As this school year draws to a close, I know a lot of teachers that are looking at their jobs with new eyes. Headlines regularly tell us about young people losing their way, resorting to senseless acts of violence. Social media apps sweep through school communities, allowing kids to anonymously post comments about each other. Many schools are losing recess time and art programs. All the while, teachers are scrambling to adjust to the new Common Core mandates and preparing for the state tests that will follow. And in many cases, kids are having a harder time paying attention to what we are teaching.
As always, teachers go into their summers carrying big questions: Who are we teaching today? And what exactly should we be teaching them? What should we do differently next year?
I’ve described Visual Literacy lessons many times in this blog. We already know that art helps us to increase vocabulary, inspire writing topics, and discover our literate voices. But the bigger picture is that art teaches us how to be empathetic. It requires us to step into each others’ shoes. When we describe what someone else painted, and listen to each others’ varied points of view, and connect to our peers by drawing our stories for them, we are doing what kids have less and less opportunity to do these days: making real contact with each other.
One of my favorite lessons is when I ask students to draw a painting from a different perspective, and then write about the experience. This requires spacial skills, critical skills, and invention. But if you read Audrey’s writing closely, you can also see that it develops the ability to imagine oneself as someone else. As Maxine Greene says, “Imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible.”
In the drawing below, Audrey, a second grader, finds a new way to look at a picture of a school of fish.
In her writing, she describes how her picture shows “what a fish in that school might see.” She goes on to say that “Through looking at art you can get inspired and have ideas you never thought of. Like trying looking at things through someone else’s eye or just looking closer at something.”
John Dewey defined teachers as the key to community. Learning to see the world through each others’ eyes is key to developing a sense of community, as sense of belonging, and a conscience.