Young Children, Pedagogy and the Arts: Ways of Seeing
reviewed by Therese Quinn - January 13, 2016
Title: Young Children, Pedagogy and the Arts: Ways of Seeing
Author(s): Felicity McArdle and Gail Boldt
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415626994, Pages: 222, Year: 2013
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I was raised in Hayward, a small town across the bay from San Francisco. Throughout my childhood, Hayward smelled like the stewed tomatoes, ketchup, and sour pickles processed in its canneries and other food manufacturers year-round. Our public school curriculum reflected Haywards economic basemy elementary class took regular field trips to local factories. One year we visited Mothers Bakery where we watched the workers and ate frosted animal-shaped cookies hot off the conveyor belts. During other years, we traveled to a milk products plant where we were given cartons of chocolate milk and ice cream bars, and to Hunts Foods to visit a classmates parent at work. Our early education helped us see and even taste possibilities for our futures while others remained unknown.
Education scholar Elliot Eisner described the power of schooling experiences with the idea of the null curriculumwhat schools do not teach may be as important as what they teach. What students cannot consider . . . they are unable to use [and this has] consequences for the kinds of lives they can lead (Eisner, 1994, p. 103). In other words, one option my grade school classmates were offered was factory work; this was part of our explicit curriculum. The arts were among many subjects not offered during our rare trips off campuswe didnt visit any of the galleries, museums, or cultural centers in Hayward, Castro Valley, or Oakland, or even cross the bridge to tour the public murals in San Franciscos Mission District.
Many things were in motion during the 1960s when I attended elementary school. The United States was being pushed toward social change by anti-Vietnam War protests. The Civil Rights, Black Power, Womens, and Gay Liberation movements were underway, and students were organizing everywhere. I learned a great deal about these turbulent times from watching the nightly televised news. The arts were also changingthe Fluxus, feminist, and Black Arts movements, among others, burst onto the scene. They inspired playful and creative forms of what began to feel like our political organizing while I completed high school in the early 1970s. My school fused arts, culture, and context. My social studies teacher invited feminist artists to perform scenes from the history of womens activism; our drama club wrote and staged a play about the 1950s, red baiting, and the executions of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg. I presented a paper about the Jewish lesbian Gertrude Stein for my ethnic studies class. My history teacher gave me course credit for participating in a student-organized reading of poetry from Chinas Tang Dynasty. I moved out of the house and into a womens collective before I finished high school, and it wasnt long before I was dressing up as an Amazon, a gorilla, and the Statue of Liberty to perform in plays, parades, and protests.
My focus in museums, and later in art and teacher education, and museum and exhibition studies became linking art with movements for justice. Im reluctant to credit the hand turkeys, yarn octopuses, and snowball bunnies I made each Friday in grade school as either art or craft, though drawing on Jean Anyons (1980) seminal article, Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work, I can now see that these projects, and my field trips, prepared me for rote work, with the by-product of developing [my] abilities and skills of resistance (p. 88). These capacities coalesced when I experienced art connected to the work of social change during high school.
Felicity McArdle and Gail Boldt note in the introductory chapter of their book, Young Children, Pedagogy and the Arts: Ways of Seeing, that the arts education landscape looks quite different today than it did during our shared youth, and even from the fairly recent past. As nations have focused their attention on data-driven teaching restricted to the basics of literacy and numeracy, and knowledge and activities that are measureable (p. 4), most public schools have minimized or reshaped their arts education offerings, often with disturbing results. McArdle and Boldt offer convincing arguments that two common strategies used by educators to defend the value of arts education are misguided at best, and often even damaging. One response they note has been to create rubrics and measuring tools for arts education (p. 4); another has been to promote the arts within a multiliteracies framework as a language of discrete elements to be taught and assessed. The authors point out that each direction successfully preserves a space for art in school, but also limits educators abilities to see their value beyond the measurable. Boldt and McArdle propose that the arts are not wonderful because they support math skills or language arts, or even because they allow children to express content knowledge in creative waysalthough who doesnt love history dioramas and science muralsbut because of what they achieve beyond words (p. 4). As Christina MacRae notes in her chapter on documentary practices, when an arts-rich curriculum is not functionalized, it can offer both children and adults within schools a chance to experience the increasingly rare and potent space of not knowing and much more that is undervalued and undernourished in schools (p. 61).
