Saturday, March 7, 2015

Ants Quarrelling with Boots

It has been a very emotional week. There are many reasons for it, but due to the fact that this is a personal blog, I'll stick to one piece of it. 

It has to do with my decision to return to the classroom. I have begun subbing recently, and I have applied for one of the openings for teaching art at one of the district schools. I've already been contacted for an interview that I will attend later this month.

To say I am conflicted is a gross understatement. Do I love teaching? Yes. Do I feel like I can make a difference? Of course. Do I bite off more than I can chew? To answer in the affirmative is another mammoth understatement. Do I feel defeated? Yes. Do I feel like a tiny ant in a broken educational system that wears a huge boot? Hell, Yes. 

One of the quotes by Loki in the Thor and Avengers enterprise is "An ant has no quarrel with the boot."

Well, for that particular ant that is squashed by the boot, that is true. 

But there are more ants. I guess in the past I feel I've been squashed. But for some reason I'm still an ant that is moving.

There are plenty of my own demons that come into play with what the boot represents. I will address those after I address the specific legislation that occurred last night, which a huge part of the proverbial boot.

(Disclaimer) Sure, this next part qualifies as a political soapbox and it can be written off and dismissed as just that. And yes, some of my own political opinions will come into play with my remarks. 

But one thing is a fact no matter what anyone says. Arizona's educational system is broken. We are 49th in a nation of 50 states in Education. 

Our schools are suffering. Our students are suffering. Teacher morale is under that colossal boot. 

Last November we elected Governor Ducey, who I lovingly refer to as Governor Douchey.  I don't refer to him with that negative play on his name using the same motivation as an immature kid who makes fun of someone's name. Nope. I say it proudly as a teacher and parent who is sickened by this display of ongoing political excrement in Arizona that continues to keep education in the toilet. It is unacceptable. 

The morning after Douchey was elected, I felt sick to my stomach. I knew Arizona's education was in even more trouble than before.  The ant was sitting on their rock unaware of the next boot looming and moving closer.

And legislation was voted on last night that sadly made that feeling all too true.

As I just mentioned, being at 49 out of 50, Arizona's educational system was always circling the drain. Now a huge legislative boot that might as well have said "f**k you!" just voted to flush Arizona's education down the toilet.   

Last night (in the middle of the night, mind you, where there wouldn't be members of the public present to witness the convenient) Arizona's elected officials who are supposed to represent the people voted on legislation that cuts even more funding from our schools. 

Governor Douchey pulled this off in the Dark, both literally and figuratively.

To put it in perspective what their votes have done, let's look at it this way (Plus, one analogy in order to make my point never seems to be enough):

That guy looks like Craig Ferguson! lol
You're crawling through the desert in search of water. You're dehydrated. You're in serious trouble. Finally, you come across a water bottle in the dirt that has a few sips of water in it. You need so much more. Your body requires so much more for survival. But thankfully, there is some water in there, albeit that minute amount. It is something. Just as you're bringing that little amount to your lips, some of it spills. It falls on the ground and instantly evaporates into the hot air. 

You were already in desperate need of water. You came upon a small amount. But even some of that was robbed from your lips.  The little bit you were able to drink barely did anything to impact the thirst that is killing you and shutting your body down.

That's exactly what our elected officials have done to Arizona's education. We are already dangerously dehydrated. They robbed us of some of the little water that was there before. 

Some will use the excuse - hey, if the money isn't there, it isn't there! 

Bull. Our kids' education was robbed to fund specific pet projects. 

And this isn't a partisan Democrat/Republican thing. Sure, I lean more on the Democrat side, but education is bi-partisan. And I'm speaking for education, not for a particular political party. And the votes to screw over education were not divided down party lines. 

For example, Senator Begay, a Democrat, provided the "crucial vote" in the senate needed to pass the budget last night. This deal got him $1.2 million dollars for a transportation project on the Navajo Nation. However, Senator Jeff Dial is a Republican and he did not turn his back on education.

Anyway, I can go on and on with more details of how last night's legislation showed our children again that they and their future doesn't matter, but I said I'd get into more of what the "boot" represents, besides the ignorance and greed at the State Capitol.

One thing that happened last time I was in teaching, was I found I had so many hopes and dreams and desires to inspire and bring art into lives and learning of the children in my classroom. I saw how art reached some students. I saw how I could teach an art history lesson in such a way that they learned about history in general where they otherwise would have found it boring. I wouldn't just teach Art history. I would incorporate general historical contexts into it and geography. I loved when I saw the light in their eyes.  I wanted to do more of that.  

That's all good, right? 

Well, yes. But that's the "ant" part.

Then there was the boot. I also soon found I was just one person. One little ant. I've mentioned before that I keep running into "myself" and my own mortality. I think I am some wizard and then I find I am only a muggle and smash into the 9 3/4 platform wall. 

This happened repeatedly in my four years of teaching. 

I grew frustrated at my own limitations. I grew frustrated at the budget limitations. I grew frustrated as a horrible attitude that existed by others that Art "didn't count" as a legitimate subject of learning and a wonderful way for students to not just be inspired, but to be educated as result of that inspiration, unfortunately emerged and became way too apparent. 

