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Kamarck, Edward (ed.) / Arts in society: the arts and the black revolution II
(1968)

Bolman, William M.
Notes and discussions: [art education for the disadvantaged child: a neglected social necessity],   pp. [500]-503 PDF (4.5 MB)


Page 501

ART EDUCATION FOR THE DISADVANTAGED
CHILD: A Neglected Social Necessity
by William M. Bolman
The major goal of this essay is to indicate
an important but poorly understood role for
art education in contemporary United
States. This role involves the provision of
essential missing cultural nutriments for
the disadvantaged child. I hope to
demonstrate that the need for this role is
so acute as to justfy a sizeable shift in
the emphasis and distribution of personnel
and funding in art education. The bases
for my opinions stem from three
sources: Clinical child psychiatric
treatment of disadvantaged children;
interest in the art and psycho-social
development of preschool children2; and
experience as a mental health planner,
especially involving the prevention of
biopsychosocial disorder3',.
Eisner, in a recent overview of the future of
art education, stated, "Art education is
inextricably tied to education at large. As
society has altered its demands for and
expectations of education, so too it has
altered its conceptions of the functions
that art education is to perform. The
sources of these new expectations have
been various. They have emanated from
economic, social, intellectual, and political
changes in the nation, and from the
unique social evolution of individual
communities."'
In the United States now and for at least
several decades to come, one of our most
pressing social facts of life is the presence
of large and ever-increasing numbers of
economically and socially disadvantaged
people in dangerously overcrowded urban
ghettos. Less visible, but equally deprived
groups are those minority populations
living in rural areas. Both groups,
especially the former, have begun to
achieve a rapidly increasing share of
national attention as our cities begin to
burn and social disorder becomes ever
more contagious. When the present
national priority for war abroad shifts to
concern over wars at home, there will
necessarily be a redirection of our resources
toward finding ways of alleviating the social
threat posed by the presence of so many
undereducated, underemployed, and
disadvantaged citizens. The most obvious
needs for these disadvantaged groups
(Negroes, whites, Spanish Americans, and
American Indians) are the basic needs for
survival - food, shelter, clothing. The
means for achieving them involves jobs,
education, and equal opportunity to
obtain them. Over this there is little
disagreement, and the major differences are
those of tactics and not of values.
Nevertheless, deprivation of these
necessities, however basic they are, is only
half the need. The other half are human
social values of many kinds, the absence
of which is broadly referred to as
"cultural deprivation," although this is a
weak term to convey a sense of
hopelessness, the loss of dignity and the
meaninglessness of existence that
characterizes much of ghetto life. This is
especially dangerous for children growing
up in such environments, as the evidence
is now overwhelming that these children
grow up without intellectual and social
abilities to manage good jobs or higher
education even with equal opportunities
to obtain them. Although the figures are
unknown, we know that roughly 20-30
percent of all children in the United States
under the age of 18 are growing up
exposed to severe poverty and attendant
cultural deprivation. As a matter of social
strategy then, it makes sense to devote a
considerable share of our cultural resources
toward correcting deprivation in this
group, containing some 15 million children.
The major social institution with the
greatest promise and capacity for
alleviating some of the effects of this
deprivation is the school system, and
American education today is alive with
changes in the curricula and methods of
teaching as it attempts to cope with the
challenges of urban education.
Unfortunately, many school systems and art
educators have not yet discovered the
tremendous, and I think essential,
contribution that art education can make
specifically for deprived children. Here,
however, there is disagreement over both
values and tactics. We are not used to
thinking of art education as "essential" in
the school curriculum as, say, spelling is.
In fact it may not be essential for
advantaged children as will appear later,
but I believe it is for the disadvantaged.
Because it is so recent, it is worth presenting
some of the evidence.
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