Reflections on the various dimensions of feminine vocation from liturgical homemaking and child rearing to education and the spiritual life.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Core Arts Standards without Beauty

The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) is currently conducting a "final public review of the draft PreK-12 arts standards in dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts."

In principle, I am not opposed to the idea of standards. However, there is something fishy about national grade-level standards handed down by a committee and intended to guide everyone everywhere.  

The problem with these kinds of national standards is three-fold. 

First, national education standards are overly discrete and specific for the kind of thing they are. Goals intended for universal adoption should stop at general terms. For example, it is all fine and well to state as a goal that students eventually be able to "synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art." On the other hand, dictating that, in order to meet that general goal, all children in all places ought to "create art that tells a story about a life experience" while in Kindergarten and then "create works of art that reflect community and cultural traditions" during their fourth grade year, and so on, is just plain silly. 

Okay; it's more than silly. It's demeaning and limiting to students, families, and educators. It's micromanaging. Nobody wants that.

. . . Except for those in the curriculum and assessment businesses. 

Which brings us to the second problem with national education standards: They are usually linked to product for profit. Discrete, grade-level standards give publishers the scope and sequence road map for lesson plans that will be acceptable to schools operating under the standards umbrella. 

Assessment and curriculum publishing is a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2012, the market-leading Pearson company sold over $9 billion dollars worth of product. The College Board, one of the leading stake-holders on the NCCAS, has an annual revenue of over $65 million

If everyone everywhere is learning discrete goal x in such-and-such grade, then companies like Pearson can write generic textbooks for universal sales, and the College Board can sell universal testing services to see if students have done x in such-and-such grade. Whether x is worth learning or teaching to every student everywhere in such-and-such grade really doesn't come into the picture for the mega business plan.

Last, but far from least, national education standards, being pluralistic and allegedly value-neutral, are unavoidably vacuous and slanted in core areas. A review of the draft of the specific grade-level standards for visual arts (pdf) reveals an emphasis on social awareness and change. Social awareness is good. Social change can also be good. What about imitation, mastery, or acquaintance with historical masters? These terms and goals are not mentioned in the NCCAS standards draft. This is rather telling about the values and commitments of the coalition.

Even more noticeable is the absence of any mention of beauty. That's right. The national Core Art Standards for visual arts contain not one mention of the word "beauty." 

Comprehensive art standards that have nothing to say about beauty?!? Sadly, this is not surprising, but it should be. Shouldn't it shock and disturb us that students across our nation will be taught, through a deafening silence, that art and beauty have nothing to do with each other, that beauty is no worthy artistic goal? This is what the NCCAS would have for our nation's children.

I have quite different goals for my own children. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kindergarten, Take 2

I'm gearing up to tackle Kindergarten with my second-born in the fall. Having already had an initial go leading my first-born through kindergarten, I'm feeling pretty clear-headed about my priorities, especially with going-on three years of perspective and hindsight to guide me.

Here's what I'm hoping my son will learn and do:

Human Core:
  • Listen to Bible stories.
  • Take nature walks and free play outside as much as possible.
  • Attend to and draw objects from nature in a "nature notebook" as often as he fancies.
  • Listen to beautiful music, especially classical music, and especially live music.
  • Listen to poems.
  • Listen to captivating picture-book and chapter-book stories.
  • Make lots of arts and crafts, mostly self-directed.
  • Go to the zoo as often as possible.
  • Have plenty of unstructured, imaginative free-play.
  • Develop harmony with the body and increasing skill in sustained physical activity. (For my daughter, this has been through dance; for my son, I'm thinking swimming.)

Moral Core:
  • Sustain life-giving personal habits such as a rule of prayer, tithing, and responsible chore completion.

Literacy Core: (multi-year goals)
  • Write and read the 70 basic English phonograms.
  • Write somewhat legibly in cursive handwriting.
  • Start spelling, writing, and reading some basic words and sentences. 

Essential Resources:

Optional Resources:
  • A home library well stocked with quality books and music
  • The Pencil Grip Crossover
  • Colored pencils
  • Miscellaneous arts and crafts supplies
  • Near-by parks and nature preserves 
  • Local music performances, especially free ("Music at Noon" programs are the best!)
  • Swim team or some such
  • Zoo membership
  • Spell to Write and Read (a.k.a. SWR) and the corresponding Cursive First package

Formal math curriculum? Traditional science instruction? Social studies? State standards?  . . . Ain't no soul-lovin' home-kinder-teacher got time for that!