Young Children, Pedagogy and the Arts focuses on early childhood education and is organized into three broad, and somewhat overlapping, parts including Ways of SeeingThe Arts; Ways of SeeingChildren, and; Ways of SeeingCurriculum and Pedagogy. The book includes eleven chapters by authors from five countries (four European and the United States) that explore these ideas. Some gaps in content are inevitable with a volume this slim. Comprehensive geographical representation is one omission; no authors address arts education ideas and practices in any part of the global South, Asia, or Africa. Anotherdisabilityis indicated both through its absence as a subject and by the repeated use of the word seeing in each section title. A better term might have been discerningit is closer to the editors meaning and the unfortunate privileging of sight would be less noticeable. Foregoing the discussion of ability is a detriment to the book because disability studies in education and disability arts are both rich areas of thought and practice. On a related note, while some of the authors in this book write about indigenous and Indian arts, there are no contributions written by disabled artists and people of color. Nothing about us without usthe political motto frequently claimed by disability rights activistswould have been a useful guide for these editors and authors.
Many of the chapters written by researchers, higher education practitioners, and early childhood educators richly defend the idea that arts are critical in schools. They also provide wonderful examples of curriculum, and useful caveats for teachers. For example, Linda Knights Small Acts of Resistance: The Role of Intergenerational Collaborative Drawing in Early Childhood Teaching and Learning warns teachers to be wary of interpreting childrens art for them because the young, like adults, are complex and various, despite the assertions and impact of some developmental theories. Another is Karen E. Wohlwend and Kylie Peppers Designing with Pink Technologies and Barbie Transmedia which urges educators to consider everything, including products like Barbie, as sites ripe for redesign and critical meaning-making, and includes examples drawn from a museum-based project. Corporate sponsorships are increasingly sought by museums as public funding declines. It is encouraging to see an example of curriculum complicating the content of a related exhibit given this new funding reality. However, I wonder how museum staff, usually hired at will and thus vulnerable employees, viewed these types of projects, a topic not addressed in the chapter.
Speaking of the public, I was baffled by two exclusions from Amy Pfeiler-Wunders chapter Social Class and Art Room Curriculum. They are race and the experiences of racialized groups in school, and lack of support for a fully resourced public education in the United States. Pfeiler-Wunder describes her contribution as a partial account that begins to describe a much bigger research undertaking that addresses a host of factors, including the quickly changing ethnic and racial composition where her study was situated. She also adds the caveat that her addition to the book only focuses on class, although in the United States this topic cannot be fully separated from race. True to her stated purpose, Pfeiler-Wunder avoids mentioning race in the chapter, and the words race, racism, and racialized are also missing from the index, although it appears she clearly signifies race through her choice of Tayshawn as the pseudonym for one of her two subjects. She mentions that Tayshawns family recently relocated from a bigger city to a smaller one to avoid gun violence, and that his new school has a smaller budget than others in the area. Without a discussion of redlining and property values, disinvestment in public schools that educate children of color, and resistance by Black youth to the violence inflicted on them in the streets and their schoolssee #BlackLivesMatter and #16Shots, for examplethis lack of information causes the discussion to become opaque; unfortunately these and similar omissions render the authors analyses useless.
For effective examples of critical investigations of the relationship of class and race to public schooling, and to unpack why Tayshawn was so often sent to work alone because of his behavior (p. 165), both Pfeiler-Wunder and readers would benefit from Ann Arnett Fergusons Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity (2001) and Amanda Lewiss Race in the Schoolyard: Negotiating the Color Line in Classrooms and Communities (2003). To understand the ascendance of neoliberal, privatizing education policies, everyone should read Pauline Lipmans The New Political Economy of Urban Education: Neoliberalism, Race and the Right to the City (2011).
The first step toward ensuring that young children have rich experiences with the arts is making sure all of them have access to well-funded, adequately supplied, and fully public schools. Gwendolyn Brooks evokes this urgent concern in her poem, Boy Breaking Glass: I shall create! If not a note, a hole (1987). We despair without the ability to make art, our lives, and our futures. Young Children, Pedagogy and the Arts helps us understand many ways the arts are valuable for young people. Unfortunately, it does not help us understand why some schools are so arts poor, or how we can use the arts and our collective fury to gain justice for all of our children, schools, and society.
Anyon, J. (1980). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work, Journal of Education, 162(1), 6792.
Brooks, G. (1987). Boy breaking glass. Blacks. Chicago, IL: Third World Press. Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172094
Eisner, E. W. (1994) The educational imagination: On design and evaluation of school programs. (3rd. ed) New York, NY: Macmillan.
Ferguson, A. A. (2001). Bad boys: Public schools in the making of black masculinity. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Lewis, A. (2003). Race in the schoolyard: Negotiating the color line in classrooms and communities. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.
Lipman, P. (2011). The new political economy of urban education: Neoliberalism, Race and the right to the city. New York, NY: Routledge.