There are countless times when I saw this horrible attitude displayed. One in particular comes to mind more vividly than others. Once, when a high school student was failing my class (because he never showed up), the parent complained about his failing grade to a colleague who was an English teacher at the same school. The parent bitched, "How could he fail art? That's like failing lunch!" 

Yeah, that particular teacher cringed and said he briefly considered not telling me about the remark, due to what my reaction would be. As he did in fact tell me, he echoed my frustration and expected my reaction of disgust. 

This is just one example of how the ignorance runs prevalent and so many fail to see how art can awake students' desire for learning. And it's not just parents. In 2008, when the district I worked for formed a committee to figure out how to creatively cut money from an already broken and hemorrhaging budget, a few unsavory opinions from other teachers (via a district survey) included, "get rid of art and music. It's a waste of time of money."  Thankfully, at the time, those opinions were ignored.

Those that share such ignorance are unaware (and most likely apathetic) that it is because of an art lesson that some students who couldn't even find France on a map (or didn't know previously that France was a country in the continent of Europe...or that Europe was even a continent) were able to do so after learning about Picasso and why he left Spain to move to Paris. Picasso moved to Paris because at the time (early 20th century), it was the center of the art world. I asked the students where they would move to if they wanted to be a Broadway actor. New York City. I asked them where they would go if they wanted to break into acting for movies or television. Los Angeles. I asked the students where the majority of astronauts live. Houston, Texas. 

It was difficult for them after that to forget who Picasso was and why he moved to Paris. They were able to relate to him and learn some history and geography in the process. Oh, and that's right...they also learned Art in the process!

The artwork of Picasso we were studying at the time was his 1921 work The Three Musicians.
Picasso's Three Musicians 1921
How could American students in a small town in the 21st Century possibly care about some piece of art from a century ago in another country thousands of miles away? 

Because after we covered what collage was and the inspiration behind Picasso's Three Musicians, these students were able to create their own collage with at least three musicians. Students were then able to put themselves into their own collage with musicians.  I saw rock n' roll musicians, mariachi musicians, hip hop musicians, even Kokopelli musicians as a result of this project. Below are just two of the Three Musicians college project that emergfed from the students. 

These are from two 7th graders. I have countless other examples. These are just a couple of them.
Musicians college with ASU flair! (7th Grade Student)
Musicians Collage - (7th Grade Student)
Never mind that some students who hate math and don't even want to try anymore, were inspired to get out a ruler and make some specific measurements because they were inspired by a class project based on the works by M.C. Escher. Never mind that so many of these art masters (like Escher) struggled in school and some of them dropped out. This is something these students can relate to! I wasn't advocating that some of these artists dropped out, but it wasn't hidden from our discussions.  These artists were real people, just like them!
It amazes me that other teachers who should know better (and were obviously given a degree in education from somewhere) and allegedly learned about how we all learn differently could just dismiss art and music just like that.  (see pie chart below)

Sure, I don't like football, but I know it is because of football and other sports that many kids work to keep their grades up in all subjects so they can be eligible to keep playing! Playing the sport and doing what they loved is what provided the push to study for things they otherwise wouldn't care about. It gave them a reason to try. 

Sure, it bugs the hell out of me that sports programs seem to always get their funding while art and music are left crawling in the desert for just a few sips of water. But I know the value of these sports programs. It would certainly be nice for art and music to receive the same consideration. 
We learn differently through different intelligences...Some stronger than for more information...

What I'm trying to say is aside from the uphill battle that the tiny ants are facing up against the big boot at the State Capitol, the boot also contains ignorance and a lack of support from the public (voters, parents, some other teachers and colleagues, etc..)  Combine that with my repeated attempts to wave a magic wand and fix everything in the name of art and inspiration, and no wonder there are tears and feelings of hopelessness. No wonder as I possibly head back into the classroom in the art capacity, I have feelings of dread and fear.

But just looking at the two projects above from some students reminds me of so much that is out there within these students. Arizona has failed them, but I cannot. But can I do it AND remember that I'm a muggle? Can I do it despite the ignorance from those that do not know or acknowledge how imperative the arts are in our classroom?  Can I quarrel with the boot without being squashed?


  1. I too believe that the short sighted Arizona legislature is continually depriving education and other worthwhile programs of necessary funding. This is done to keep business taxes low and encourage job growth. Anyone looking at Arizona economic history can see that things have been going in the toilet ever since the days of Fife Symington. Businesses are the main beneficiaries of a well educated workforce, but don't ask them to pay anything for it.

    1. Nothing to add there, Rusty! Totally agree! Sad.

  2. Totally agree with your well written sentiments. I live in Higley school district as a volunteer art masterpiece teacher. This legislation is heart sickening for sure. Keep up with your efforts... sometimes the right things to do are the hardest. But I truly beleive we will slowly, little by little make a difference.

    1. I did my student teaching at Higley High School (back in 06). As for this legislation and how it is more of the same downward spiral, I fear something really drastic is going to have to happen - such as a state-wide teacher walk out. It shouldn't have to come to that, but nothing else seems to be getting their attention. :-(

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