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schools, programs, funding

updated thu 1 may 03


primalmommy on wed 30 apr 03

Reading posts last night I remembered something from my school days I
had long ago forgotten. You know how they say a little nudge very early
in a comet's journey can change the trajectory more than a massive push
later on? Well, I had an art teacher who was REALLY cool, when I was
just a little tyke. I have always been kind of a teacher's pet type, and
maybe that had something to do with it, but at some point I must have
showed an interest in the clay projects... because she put ME (little
kid with untied shoes who could never remember where her locker was) in
charge of going to the little (unventilated) janitor's closet where the
kiln lived, and -- at the appointed moment -- turn on the second switch,
and later, the third. I got hall passes that allowed me to go do this.
You'd think I had been given a sacred mission... I was really impressed
with myself.

Wonder if that's how I ended up here... it's amazing what an impact a
teacher's gesture can have on a child, without our knowing it... I am
still mad at the teacher who broke mel's clay crown in kindergarten, but
it seems like he's made his peace with the whole clay thing ;0)

Some people assume that folks who homeschool can afford to be smug and
shrug off the problems in the schools... not so. In fact, a surprising
number of homeschoolers in my organization are also public school
teachers. And others of us are very involved in working for reforms and
supporting better funding for school programs. My children's neighbors
and friends, coworkers and spouses will be the successes and failures of
the current school system.

Overcrowded classes mean more time spent on crowd control, more
oppressive restrictions and a greater reliance on medication to
homogenize all those different energy levels and learning styles into a
"one size fits all" teaching approach. I am speaking as a former
teacher, here. Every class had a handful of kids who were bright and
motivated and could have taught the class... and a handful who had been
passed in previous years by teachers who didn't want them back, student
who were way behind and "couldn't get there from here". So I had to
teach to the middle, while trying to keep the bored "ahead" students and
the frustrated "behind" students from inciting riot.

(homeschooling is a joy, when I think back to that... My 9 year old
chooses to learn division from a library book, my 7 year old learns
hands-on and standing up, and does basic algebra with paper cups and
multicolored soup beans.. while both of them explain it to their 4 year
old sister.)

My high school art program offered us a potters wheel and raku...
lapidary, lost wax casting, metal fabrication, textile arts, you name
it. That was in the late 70's, upper middle class suburb. Now school art
funding (and music, theater, etc.) have been slashed until there is
nothing left in the curriculum that cannot be weighed, measured and spit
back in the form of placement test scores. Add to that the fact that
modern families are so overscheduled -- with parents chasing their palm
pilots to pick up kids at after school day care, then soccer and
homework, and every unscheduled moment filled with television, computer
or nintendo. Where is the time to lie in the grass and daydream? Where
is the space for creating, in that no-instructions-no-grades format that
helps us grow as artists? Even summer vacation seems to be threatened,
as parents with day care concerns push for year-round schools..

I am worried, worried for the artlessness of my childrens' generation,
even of my own... I drive around the warehouse district looking back at
a time when a factory needed to have expertly crafted stone work around
every window, architectural details like faces and beehives and
mermaids, and intricate brick work some worker was proud of... then as
time went by the windows were bricked up, first artfully, then just
cinder blocks or squares of corrugated sheet metal. Modern factories are
soulless, ugly, practical boxes.

It seems symbolic of our culture's loss of respect for craftsmanship,
for an aesthetic sense beyond speed, convenience and profit. The old
barns now decaying across Ohio and Michigan were built by men who were
proud of their skill, with the kind of decorative detail that would make
today's metal-pole-barn salesman just shake his head. How impractical!
How time consuming!

Sigh... I hope there is hope for art in education, and I have to believe
that the passion to create will drive teachers to reinvent the system,
like Lee and Mel and the other gifted teachers whose words I am
reading.. and that the kids who have that creative spark will FIND a
place for it in their lives, and MAKE it happen.

Yours, Kelly in Ohio.. setting up another clay program for the area
homeschoolers. And -- o happy news -- that homeschool co-op I had
written about before -- the one that chose to exclude a lesbian family
and thus lost all their more open minded members -- well, they had a
change of heart. The decided that it was unChristian to say "love one
another" and throw in "except for..." See what good can come of open

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