Food For Thought Friday: So We Don't NEED Art????

I had a heartbreaking moment yesterday at my son's elementary school open house.  Mr. Lindstrom and I were trying to chase two toddlers who were not keen on being in their strollers, and keeping track of the Human Cannonball who was practicing (and perfecting) his Human Cannonball ways, when a teacher stopped me in the hall. "Would you be willing to volunteer for our art program?" I stopped short. I love art. Art is what kept me interested in school.  Would I be willing to volunteer? Heck yes.

So, I stood (or wiggled while I tried to keep Thing 2 occupied) and heard the teacher's pitch.  It started like this, "Since Art classes have been cut from the budget..." (cue record scratch), she said a whole bunch of stuff after that about how they ask for volunteers to present art lessons in classes once a year, but I was still stuck on her first sentence.  I guess that having not had a child in the public school system until now, I hadn't paid too much attention to what the budget cuts were actually cutting. I know that sounds irresponsible, but I have been really preoccupied with making people. Now I am getting educated on the education opportunities for these people whom I have created.

Mr. Lindstrom and I have always been advocates of the public school system. Having both been lifelong residents of Minneapolis, and both (successful) products of the Minneapolis Public School System, we border on snobby when it comes to the public school system.  We both treasure our experiences even beyond education given to us through our school system. We both hope that our children can have similar experiences in public school.

They aren't going to, though. Not without Art (among other things). It breaks my heart to know that while the suits were sitting with their calculators in a board room and carrying ones, and solving for X, they decided to subtract ART. Likely thinking that Art was the least useful subject, clearly the one that could be cut most easily.

I learned a little about art in my art classes.  I learned about focal points, and shading, and I could draw one heckuva face. But, what art classes did for me went beyond the mechanics.  Art class was an opportunity for this free thinker to experiment and test.  Art class was a place where the rights and wrongs weren't so defined, and there was room for interpretation. Art class wasn't so... rigid.  I needed that.  I needed a place to feel confident in school so I could begin to feel confident in other areas of school.  I applied lessons from my art class in my real life far more than I applied math concepts.  To this day that is the case. And to think that our children will not be presented that lesson is seriously a tragedy.

Education is a right, not a privilege. But as essential areas of study are cut back because there simply isn't the money, a well-rounded education is becoming more and more a privilege.  In discussion with this teacher who was recruiting volunteers for this yearly art presentation, I also found out that last year, they could not get a parent volunteer for my son's grade, so they skipped the presentation altogether, that sealed the deal for me.  This is what I can do NOW to expose my son's peers to art, and you better believe I'll keep finding ways. How are education cuts affecting you, and how are you handling it?

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  1. As we are navigating autism and special needs Minneapolis Public Schools, I am always struck when someone in the autism community immediately writes them (MPS)off. So far we have had every need met, everyone has gone out of their way for us. I feel like I am waiting for the other shoe to drop here because I can't for the life of me figure out what there is to complain about. As a public school grad (not Minneapolis) I have a hard time thinking about sending my kids to private school. We're going to make it work as long as we can. And I know, considering, at some point it may not. But we're going to try!

  2. Colleen, I am currently pursuing my bachelors degree in education and in one of my edu classes we are asked to bring in tidbits we run into regarding education and the "system." I would love to share this with them if it is ok with you.

  3. Please do, KellyG! I have a LOT more to say about this... another blog for another day, I suppose.

  4. You speak to my heart!
    As an elementary Art teacher, the Arts are so important to our children. Whether it's drawing, singing, dancing, or instruments, it gives kids a different way to learn...I mean, who doesn't remember all of the US States by "Fifty Nifty United States?!"
    It breaks my heart that schools look at this as an acceptable area to cut. YES, I realize a classroom teacher is more important, and please don't be offended but when they ask for volunteers, they're really telling the kids that any monkey can do it.
    PLEASE advocate for the Arts in your schools! Tell your administration that it's important to the families!

  5. That is crazy! Art is one of the most important subjects they can cover in school for many, many reasons. Do they need more volunteers? I'd be happy to come in one day and do something. I'm a life-long lover of art and have always had it in my life on some level or another including now with graphic and web design. I can't stress enough how important I think it is for children to be involved in starting at a very young age. I also bet they could get one of the colleges with an art program to get students to volunteer, maybe as an internship...

  6. I couldn't agree more, Colleen! My mom was an art teacher and was cut every year - but, always made it back in some capacity.

    The school district I teach in (first ring of 'burbs outside Mpls) has always fought hard to keep art, but we are now down to 45min/week at the elementary. Still having art is in large part due to loud parents (I love them loud, as long as they are fighting for the right thing!!!) and the fine community taxpayers who pass every levy we ask for. So, definitely stay vocal and get others to do the same! Remember, you're probably preaching to the choir with teachers, so take your concerns to the people who make the decisions: the school board.

    Also, check with the Art Institute. Our parents do a volunteer art program (in addition to our district program) called Art Adventure. I believe the volunteers are trained at the Institute, and then complete lessons in the classroom. Afterward the kids go to the AI on a field trip. There is possibly a discount for the field trip? Also, you could hit up quite a few places for a grant to pay for any costs. Target, Best Buy, General Mills, etc love to give grants for things like that!!!

    Good luck - we teachers love parents like you!

  7. I love this post - I am sharing it with my fellow board members at Free Arts MN. I think art teaches people to value their individuality and the fact that school districts cut funding shows where their heads are at. Wouldn't it be nice to leave no child behind and still let be unique? It's just easier to manage when everyone marches in order to same beat - but that doesn't make it right.

  8. When my daughter was in 3rd grade (at a parochial school) her teacher asked for a volunteer to be the "art lady" that year. It involved going to the library once or twice a month and selecting some "fine art prints" to expose to those 3rd graders. I could choose whatever I wanted and tell them about the artist, the painting, the technique, whatever. It was one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had - 25 years later I just found the thank you notes from all the kids and it warmed my heart to read the comments and the difference I made in their lives that year. But it also made a difference in me and I got to learn about some great artists too! Go for it Colleen. You won't regret guiding some future artist at an early age!


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