In the 1980’s many school systems decided that the arts should be either eradicated or curtailed in the curricula. National and State Standards were mandated to become documented in all lesson plans.
Before the axing of heads, art teachers in our district were given the opportunity to teach according to the National Educational Standards This was a daunting task, but to me, it brought even more vitality and importance to teaching art in my art room. Skeptical people doubted that it would make a difference in the classroom. If it could help our school’s “report card” and our test scores could reach the competency levels of the rest of the country, this was all good. I knew that teaching art is a valuable method of reinforcing concepts taught in the classroom. I could see the enthusiasm of the student’s face and he or she finally understood a difficult concept. It was a revolutionary way to teach art , and in other school districts and University Art Departments, art teachers were not expected to relate art to math, social studies, reading and science.
Some of the concepts expected by the “Standards” for grades one to three are:
Understanding letters and letter sounds, concepts of the print (literacy), symmetry, Patterns in math, concept of number (math), understanding mammals, understanding plants, and many more.
Using the elements of art (color, texture, line, shapes, space) and the elements of design ( symmetry, variety, emphasis, balance, harmony)
As you can see, just teaching the elements of art and design will give the students an idea about some of the concepts included in the National Standards in education.
If the teacher is introducing patterns in math, the art teacher can cut simple colored paper strips and arrange them in a pattern ( red, blue, green-red, blue, green- red, blue, green ) on a 4″x6″rectangle. The students can arrange a combination of the strips, focusing on the design elements symmetry, balance, variety and harmony.
If the teacher is teaching about turtles, the art teacher can gather pictures of reptiles and teach them to draw a turtle, using line for the texture in their skins and repetition of pattern and color in the design of their shells, etc.
If the teacher is introducing letters, the art teacher can cut the letter in different colors of construction paper and have the children arrange the letter in a repetitive design on a long rectangular paper.
In the study of mammals, the same is true. The art teacher must gather pictures for the children to study. How many “city” children have seen a zoo animal or a farm animal. The same is true for rural students studying “city life.”
History can be taught with art lessons about ancient Egypt or lessons about any era in history, as long as students are provided rich illustrative material. They must visualize the times and manner in which the people lived in that time period in order to draw or create a relevant sculpture.
Literacy lessons in art involve drawing a picture and writing a line beneath the picture. After a series of “themed” pictures, the art teacher can glue the pictures to a story board and the child can read his or her pictures.
Older children can create poetry and illustrate their poems. It is endless!
The visual arts is vital for education, and teaching art is the icing on the rich cake the teacher provides in the classroom.
The “special subject” teachers like the Physical Education teacher, the Industrial Arts teacher, the Music teacher, the Home Economics teacher and the Art teachers, were warned that our specialties may be dropped and if we had no other certification in another area, we would lose our jobs. They held to their words. Some of our friends were let go when their departments were discontinued, like our beloved Industrial Arts teacher. She went to another school district. My friend, our Home Economics teacher, and I took the National Teacher’s Exam, now called the Praxis, and were placed elsewhere. I was placed, ironically in the Basic Skills Program, and eventually became a reading specialist.