Friday, February 04, 2011

PTA Wars, house wrens and the arts

With the shrinkage or loss of arts, music and athletics in many schools due to shrinking budgets and "teach to the test mentality," Parent Teacher Associations have been stepping up to the plate to provide funding for art and music teacher salaries and supplies. While one can find wonder in that, and feel awe for the generosity of parents and their commitment to the arts, the practice has not been without controversy. An article in Time Magazine last week called the situation, PTA Wars. Some parent teacher organizations in wealthier communities are offering their children advantages in the arts unavailable to poorer districts. Those parents in poorer communities are disturbed by the disadvantage their children face as a result. Some have filed suit.

Interestingly, you don't hear parents getting involved in matters of reading or math. It is as though they really do, in their hearts, know what children really need most. Attend to the arts and all else follows. Give the children something to read about that interests them (as the arts do) and then give something to calculate as we do in laboratory science and woodshop? Go figure.

Yesterday, I mentioned the Educational Sloyd principle, "move from the concrete to the abstract", and in that principle, we find that the arts are the actual concrete foundation of education, not a luxury to be provided by PTAs when they can afford it. We have things completely backwards in American education and our children and our collective future suffers for it.

Today I had a house wren visiting in my office and wanting to get out. I tried to swoop it up in a dip net to no avail. It is that time of the year when house wrens go into dark places looking for a suitable nest. I hoped to find a way to get it captured and released. Which brings me to the essential point of education. Do we restrain our children in boring and meaningless classes in which they perceive no relevance and feel no connection, or do we offer them capture and release through the arts?

I managed to coax the wren through the office door into the finish room by turning off lights. I was inspired by watching the Temple Grandin movie and wondered how birds think. Then I closed the door between the office and finish room and opened the door to the outside. With just a bit more encouragement the wren flew out. Is there a lesson in that for American education? By paying attention to the needs of our children could it be so easy? It is such a "no-brainer." I call it the strategic implementation of the hands. We all know we learn best by learning hands-on. But the challenge is to get American educators awakened to fundamental human reality.

As you can see in the photo above, I am starting the final project for the book which being a simple one will probably slide in as chapter one. I could turn Biblical and say the last shall be first, but I would rather just tell you what kind of wood it is. Black Locust, an uncommon Arkansas hardwood. You will see a bit more of it in the next few days and will see the entire step by step when the book is published.

Make, fix, create.


  1. We have lost our minds in education. We do much worse than restrain our kids in boring and irrelevant classes. We are accostoming our children to failure by our approach to education. Instead of identifying our children's strengths, nurturing those and then using those strengths as a foundation to help a child in areas where things are more difficult for them, we ignore the strengths and focus on the weaknesses, to the point where the child has no experience of success in school. It is no wonder that they drop out. This is especially true if the child's abilities are not in academics.

  2. Let them be jealous and file suit. Are these PTAs asking for handouts? No, they are finding a way, themselves, to fix a problem that they are concerned about. Is it fair? Probably not, but life isn’t always fair. It would be unfair to redistribute this money to the schools that don’t have the means and would thus be receiving free money.