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Staying In The Lines

When the kids are graded on their artistic ability, this mother has to wonder: should they be?

Art and music were two of my favorite classes when I was in elementary school. Not only did they provide a break from the monotony of math and social studies, but it was a time to get up, move, and be creative.

I still remember the smell of the poster paint that followed me home after every designated art day and the way the recorder made my lips tingle when I played it in music.

Most kids love it.

Mine do not.

Progress report time rolled around once again. I really feel they should rename these due to the fact that they only send the report home when NO progress is being made—an UNprogress report, if you will. I receive one every period from E’s music teacher with the checkmarks in the same places: will not sit still, does not respect others, cannot keep hands and feet to himself.

E has ADHD and it was a three-year ordeal to get an Individual Education Plan (IEP) in place for him, so the fact that he can’t sit still while the music teacher reads to the children about Mozart is not news to us. What’s surprising is that even though all of E’s educators are supposed to be aware of the IEP, I still receive the same report, like clockwork, every single time.

As a dutiful mother, I respond, respectfully, the same way each time: “If you have any suggestions as to how I can help E improve his behavior in your class, I am completely open to hearing about them.”

So far, I’ve gotten no response, but the reports keep on coming.

Elementary-school-aged children shouldn’t be sitting around listening to someone read about the great composers anyway. They need to get excited about music. Teach them about rhythm. Use percussion instruments—let them bang on the drums and crash the cymbals. Any child who has to sit for an extended period of time, is going to get restless.

This was the first time we’ve ever gotten a progress report from the art teacher. It pains me to see my boys not enjoying their art class. I love art, I excelled in art, I could spend all day at the St Louis Art Museum. I understand that it’s a problem that E can’t keep his hands to himself, more so in her class where gooey hands from paint or clay are the norm. But my children, E who is in the third grade, and C who is a first grader, both came home with report cards last quarter that showed they were both marked down for their effort and skill in art.

I don’t believe children should be graded on their skill in art class. In this class, I bet Picasso would have been flunked for his portraits, or Monet for his inability to stay in the lines, or Van Gogh for using too much blue during his “blue period”.  Art is supposed to encourage creativity and imagination. Art is supposed to provoke, move, and inspire. Art class is a wonderful place for children to express themselves and be free of constraints. Isn’t art subjective anyway?

I will always be a strong advocate for keeping the arts in school. Just as important as math, science, and language, art and music are components needed for a well-rounded education. But those programs should be designed for the students they are supposed to teach. I want my boys to be proud of the work they bring home- because I am.

Their paintings may never hang on the walls of a fancy gallery, but for now, they’re framed and appreciated everyday by the people who matter most.

Patti Baratta March 21, 2011 at 05:43 PM
I was always very disheartened by my kid's music and art "grades" in elementary school. Sadly, my son (who is a brilliant artist) came away thinking he was terrible. It wasn't until a middle school art teacher encouraged and praised his work and creativity that he regained some of his confidence. Same with my kids and music. Children should not be graded on their ability to achieve perfect pitch as an 8-year-old nor should they be graded on their ability to copy famous works of art. Boo to the way they teach these classes these days....
Neetu V March 21, 2011 at 08:01 PM
Love the story - totally agree with you!!!
Stacey K. March 23, 2011 at 02:25 AM
My kindergartener got off the bus a couple of months ago with a big painting she had done and handed it to me with a frown on her face. I asked her what was wrong as I looked at her picture. It was a beautiful snowman with twinkling snow falling all around him. I exclaimed to her how absolutely beautiful I thought her snowman was, which she then replied that she only got a "2" on it. I had no idea what she was talking about...a "2", what does that mean? Apparently, her art teacher grades artwork that are made by 5 and 6 year olds. Really?? I guess there is a three number scale with 3 being the highest. My daughter was so hurt that she received a 2 and not a 3 on her snowman. Did I mention she's 6?!? I can see mentioning effort in a progress report, but on individual works of art, come on! Just let them be creative and enjoy art. Don't take away the joy of painting a snowman by making her feel like she didn't do her best on it. It is a beautiful snowman. :)
Holly Hunt March 23, 2011 at 05:09 PM
Stacey- I'm so sorry this happened to your daughter. Unfortunately it seems to be the norm and not the exception. The schools, especially the elementary schools, should be helping instill confidence in kids. I'm sure her snowman was beautiful!

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