student presentation, adult discovery

On Tuesday I went to visit another school. Between meetings I had a chance to visit two classes: an eighth grade history class and a sixth grade art class with an art-history component. I’ll talk about the eighth grade program some other time. Today I want to consider what happened in the sixth grade class.

The students were giving slide shows on artists: Monet, Picasso, Man Ray, Leonardo DaVinci, and more. I saw about a dozen of these presentations. And I must say some of them were very good.

A few were downright appalling, like the one on Donatello (name changed to protect the guilty) that didn’t have any art by Donatello in it. And the one on a poor Polish (not correct nationality) Dadaist (not right art movement) where the presenting student ignored her teacher and fellow students’ pleas to pronounce his name correctly, steadfastly clinging to the mispronunciation through fourteen times and 21 corrections from the floor.

But the thing that struck me, more than anything else, was how many artists had abandoned the traditional schooling at an early age to go to drawing school. Or to apprentice with an artist. Or to sit for examinations to enter painting schools. Or to run away to drawing school. Monet comes to mind: according to his youthful biographer at this “death by PowerPoint” festival, Monet abandoned regular school for his local drawing school at age 13.

One of the selling points of our educational system is how monolithic it all is. You have to go to school Your choices seem to be public school, a magnet school if you get the right recommendations and win the entrance lottery, a charter school or a private school.

But there were other kinds of local schools, apparently. Drawing schools and painting schools. And military academies, funded by the taxpayers. There were other kinds of schools.

There were other kinds of schools!

This thought has been coursing through me like lightning this week. We, as citizens and taxpayers, have the right to vote that our school districts create other kinds of schools than just the traditional five-subject model. We could specify local military academies, where kids study engineering and military history. Art schools, where kids make art all day long in preparation for careers as designers and artists. Programming schools, for the geeks into computers. Service schools, for kids interested in cooking. Drama schools, for kids interested in theater. Law schools and journalism schools and biology schools and writing schools. There could be — is “should” too strong a word here? — eight or ten broad category of school, only one of which would be the traditional five subject model.


I think I need to find out more about this multitrack education system they used to have, where drawing and art were as important as language and writing.

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  1. All of New Haven’s public high schools are magnet schools. This isn’t to say that they all work well, but each high school teaches a specific skill or trade along with core subjects.

    Did I ever tell you about my cousin, Andy? When he graduated from high school, he made a plan to go to a two-year vocational college to become an electrician. My family poo-pooed the notion; a “vocational” school isn’t a “real” school in their minds. But Andy had a plan: he would learn to be an electrician, and then he would take his credits, transfer to UC-Irvine, and get his degree. At the time, he wanted to be a history teacher.

    So here’s my cousin, at age 18, thinking, “I’ll structure my education so that I can become an electrician AND a history teacher. I always have the electrician gig to fall back on — it’s a well paying, highly-skilled job — but teaching history is what I really want to do.”

    In my mind, Andy’s plan made him the smartest person in our family.

  2. Whoa, now. You are talking about change that might actually make some sense, here. I think this is something that NEEDS to happen. We had an inservice awhile back on the Kansas Career Pipeline. I was so excited about this, thinking, finally, we are giving our kids some direction. It is said that your interests are pretty much set by the time you are 14. So in theory, we could help kids figure out what types of jobs would be a good match for them. We had all our kids take an interest survey at the beginning of this year.

    That was it. Four weeks into school and it was totally abandoned. Teachers got busy and the administration never came back and said here’s what you do next.

    This is what we need to do. Kids spend too much time and money going nowhere.

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