I can’t pass up the opportunity to share what one of my art teacher colleagues wrote in response to a state legislator’s office who admonished her school for not participating in an annual congressional art contest. While I believe this teacher deserves a pat on the back from all who know her, I have decided to protect all parties by removing names of people and the school involved.
Here’s what she wrote:
“I am sorry that you are so disappointed in the participation from [my] school over the past two years [in the Congressional Art Competition]. I too am disappointed — in the lack of support Art Education receives by our state legislative body. As you may remember from our correspondence last year. State graduation requirements continue to whittle away at our students’ exposure to the Fine Arts.
I hear nothing but a push towards offering more project-based learning and emphasis on creative problem-solving in our instruction. [We are told] creativity is the leading skill sought in the work force, and yet the requirement for a Fine Arts credit can be satisfied with a World Language class or a Business class?!?!?
At [my school], we fight for our students to have a thriving Art Education — to be given the opportunity to learn how to try and fail and try again, and explore and question and wonder, and figure things out, and create something new, and to be proud of whatever that new thing is. It is the Socratic method at it’s very best because it is student driven in a low stakes environment where it is OK to take chances.
But at some point, something has to give.
When I began at [my school], I was one of a staff of 7 art teachers and we were a fantastic team. We continue to maintain extra programs for our students with a staff of now 4 art teachers. (Last year when I wrote to you, we were a staff of 5.) “Why has the size of our staff changed?” you might ask. The answer is [in the graduation requirements].
While I appreciate that participation in the Congressional Art Competition and resulting exhibition is an excellent program and opportunity for some students to be awarded potential scholarship money, I find that any additional time I ask of my art faculty outside of their contract hours needs to impact the largest percentage of our [school] population.
Each year we provide a wide variety of educational and formative opportunities for our students that are above and beyond expectations for public school educators. We fund-raise as a department (on our own time) for student scholarship which emphasizes participation in community service and community development. We travel with our students, leading trips to NYC and beyond. We teach the value of working towards a goal and the resiliency needed to sometimes miss that goal and grow. And we inspire a sense of ownership and pride in our student population.
We have an outstanding body of student artists at [my school] and exhibit their work as an outward symbol of our commitment to their development as whole citizens. I believe that the Congressional Art Competition and Exhibition is a publicized and visible “show” of support for the Arts by your office, but in reality I do not feel this commitment is matched by legislative action as is reflected in the State Graduation requirements in regards to the Fine Arts.”
Kuddos to you, unnamed-art-teacher-colleague! More art teachers need to make a point to communicate with our legislators to help them understand the value of our work!