Monday, March 5, 2012

Rebel Artist (#2)

"Mommy, how come we almost never go to the Huntington anymore?"

I wasn't sure how to answer that question.

Little Bit and I used to treat nearby San Marino's Huntington Art Gallery like our own personal hideaway. That membership fee was the best money I could have ever spent on early childhood education. Instead of preschool, my daughter spent hours with me learning about art and architecture. (Plus, she spent a lot of after-gallery time looking for fairies in the clover and splashing her hands in the fountains of the Children's Garden.) Her dad and I didn't go in for the Teach Your Baby to Read movement. We didn't know then that with the new educational model, preparation for rigorous academic standards starts around age 2. We were more into a philosophy along the lines of Let Our Baby Think, Feel and Explore.

Although we regularly made our rounds through all of the Huntington buildings, studying the soft blur of Mary Cassatt as well as the sharp form of Arts and Crafts furniture, Little Bit always liked the 18th Century figurative works best of all. Pinkie, by Thomas Laurence, is still one of her favorite portraits.

"So," Little Bit repeated. "Why can't we ever go anymore?"

"We don't have time during the week since you started first grade," I said. "We have to do your homework, and with the sight words, the spelling words, the spelling word sentence drill practice, the timed math test practice, the math worksheets, the spelling worksheets and then the work you couldn't finish during school hours, that means we can't..."

"I know, I know," Little Bit interrupted. "But some of my homework was about art the other day and I think the school needs to come back to the Huntington to learn something about it."

"Learn what?" I said.

"They need to learn that silver is a cool color. We were doing a worksheet on warm and cool colors and they were talking about Monet's haystack paintings. I got mine marked wrong because the sheet said that blue, green and purple were cool colors and I colored silver too. I just thought they knew that Monet actually used silver in those haystacks, too. Of course it's a cool color. Cool like moonlight and shadows. But I think they didn't even know that."

"Why didn't you say something?" I said.

"I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings," she said.

(Try registering that on a standardized test.)

33 comments:

Chrissy Brand said...

Out of the mouths of babes- quite something when the pupil could teach the teacher- great parenting Laurie!

Chrissy from Manchester: a photo a day at Mancunian Wave

Judy Williams said...

What can I say but spot on, my dear.

Dixie Jane said...

What a lucky little girl to be exposed to real art that does not include coloring within the lines. There is something terribly wrong with the system. I applaud you for seeing that Little Bit gets this exposure and appreciation that will last long after all of the standardized tests.

Dixie Jane said...

.....and a lovely photo of, "Pinky" too.

Anonymous said...

Spot on indeed.

South Pasadena schools have gone crazy with homework in the lower grades making it hard to plan other weekly after school activities. My third grader's experience is far different than when my high schooler was that age and his dad and I worry that he is overworked for his age and ripe for burnout. Don't get me started on the homework in middle and high school. We have had to hire tutors for our eldest.

This post is WONDERFUL.

Another Parent said...

Yes, yes, yes.

Ever think about running for school board?

Sharon said...

What a smart and considerate young lady! You might have to treat her with another visit to the Huntington sometime soon.

Green Guy said...

If I had it my way it would be Reading, 'Riting, 'Rithmatic, Rembrandt and Rothko!

Excellent subtext as always, Laurie.

Bellis said...

My kids growing up in England had no homework until they were 11, but both went to University and did well.

German kids in the 80s didn't have any homework ever (I'm not sure it's still like that) and look how well the German economy's doing. I don't think young children should be burdened with homework. They need to be out exploring the world, reading, playing with friends. No wonder there's now a childhood obesity problem.

Gary said...

Great, great post, Laurie. Please do continue to develop this theme.

In talking to parents both at our school, Monterey Hills, and on the soccer field, I've learned that there are a huge number folks who feel just like you (and me) about the extent to which standardized testing has placed a vice-like grip on the curriculum.
.

South Pas Mom to Two said...

Laurie, you are speaking truth to what so many of us feel. At Arroyo Vista the teachers say the work shouldn't take too long, as if all children are exactly the same in how the learn. I volunteer weekly and see so many youngsters freaking out that they aren't good enough because they need extra time. A friend was told her daughter had a learning disability in kindergarten last year because she wasn't reading at a first grade level at 5! She switched to a charter school and is doing great, and right on track. Plus, no more than 10 minutes of homework a day.

With all this busy work and focus on "right answers" as well as teaching above grade level as teachers admit South Pas does, where is the time for kids to learn how to think for themselves? What about critical thinking?

Please keep writing about this.

Anonymous said...

A mom at the park showed me this post on her phone. I feel same. Our family is pretty bogged down with homework. Don't know how families do it when both parents work. I'm a stay at home mom and it is hard enough. Kids need play and sleep. We haven't been to the Huntington since last year. By middle school, even weekend time is limited.

Great blog. Also miss your Patch column.

Anonymous said...

As a fine artist and former art history professor, I am here to confirm that yes, silver is a cool color.

A provocative post with much to discuss.

Shanna said...

As an artist and former college art professor of 26 years, I would like to say that I was always open to learning from my students. Many of them had been schooled in Europe and drew far, far better than my American students.

I learned a great deal from my students even though I, myself, had the advanced degrees.

I am not familiar with what you are going through, but am horrified to learn about the amount of homework given to these precious young souls.

I remember many trips to the Huntington when you and Dixie Jane came to town. Go back !

Also, will someone clue the teacher in about silver? There is also gold - as in gilding. Warm, right? And some painters paint on copper to give a warm glow to their work.
Silver:cool.
Gold:warm.

Great post!

Mark said...

