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More Than Refrigerator Paintings



The first weekend in March is going to be pretty exciting, and not just because it's my birthday. Humboldt State will be hosting the Education Encounter, which combines the forces of the Diversity Conference and the Education Summit.

The Education Summit was initiated by the late Eric Rofes, whose untimely death last year left the campus reeling. Eric was a truly remarkable leader and organizer who helped make the Education Summit simmer with exciting ideas and inspiration. The task of pulling together this year's Summit without him was so enormous that the School of Education went looking for help. They decided to team up with the Multicultural Center and combine the Summit with the Diversity Conference, and thus was born Education Encounter: Cultivating Knowledge for Social Change.

You may wonder why Art Beat is talking about education. Well, no less then 13 of the workshops presented this coming weekend cover the Arts Education and Social Justice track. For someone despairing over the state of arts education in our schools, this is pretty hot stuff!

The workshops cover the gamut of media - visual art, drama, hip hop, poetry and music (I didn't find a dance workshop, but they've had them in the past and probably will again). They also cover a lot of educational applications such as classroom management, addressing controversial issues with teens, domestic violence prevention, art as a teaching tool in core subject classes and art as a catalyst for social change.

Most of us feel that it's important for our children to have an opportunity to draw and paint, sing, dance and so on - but is that all there is to arts education? I assure you, the 13 workshops are not all about papier-mâché maskmaking. Patty Yancey from HSU's School of Education is helping organize the Arts Education workshops. "Art is one of the primary ways that children learn," she says. By separating art from our daily lives and "putting it on a pedestal," as it were, we make it inaccessible to the average child in public schools, not to mention much of the American population - but that's another article. These workshops are, primarily, about making art accessible again. Accessible not just to the wealthy kids who can afford it, or the "gifted kids" who already show an inclination for art, but to all kids.

Among the many workshops:

A Picture's Worth: Examining Controversial Issues with Adolescents through Visual Arts. Mimi Dojka, an HSU lecturer in Arts Education, is teaming up with Mary Lynn Bryan, a visiting lecturer who teaches language arts and social studies at River School, an innovative charter school in Napa. They will discuss the ways in which contemporary art helps students to explore difficult topics. "Using imagery gets students to think more deeply about what they'll be reading, and promotes discussion," Mimi explained.

Art Integration: Beyond the Art Elective will be presented by Melissa Vashe, another teacher from River School, the visual arts coordinator there. Melissa will talk about integrating art into social studies, science and language arts and talk about projects she has done with her students. Remember, Einstein loved music and Leonardo da Vinci was a scientist and inventor as well as an artist. The arts and sciences are not disparate disciplines.

Here's something that you may not be aware of: McKinleyville High School has a collection of teacher resources from the National Gallery of Art that are available to any teacher in Humboldt County. Wow! Who knew? This includes slide collections, videos, teacher guides and lesson plans, CDs and DVDs on a variety of topics in art history. Justine Smith, who teaches at McKinleyville High will be "showing snippets of what's available," and giving participants ideas about how to incorporate these resources into curricula, as well as explaining how they can get their hands on the stuff.

Here's one of my favorites: "Some will rob you with a six-gun, some with a fountain pen": Teaching social justice using the songs of Woody Guthrie and Ani DiFranco. Folk music is more than just a pastime, it has always been the voice of the underprivileged and has been effective in communicating ideas that may otherwise go unheard. Presenter Ronnie Swartz, assistant professor in social work at HSU, has used folk songs in his classes to discuss issues including oppression, discrimination, migrant or union worker issues, poverty and war. Not only do the songs make the issues more understandable and accessible to students, they bring in the perspective of the contemporary working class citizen. Ronnie will discuss ways that educators might apply this technique in the classroom.

While public schools have been managing shrinking budgets by cutting back on arts programs, researchers at schools like Harvard have been compiling more and more information about how important the arts are for developing minds. If you really want to ensure that no child is left behind, you have to recognize them as whole human beings. Every child needs to be educated in their history - a history told through our songs, our stories and our paintings. Every child needs to be versed in the language of visual expression that speaks so much more powerfully than words. Without these tools our children "are in the position of not being able to respond," says Patty Yancey, "of not being able to be an integral part of the conversation."

These workshops are intended for teachers, but also for parents and anyone else who works with children. There's something here for everyone, and if you've never thought about the potential for art education beyond a refrigerator painting, come and listen to what these people have to tell you.


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