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

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

Page 502

502      Rationale
First, let me be clear that I am using the
term art education in its broadest sense.
It includes learning to see the world in
all its richness and complexity, learning to
organize these perceptions into meaningful
units, and to use these units as tools
for play and work. The formation and use
of these units or symbols is a primary
characteristic of humans. A large part of
our thinking occurs in visual or pictorial
terms. A child who grows up in an
environment which either lacks visual
stimulation or offers disorganized visual
stimulation (a decaying living room wall
with peeling paint and blistered plaster) is
apt to be impaired in his ability to handle
symbols, in short, in his capacity to
think in certain ways.
This visual or pictorial deprivation is
described by all mental health professionals
who have worked with children living in
slums. For example, Martin Deutsch writes:
"Visually, the urban slum in its overcrowded
apartments offer the child a minimal
range of stimuli. There are usually few,
if any, pictures on the wall, and the
objects in the household, be they toys,
furniture, or utensils, tend to be sparse,
repetitious, and lacking in form and color
variations. The sparsity of objects and the
lack of diversity of home artifacts which
are available and meaningful to the child,
in addition to the unavailability of
individualized training, gives the child few
opportunities to manipulate and organize
the visual properties of his environment
and thus perceptually to organize and
discriminate the nuances of that
environment."' Deutsch points out that this
is an ideal situation to learn inattention
as a positive way of coping with the world,
a handicap that leaves the child less able
to learn from subsequent experiences and
schooling in comparison with the more
advantaged children. In other words, the
early socialization of the young slum child
is such as to make him poor even before
he enters school. As a result, he is
rendered much more likely to perpetuate
the cycle of intergenerational poverty and
its train of underemployment, social,
emotional, and urban disorder.
In response to this stark and increasing
social danger, some schools, day care
centers, and nursery schools, have begun
to provide enculturating experiences to
preschoolers. The most extensive and best
known of these projects is Operation Head
Start which provides "cultural enrichment"
combined with health and social services for
four, five, and six year olds. Most of these
programs have some type of art
experiences as a part of them, and the
general goals of Head Start have much In
common with those of art education.
For example, Smith writes, "In fact, art
teachers may receive something of a shock
of recognition if they read over the
material related to the philosophy of
Head Start. Such phrases as 'sensory
differentiation' or 'perceptual discrimination'
or 'improving the self-image" are closely
related to ideas that have become classical
in art education thinking today."'
Some communities have now had two or
three years experience with these programs,
and some of their assets and drawbacks are
becoming clearer. One of the unquestioned
advantages has been the opportunity to
help children according to their individual
needs, whether they be medical, social,
or educational. Although this is
practically an unquestioned right for middle
class children, it is seldom so with
children who are poor, Negro, or
hyphenated Americans (e.g. Spanish-
Americans). One of the very real pleasures
some art teachers have found in some
Head Start programs has been the
opportunity to work with disadvantaged
children in small enough groups to get to
know each child's special ways of seeing
and organizing the world and developing
the curriculum to fit. On the other hand,
this points out obvious drawbacks - not
all teachers are capable of this type of
perceptual (or esthetic, one could say)
teaching, and not all schools are capable of
supporting it. Along the same vein, the
need and potential for this role in art
education is not always recognized, and
funding is far from stable. This is
simply a restatement of my earlier comment
that there is disagreement over both
tactics and values of art education. In
the hope of clarifying this, I would suggest
that art education is caught in the same
bind that most of our other socially
institutionalized patterns of providing
services are struggling with. The more
advantaged groups, whose need for a given
service is less pressing, are those that have
it available, while those whose need is
much greater don't get it. Specifically,

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