Monday, August 23, 2010

Mighty Oak and Mighty Kids

The Illinois state tree is the White Oak. White oak trees are plants germinated from a single acorn seed. It is a sturdy tree with sprawling branches providing ample amounts of shade. Scientists classify white oak trees as living organisms because they need energy, reproduce, and expel waste.

My former fourth grade Woodlawn Community School students and I embarked on an endeavor very similar to the growth process of a White Oak. It started with a seed of an idea allowing fourth graders the space to explore the social issues surrounding violence in Chicago. The seed sprouted as kids brainstormed words revealing their impressions of a city overtaken by random violence. Through Diamante poetry the words morphed into saplings contrasting evil with good, pain with joy, and chaos with peace. The saplings grew into young trees with delicate branches carrying weighty phrases of kid-size desires.

A young oak often needs an anchor of support as its delicate branches and roots absorb energy from the sun and rain. The fourth graders anchor was their ancestor's examples of quilts carrying messages of freedom, hope, and change. The students absorbed energy from Gwen Magee's fabric appeals against injustice. Carole Lyles Shaw's word and photo collages taught them to pay tribute to the deserving. Anchored by fabric and enlivened by art the kids poetry gained strength and became a living thing. They were able to create art quilts with the energy to spur emotion and discussion. Their art has inspired future art quilts. And like all living things, it has expelled inaccurate beliefs about children's roles as leaders influencing change.

State Farm and Helen Scott Insurance Agency, Inc. are presenting the fourth graders' art to Chicago through the Stop the Violence Traveling Quilts Exhibit. The exhibit will begin September 2010 and run through May 2011 at various venues throughout the city. The students' hope is that their art quilts will get adults and children talking about ways they can push for peace in Chicago's homes, schools, and communities. This blog will keep you updated on the status of the exhibit.

Do you know of other youth focused initiatives that are like White Oak trees? Did their initiatives start as a seed of an idea and germinate into a movement? I'd like to use this blog to share these initiatives with the world. Please post a comment with their names and brief background.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

What is Art?

The Awakening,  J. Seward Johnson, Jr (1980)

Art is the awakening of the unconscious. Outstanding art pricks the soul.  It moves the mind beyond its current state of being.  It transports to another time, space, and dimension.  Art inspires emotion.  The Art Institute of Chicago Museum, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and the Joffrey Ballet are change agents challenging people's perceptions.  This is the purpose of art.
Education becomes art when it awakens the mind to new possibilities.  Visual and performing arts are essential for education.  Education without art leads to an abyss of rote memorization and inconsequential facts.  Art is the expression of learning.  It is perception turned into reality.  Arts in education connect learning with emotion.  An outstanding educator knows education is a process engaging the intellectual, emotional, social, and physical being.  An outstanding educator does not isolate the arts from reading, math, science, and social studies.  An education that embraces the arts is holistic, inclusive, and relevant. Art is education and education is art.