I stumbled across this TED talk tonight given by a children’s author named Mac Barnett. He starts out with a quote by Pablo Picasso that is as follows: “We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.”
I am still trying to wrap my brain around that quote but Mac embarked from there on a discussion that hit very close to home with some things I have had on my mind in my teaching.
As a first grade teacher, I am fortunate to be afforded students who come in each day in love with learning and excited to embark on whatever new adventure I have planned for them. I also have the time and freedom to more easily fit in lessons incorporating art in all of its forms because I do not have the constant burden of EOGs hanging over my head.
In some classes in my school, teachers cram all of their social studies and science content into the first half of the year so that they can spend the rest of the year prepping students for EOGs. In other classes, struggling students are pulled out of science and social studies instruction so that they can spend more time in remediation for reading and math. I have heard from some colleagues in other counties that activities involving any type of art projects or other “unnecessary” activities are strictly banned.
It is heartbreaking for me to witness these terrifying truths in our assessment-crazy world today. When I think back to my own days in school, the lessons that stuck with me most are those that involved inquiry in science, role-play in social studies or art projects in reading, writing and math. I remember once making a cell out of a cake. Another time my teacher assigned us roles as king, queen, subjects and serfs and we had to play our given roles in a medieval feast. From constructing castles out of styrofoam to writing to a penpal from another country, these authentic learning experiences are what made me crave learning even beyond what my teachers asked of me.
I sometimes worry with my students that I fall into the trap of focusing too much on preparing them to “succeed” as they move to 2nd grade that I do not allow them to pursue the imaginative worlds that their creativity lends them to as kids. I spend so much time worrying about how to help my students succeed in reading on grade level, memorizing their math facts and using proper writing conventions that sometimes I worry I am only creating in them an ability to learn rather than a drive to keep learning.
Without helping students develop that drive to learn, I fear that we are setting them up for failure no matter how many strategies we have given them or how many concepts they have mastered. We need to put art and imagination back into education. Social studies and science cannot be swept under the rug of preparing for standardized tests. Students need time to explore, to dream, and to imagine worlds that lie beyond the “truths” we are teaching them.
These students are our future. Creativity, in my opinion, is just as important as critical thinking or reading comprehension. Too often we squelch students’ ideas that lie outside of the box. But those very ideas are the ones that could change the world.