Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dueling Experiences: Examining the Psychological Structures Where Teaching for Artistic Behavior Art Rooms Exist, Part 1

In 2001 my wife Maria and I drove our son and daughter Payton and Kelby to Northern Indiana to check out a litter of Jack Russell terrier puppies. The puppies lived on a picturesque farm situated on land once connected to the Grand Kankakee Marsh. Seven year old Payton and five year old Kelby had grown up watching the PBS show “Wishbone” They wanted a little Wishbone of their own. I secretly wanted one too. We made the decision to purchase a family dog that was small, athletic, cute and full of personality. When the dog breeder showed us a litter of sleepy faced eight-week old puppies, a male with a black, white and brown mask bounced out of the pack wagging his tail and up to my son. Kelby cried out, "Look Mommy and Daddy! He's going over to Payton" He was a beautiful, energetic and irresistible furry, four legged force of nature. Payton named him Macky.


After we exchanged payment, the dog breeder gave us potty training instructions. We should keep Macky in a kennel at night and first thing in the morning, walk him outside. Anticpating he would do his business out doors and not in his kennel, he would immediately receive a dog snack. The dog breeder also cautioned us if Macky were to potty indoors, we should place him near the mess, then give him a smack on the nose. When she told me that, I was taken aback somewhat. But then I thought, "Why should I doubt her expertise about potty training? She was the dog breeder." She also instructed that Macky should be taken outside in regular intervals throughout the day and rewarded after making his potty outdoors. In fact, throughout my entire life, particularly in my early life, I have been rewarded or punished for desirable or undesirable behavior. I thought to myself, “We can potty-train this puppy in no time!”  Maria and I paid the dog breeder one hundred seventy five dollars and loaded up the mini-van with the kids and little Macky inside of a cardboard box.


Macky became the subject of our Family’s grand behavior modification experiment. My wife Maria and I discussed the plan with our children. Whomever was taking the dog outside would report to Mom or Dad if Macky had done his business and reward Macky with a treat from the snack bag. The words “bad boy,” and a smack on Macky’s nose adjacent to the “mess,” would be delivered by myself if he made a mess in the house. We didn’t want the children to administer that part of the training procedure because we didn’t want the dog to associate the negative experience with the children but we did want him to associate potty behavior and treats with being physically outdoors. That was the power of classical conditioning. The subject associates affect to certain stimuli and responds. We didn't want the dog to respond negatively to the children as a possible outcome. I thought our plan seemed to be a good plan, but the question remained, would there be side affects from the use of negative stimulus during the dog’s formative development as a member of our family? Despite my apprehension, the dog breeders advice was taken seriously.


Our family would duplicate as best we could, the methods and structure used in B.F. Skinner’s behavior modification experiments using both positive and negative stimuli.  I had learned about B.F. Skinner, Ivan Pavlov and John Watson, pioneers in behavior modification, from my high school psychology teacher Mr. Kupfer and took educational psychology classes at Indiana University. This behavior modification procedure would be implemented. The children, my wife and I would conduct an operant conditioning experience on Macky to strengthen his behavior to potty outdoors and not potty indoors.


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What Do Children's Art Classes In School Have To Do With Citizen Engagement and Voter Turnout?

Why do less than 50% of Americans participate regularly in national, state and municipal elections? Might it have anything to do with the way we educate children? I address that question in my YAM remarks at the Indiana State Capitol last Sunday, February 26th, 2017. 
Here it is: 
"Greetings! Thank you for coming to our Youth Art Month Event! 
I want to talk to you today about arts education as practice for participation in a democratic society.
One of the fantastic things about art education, are the stories children tell through their art! 
I read an artist statement this morning:
A boy wrote:
“I’ve learned to express my own art and thoughts through paintings that I haven’t done before.” 
What does that statement mean?
It means is that In art class….students take a whisper of consciousness….we’ll call this….an IDEA.….and they practice representing the idea in 2, 3 or 4 dimensions….
This is the creative process. 
A child asks the art teacher: “How can I turn my idea into art?” The teacher helps the student gather art materials, teacher offers suggestions and together a third learning pathway is formed. 
With the help of the art teacher, the child learns to become an autonomous self-directed, independent learner. The child learns that working with the teacher, following suggestions from the teacher and other classmates and doing research….creative ideas can be achieved!
Creative-self expression in the art room is democratic education. When I say democratic education I don't mean education to become a Democrat. I mean educating to become a participating citizen in our society.
Children have a voice in what they say and do in democratic education. If you are educated to believe your voice is meaningless, you are reduced to the role of passive spectator. Where else in the school curricula do children have a voice in what they say and do?
The place of the arts are important in a child’s school curricula not only because we want them to become better intellectually, but more important, participate in a society as a citizen with the agency to question, pose problems, envision solutions and use their creative capacities to make the world a better place. As a citizenry, we cannot afford future failures of imagination.
Why is democratic education and art education in our schools important? Because you can’t immerse a child in authoritarian experience and expect them to engage as a democratic citizen. It won’t happen. Voter turnout trends in the U.S. reflect this truth.
About 5 years ago, I was watching a 6 year old child in action while she was conducting a painting experiment. I asked her, “what are you doing?” She said, “I’m inventing a shiny surface painting.” Later she wrote in herjournal: “Art is a part of being creative. When your creative, your doing better than you are when your not.”
What did she mean, “when you’re creative you’re doing better than you are when you’re not?” 
I know the visual arts are beneficial to children's cognitive development. After all, it’s a biological fact, multi-sensory learning experience expands synaptic connections throughout the core of neurological structures in the brain. 
But the last part of her statement bothered me.
“When you’re creative you’re doing better than you are when you’re not?”
What is happening to her when she is not in art class? 
Why is she not “doing better” in other learning experiences? 
Policy makers don’t like to talk about this, but the pressure placed on children in order to pass high stakes tests is immense. This pressure trickles down from the state house to the school house. This pressure narrows curricula and marginalizes learning opportunities in the arts. 
Ignoring children’s capacity for self-expression in their formative years comes at a price. That price is civic engagement. Or I should say civic disengagement.
Our schools prepare U.S. children to be the best workers in the World. Gross domestic product in 2016 for the U.S. is at 18 trillion dollars. That means the U.S. economy is as large as China, Japan, and Germany….combined. That kind of economic growth doesn’t happen if your education system is producing workers who are not up to the task. 
When I hear politicians and media personalities complain about test score comparisons with other countries I know they are skewing the truth. 
But where does the U.S. lag behind in international comparison? Voter turnout.
According to the Indiana Secretary of State, only 58% of eligible Indiana voters participated in the 2016 general election. Where were the other 42%? In the 2016 General Election, 90 million eligible voters across the U.S. did not show up. In the 2014 general election 27.8% of eligible Indiana voters turned out. That means 3.4 million eligible Indiana voters did not vote. 
When US citizens disengage from the democratic way of life there is a problem with the way we educate children.
Art education programs provide children with valuable opportunities to to gain insight into the complexities of our society and to expand moral consciousness. Art classrooms are those places in school where children act upon their educational ideas, where they have a voice in what they say and do and where they may control their experience. The art classroom is that place in school where children develop a critical eye, a critical mind, where visual literacy is emphasized and where the refinement of the imagination is practiced daily. We need more art education in our schools not less.
I ask you to please stay informed, remain active as a citizen advocate. Your voice to elected officials is essential to protect those educational programs that make our schools special."
Thank You!