We left South Pas schools, much as it broke our hearts, because of the emphasis on accelerated curriculum and excess homework to the point of making our very smart, inquisitive child feel behind and somehow inferior to the over-achievers. Also, we have come to find that there is more to education than test scores. Many good teachers are in the South Pas system, but not all. The bad ones however can do real damage to young, normal kids who don't happen to be bound for Cal Tech.

I had to laugh at only blue, green, and purple are cool. Does grey count? I understand following instructions but what about extra credit instead of punishment?

Laurie said...

Wow, everyone. Thanks for this amazingly lively discussion, and the full email box I found when I checked in.

Look for more on this subject in the coming months. I am saddened to hear of so many thoughtful, interesting families leaving our schools. I've met others recently out and about and I have listened to their stories. So many reflect what you have expressed here.

Thanks for being such an awesome audience and community. I agree with what you all said!

Shanna said...

Grey is a very interesting color. I mix mine out of red and green, with white added.
So the grey can go either warm or cool, depending on how I mix it. I think it is my favorite color and mixed this way, it is very vibrant.

Another Rebel Artist at heart said...

Stories like this confirm why our kids are at Waldorf, even though I am an engineer. Academics are great but not at the expense of childhood.

Laurie said...

Another Rebel Artist at heart, I may quote you on that line about academics!

What upsets me most is how many parents I've talked to who are so worried about thier kids being abnormal because they can't concentrate like a third grader in the first grade. So much happens developmentally between 6 and 7. A 7 yr old has such greater capacity for all things than even 6 1/2. It's one of the most major brain development cycles in a person's life, so to expect young children to be on same level is bizarre, IMO. Like expecting all girls to start menstruating at exact same time in a year. The standardization model does not seem to leave room for even normal early childhood milestone variability.

Tash said...

Little Bit is fantastic and brilliant! (And kind too.)
You've done a fine job, Bigger Bit.

Mister Earl said...

Great topic and post, as always, Laurie. Last night on 60 Minutes they did a piece on "red shirting" 5 year-olds born in the summer so they start kindergarten when they are 6 to give them an advantage rather than the "supposed" disadvantage they have if they are the youngest in their classes. We have lost all perspective.

Those of you who feel strongly about these issues should start attending school board meetings to see what you can do to change things.

Laurie said...

Thanks, Tash.

Mr. E, we were shocked last year to learn of holding kids back from kindergarten. Then we found out kindergarten is the new first grade. Little Bit is a May baby and is younger than most of her peers. The parents of spring and summer(and the few SePtember kids) are usually the ones worried about reading and concentration in my conversations. In my opinion when a teacher says a preschool/kinder/first grader is "slipping thru the cracks," often it just means the kids' roots haven't grown into the cracks yet. Most often they will, given time to develop normally along the path child psychologists say varies a bit up to around age 7 to 7 1/2. My fear is that by stigmatizing normal kids early, we create reluctant readers, test phobics and all-around insecure kids. I'm no expert, but I'm a pretty good observer of human nature as well as cause and effect.

Pasadena Adjacent said...

The idea of herding children into cookie cutter likeness is so sad. Your child is a romantic in the making.

A bit of silver advise from Charles Bukowski to little bit "Your life is your life, don't let it be clubbed into dank submission"

plus you know your mom (that other kind of Tiger mom) won't allow for it

Who cares what I think? said...

AMEN!

Laurie said...

I'd love it if teachers weighed in on being handcuffed to the new standardized testing model. Is this ultimately good for anybody?

Laurie said...

Love the Bukowski quote, PA. Roar. (In a join-the-circus kind of tiger way.)

altadenahiker said...

I was going to say schools have sure changed, but then, I spent grammar school in one of those experimental programs, so it’s not a fair comparison. We,in the program, were given a surprising amount latitude when it came gauging our own performance and talents. Which I think, in the long run, left me stronger in some areas and weaker in others.

Margaret said...

Ask me sometime about the year I spent on the District "Homework Committee." Then ask your school why no one ever did anything with the Report we spent months writing.

Gary said...

For what it's worth, I recently complained about the perniciousness of standardized testing in the Patch, here (comments section):

http://southpasadena.patch.com/articles/how-important-are-tests-common-core-standards-south-pasadena-hhigh-school-math-department-testing

I tried to draw attention to a brilliant NYT piece. Four humanities professors took 3d grade NY reading tests as part of an evening's parlor game. They discovered that the test was not only utterly inane, but also emphasized precisely the wrong kinds of "skills," such as reading literature as if it could only have a single meaning. Our tests are equally misguided. So why do we teach to them? Who is it, exactly, that favors standardized testing and thinks it important that we have high API scores in South Pas?

Laurie said...

THank you so much for all of this discussion, everyone. Gary, I saw the Patch comments and had heard about the NYT piece. Fascinating and sad.

Margaret, I had no idea that you had studied this subject and written a report. How long ago was this?

Petrea Burchard said...

I don't blame parents for sending their kids to private schools under these circumstances. It's too bad not everyone can afford to do that, because the public schools would feel a pinch if this were regular commerce. But unfortunately they have no competition and can do what they want to do with your child's sweet little brain.

Someone suggested going to school board meetings. Hell yes! Your hands are not tied. The board doesn't know what you want unless you tell them, loudly, and in no uncertain terms.

TheChieftess said...

Teach to the test is the current mantra...Education has gone down the tubes in the interest of mandating and regulating how a teacher teaches. Primarily as a reaction to the past social promotion failures. From extreme to extreme...

DorkDad said...

I believe the committee Margaret worked on pointed out that there isn't much (any?) research that links homework with academic achievement in elementary grades. Homework and achievement are directly correlated for high schoolers, but only to a limit of around 2 hours per night, after which it appears to be harmful to achievement, at least for some kids. For middle schoolers, it's - guess what - somewhere in the middle.