From: Olivia Gude
This is a fragment of a poem composed by high school art student Jessica Gonzalez in the Spiral Workshop. I re-read this poem occasionally to help me renew focus on what I believe ought to be the core values of art education.
There are many ways to describe what we do as art educators—we identify big ideas and choose content; we articulate student learning objectives; we select learning strategies; we map curricula; we adopt and adapt standards to our particular contexts; we assess student learning. As we responsibly make use of the multiple vocabularies and methods of contemporary education, it’s possible to lose sight of our students. In being reasonable and responsible, it’s possible to drift away from our vision and our core ethical responsibility to the young people we teach.
That’s why Jessica’s poem is so important to me. It reminds me to really look at each student—whether in pre-K or college—and to see each person’s idiosyncratic individuality. Jessica declares that she is a “someone” with a point of view, a way of being in the world, maybe even a mission, but she reminds us that she is “in need of more.” She is unique and has interests and capacities forming into a “someone,” but for this someone to fully develop, to clarify her vision, to manifest her possibilities, to be the most interesting and amazing version of herself possible—she is in need of MORE. This isn’t a greedy girl; she’s a young person who senses clearly that she is in the process of becoming and needs more to fully become.
We advocate for arts education for each student because we believe that through the arts students will become acutely aware of their experiences and of their capacities to shape experience. It’s not possible to be a good art teacher unless we take pleasure in our students’ unique “world-making” experiencing capacities. This means that we have the capacity to notice each student’s emerging unique ways of noticing, experiencing, being, making and acting in the world. Great teachers see each “someone.”
I know that this may sound like an almost impossible task given how many students many teachers see each day and yet most of us have experienced these almost magical educational moments (as teachers and as students) in which idiosyncratic individuality was seen and shared through a brief conversation, sometimes just a quick comment about a color, a form, a way of thinking, an observed interaction. It’s these fleeting moments that help us to see ourselves, that tell us that what we experience and make matters. It reinforces the desire to become that self that each one of us can be.
Great teachers provide the needed “more,” the stuff in which students find what they need. This may be the creative space of the classroom—kooky and chaotic or serene and contemplative. It may be projects that introduce heretofore unknown materials and methods. It may be peer-sharing and critique in which nuances are noticed and discussed. It may be a project that suggests how personal stories might become the basis of artmaking. It may be open-ended studio time to find one’s own artistic questions. It may be artworks that are initially maddeningly incomprehensible.
I ask myself, “What do these students need to know to make meaningful and joyous lives?” My core mission as a teacher is to create conditions in which students ask these questions for themselves.
This collage poem was created during the Headline Poetry project at Spiral Workshop. For more examples of student artwork and the complete project plan visit Spiral Art Education, http://spiral.aa.uic.edu Go to Cool Curriculum: Headline Poetry.