“Receive children in reverence; educate them in love; let them go forth in freedom.”
Teaching is truly one of the great joys of my life. I have had the privilege and honor to be the Artist-in Residence at Tye River Elementary in Nelson County since I moved here in September 2010. I coordinate, plan the curriculum for, and teach the after-school Gifted Visual Arts club for third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders. These kids keep me on my toes with their wit, make me laugh with their candor, and inspire me with their creativity.
We have just finished our unit making Japanese stab-bound books with carrot-printed covers. With each class project, I try to choose materials that the children will be able to find around their homes, and choose techniques which are simple enough for the children to replicate and improvise upon later in time. I want to equip them with skills they can apply to many areas of their lives, and empower them to express themselves through crafts. The books my kids constructed just blew me away. First, I showed them the simple technique of carving carrots into stamps, (which can also be done with potatoes, radishes, cabbage, etc,) then taught them the basics of printmaking.
We talked about positive and negative space, practiced visual rhythms by drumming on the table tops, and richly layered our carrot stamps on top of one anothers’. Some of my youngsters exercised extreme precision in their print-making process, while others let their marks be gestural and loose. I love this project for just that reason – each artist’s voice comes through naturally and with ease.
The prints were then framed by recycled cardboard for covers, and bound with an oh-so-simple stab sewing. Japanese stab binding is the best way to join many pieces of loose leaf paper, and can be widely improvised upon once you’ve learned the basics. The possibilities for self-publishing are endless!
By the time I get my hands on these kids, they’ve been cooped-up in a classroom for six hours already that day. Our current system of standardized education in public schools creates an environment in which teachers are afraid to teach anything other than what’s on the next statewide test (which in Virginia are aptly named S.O.L.s,) and are constantly in fear of losing their jobs. ‘Specials’ like Art, Music, and Gym are cut more each year to accommodate for more test-prep. Administrators are enforcing these harmful and stressful policies all across the country, but only because they desperately want to maintain funding for their schools. The kids are feeling the crunch.
(I am lucky to work at a school that supports the arts and their students enough to fund Artists-in-Residents like myself. I have received nothing but generous support and ample expressions of gratitude from the teachers and administration at Tye River Elementary in my time there. )
I see it as my mission, then, to provide my young artists tools to express themselves with. To create a space in which they feel safe to do so. To ask them questions for which there is not ONE RIGHT ANSWER. To encourage their whimsy and indulge their curiosity. To be a good listener. To show them the respect that they deserve. To empower them to trust themselves to make their own decisions. To invite them to be playful with their art. To invite them to take their art seriously. To equip them with new ways to talk about, think about, and make their art. Most importantly, it is my goal to counteract the forces of conformity and standardization in their lives. If they remember anything from my classes, I hope it is the feeling that their uniqueness is of value. It cannot be measured by any sort of test, could not be taught, and is truly priceless.