Archive for the 'education' Category


Art and life

Via Craft I came across this article about a guy in San Francisco who, on one afternoon every month, sets up a sewing machine on the street and sews whatever people bring him. Sure, Michael Swaine is a performance artist. But one could also say that he’s someone who’s just trying to connect with other people. In this age of disposable everything, people who can’t sew rarely bother to mend their clothes, I think. Why pay someone money to fix a shirt when you can get a brand-spankin’ new one for only a few bucks more, right?

I also think this is one of those rare cases where art actually does touch the masses. It’s not hung up in some hoity-toity gallery, or set on a stage or concert hall for which paid tickets are mandatory. It’s right there on the street, accessible to anyone. The utilitarian nature of this project–fixing people’s stuff–makes it easier for people to engage it. Instead of trying to wrap their heads around an abstract painting or interesting wordplay or major and minor themes in a piece of music (not that those projects aren’t worthwhile, too), people can just ask someone, “Hey, can you fix this for me?” and end up having a conversation with that person.

The French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu theorized that the production of art is one way in which the ruling class maintains its status. They have access to the material capital to produce it. A truly democratic society, he argued, should provide gobs of funding for art. (Yes, I know this summary doesn’t even begin to do justice to Bourdieu’s massive oeuvre and incredibly influential work.) We have the NEA here, but that agency funds only people who are “officially” recognized as artists. That money isn’t spread around nearly as widely as Bourdieu would have liked.

I’m not sure how much money should go to public art. I’m not sure how art should–or can–even be defined in these cases. But I do see a need for publicly supported encouragement of creativity. Having worked for two different educational publishers and one organization that was involved in educational activities, I know how state-mandated educational standards have affected what goes on in classrooms. Funding for art, music, and theater programs in elementary, middle, and high schools keeps getting cut because those subjects aren’t seen as “important” enough; that is, they aren’t generally part of the core subjects that students are tested on these days. And by “tested” I mean “taught to memorize tons of information that will be on a standardized test.” Yes, a lot of this is stuff that students ought to know. But what about standard-less creativity? What about time to draw a picture or play a song not to have it evaluated in some way but just for the sheer joy and self-expression?


For the "People suck" files

I just read this article in The New York Times about this year’s winner of the Newbery Medal (the uber-prestigious award for children’s literature), Susan Patron’s The Higher Power of Lucky. A big controversy is brewing about one work in this book. From the NYT article:

The book’s heroine, a scrappy 10-year-old orphan named Lucky Trimble, hears the word through a hole in a wall when another character says he saw a rattlesnake bite his dog, Roy, on the scrotum.

“Scrotum sounded to Lucky like something green that comes up when you have the flu and cough too much,” the book continues. “It sounded medical and secret, but also important.”

Apparently, many librarians find the inclusion of this word appalling enough to ban the book from their shelves. Excuse me? Librarians? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to champion the spread of knowledge and literature and all that other stuff? In banned-book cases, I general expect the people throwing hissy fits over this sort of thing to be outraged parents. But in this case, it seems that several librarians are deciding on their own–not because they’re being pressured by parents or school boards–to ban the book.

One of these librarians interviewed for the article said that he didn’t want teachers to have to explain the word. Um, hello? That’s what teachers do–they teach. Oh wait, I’m sorry–I was confused. These days most teachers just make their students memorize stuff in preparation for cookie-cutter standardized tests, right? (Sigh.) Would the world come to an end if we actually expected–and encouraged–teachers and students to engage each other in the classroom? And trusted them enough to do this without micromanaging the whole process?

Another librarian banned the book so she wouldn’t get angry phone calls from parents. Oh, great–so she’s caving before anyone has actually complained. That bothers me tremendously.

We’re not talking about porn or obscenity. This book is targeted to pre-adolescents. At that age, they’re growing up and learning about their bodies–and they need to learn what the parts are. I’m not talking about giving an extended sex-ed lesson in a book for ten-year-olds. This is the “official,” clinical term for a body part. Good grief.

/end rant

(The title of the post is what my husband said when I told him about the article.)