Since 1961, schools throughout the nation have celebrated Youth Art Month, founded by the Crayon, Water Color and Craft Institute in cooperation with the National Education Association.
Originally called Children’s Art Month, the goal of the designation was to “emphasize the value of participating in art for all children.”
At that time, music, industrial arts, home economics, and physical education visual art were traditionally known as “special subjects” not “academic subjects.” Teachers of “specials” contended with the old adage: “Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach.”
This has always been a conundrum, as the best teachers of special subjects are those who continue the passion for their profession and are indeed practicing musicians, craftsman, chefs, tailors, athletes, and artists.
My colleagues in the specials enjoyed the enthusiasm displayed by students in our classrooms for the supposedly non-academic pursuits. Privately, we would share stories of how reading and writing, mathematics, science and social studies never seemed like drudgery to the learners because what they were doing was fun. We did not have to labor over creative hooks or imaginative motivational strategies in lesson plans. Excitement for learning was inherent in the process or the product.
What specials teachers and the teachers of visual arts, in particular, do labor over is that special does not mean non-academic and proving that those who CAN do – teach.
One month out of the year emphasizing the value of participation in art is not sufficient in convincing the public that special subjects are core knowledge that should have a rightful place in educating the whole student.
In these days of curriculum integration, problem-solving and authentic assessment, teachers of visual art remain confident that special subject classrooms have been and will continue to be incubators for building the very skills that produce enthusiastic and creative life-long learners.
Will everyone become a musician, a craftsman, a chef, a tailor, an athlete, or an artist? I think not. Will everyone routinely use the skills learned in their special classes? I hope so. Will those who can’t, teach? I hope not.