are NOT being met.  They do NOT have an authentic need to read well for the purpose of scoring proficient on standardized state tests, thus providing job security next year for the principal and literacy coaches. Teachers cannot be fired over NCLB, administrators can. A literacy coach who doesn't get her school's AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) up sufficiently stands to lose her job too. An administrator or untenured coach who rightly objects to the tenets of NCLB will find herself duly unemployed or given a position she finds untenable.

 

The panel comprising my principal and the two NCLB funded Literacy Coaches stipulated that my students may not read for pleasure during ELA time unless the books tie in with the current theme of the unit.  Beloved "I Can Read" books and Dr. Seuss books are to be removed as inappropriate reading material. Our literacy coaches are brilliant, beautiful, dynamic young women who have unquestionably embraced the philosophy of NCLB ostensibly in order to be employed.  I've labeled them the Lockstepford Wives until I come up with a better term.

 

Toward the end of the meeting, I mentioned that the additional daily schedule we received provided no time to teach visual art for which I must give a grade on the report card. One coach brightly suggested I assess my students' artistic abilities by having them draw the main character of a story they read. It was not suggested that I bank some time and actually teach them art. Banking time is not allowed. It would mean I was not devoting the proper number of instructional minutes to ELA. If I finished teaching a unit a day early, any extra time must be spent teaching the ELA curriculum, not enrichment.

 

There are California visual and performing arts standards but being a PI school, our second grade students don't have access to being taught them. I stand to produce some profoundly ignorant students who read, but don't want to, and who can score well on tests.  NCLB is producing millions of over-tested and undereducated American school children and calling it "meeting their needs."  Awash in testing, PI schools are "assess pools" and I, the one to relentlessly mine them for their statistics, to the extent they feel used and abused, am a data-rapist.

 

My students, for a variety of reasons, have parents who do not advocate for them.  They are being left far, far behind in spite of my best efforts. Nobody will argue that learning to read is an important educational need. But it is folly to teach reading at the expense of providing a stimulating well-rounded education that builds on a student’s strengths and interests. Studies show that children's love of learning is dying at about age 8. Gee. What could be causing that? NCLB has ruined education. I know changes are going to be made at the federal level soon but I don't trust that the new changes will meet the needs of our students to have an educational experience that will both teach them the standards and enhance their experience of being alive.  We shall see. 

 

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