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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Bullying has become the means in schools to keep many of our kids' creativity in check. And I'm talking about the adults! We often bully the young into behaving "normally," taking the "right courses," and ultimately, encouraging our youth to measure their self-worth by how far they move away from art classes, as well as artistic and creative identities and expression.

We do this under the guise of "good advice," when it is really based on fears of their growing up and becoming unemployed or too socially odd in their need to express themselves. No matter how you put it, when we push creativity and the arts away from the center of our society and how we educate our students, we become the biggest bullies on the block.

T-Shirt Design Gone Wrong

I came to this conclusion when I saw the Old Navy shirt that has caused such a stir. The shirt, which is really a onesie for baby girls, has the words "real life artist" printed on the front, except the word "artist" has been crossed out and replaced with the word "astronaut" in one version and "president" in another.

Ok, so maybe the folks at Old Navy thought that they were making a bold feminist statement that empowers little girls. But why at the expense of artists? Fortunately, the backlash was swift and loud, and Old Navy has discontinued selling the item.

My reaction when I saw it? A deep bafflement that went beyond hurt or surprise. Because if I had to guess what the Old Navy design team (which obviously has some artists designing their clothing) was thinking, is that they weren't thinking.

Their brand of humor is a form of bullying. This type of bullying is the casual sort that takes no thought at all. It is similar to the habit that some people have of littering. It doesn't occur to them that the act might be something that is truly offensive, because for them it is just an everyday act that one does without thinking.

Bullies have a way of targeting the weakest among us. And, unfortunately, in the social hierarchy that dictates many of our school playgrounds and corporate boardrooms, it is obvious to everyone who is at the bottom and who is at the top.

The disregard at times towards artistic work and creative identities in our schools, corporations, and general society is so deep that we don't have to think about which jobs should be the first to go, who should be ignored for leadership positions, or which group should be pushed out of their homes and studios when gentrification intensifies.

Encouraging Young Artists

In my experience as an educator and an artist, most people think they care about the arts, but their casual actions tell me that many don't truly understand the value of arts in our society. For example, I've seen in our schools the elimination of art programs, the treatment of art as the type of work suited only for the those who society perceives as weird, disadvantaged, or academically weak, and the advisement of students through college counseling to directly or indirectly steer away from the arts in order to "better prepare them for college."

While our baby girls may not have learned to speak, let alone figure out their future careers, encourage them to be who they want to be. It's great if she wants to become an artist. The world will be, and always has been, better for it.

How do you encourage young artists, and what role does art play in your classroom or school? Please share in the comments section below.

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Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Writer on education, teaching and learning. Chief Education Officer at The Writing Project

Stacey, this is a great post, as always. I used to think these t shirts are cute and harmless, and honestly most of the time they are. But when I became a parent, I started to question the labels that my kids wear more. My kids are very young right now, but it's interesting to see how identities are shaped by the labels we wear literally and figuratively. I am so disheartened when I hear parents say that they'd like their kids to be Dr's and engineers instead of artists. We should be proud of what they hope to be, and who they are, though I know it's hard to dismantle parental expectations that are often as a result of societal expectations.

My high school art teacher created such a safe learning environment for us to be who we are and express our creativity and individuality, right down to letting us listen to our choice of music while working. I think it was my favourite class throughout all my HS years.

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UWMadisonEOP's picture

Hi Teachers! http://eop.education.wisc.edu/eop/professional-learning/courses

We aim to support teachers in their creative interest, artistic expression, and professional growth so that they can successfully support their students. One of our partnerships in particular is with the Greater Madison Writing Project. Throughout the various events we create together, we always work to provide a place where educators and students alike can let their creative thoughts unwind, untangle, and flow. Our programs are held in outdoor spaces and gardens to further enhance the notion of free writing.

Our teachers can be a part of a summer institute or a year long institute. We'd love to meet you! Information regarding these institutes can be found here: http://gmwp.wisc.edu/writing-institutes/summer-institute

Students are welcome at our High School Writing Camp: http://gmwp.wisc.edu/writing-institutes/high-school-writing-camp

or our Young Writing Camps: http://gmwp.wisc.edu/writing-institutes/young-writers-camps

Our 2016 information will be updated this spring. Please reach out to us if you have any questions: http://eop.education.wisc.edu/eop/about-us/connect-with-eop

Thank you all for reading, and thanks, Stacy for this article!!

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Stacey Goodman's picture
Stacey Goodman
Artist and educator from Oakland, California.

I'm glad to hear you had a great art teacher. It definitely helps to find one's identity and calling in life. Thanks, Rusul!

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.

Great Post Stacey! You know, people who look down upon the artists of the world--I dare them to try to get through a day without using, listening to, or watching something an artist created. It wouldn't be a very good day, I'm sure.

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