Once you see it you can’t on see it. I was at a conference this week and my critical lens was on throughout. I noticed the lack of inclusivity and purposeful connectivity. I noticed unchecked conversations that caused me stress and perpetuate inequities throughout the world. So here are a few things that I saw and heard and have to work on my responses.
The first thing I noticed and it’s been rolling around in my brain since is the idea that the evaluators or principals can’t or won’t understand what goes on in our room because they aren’t art teachers or artists. But when we say things like that what we’re saying is that our voice also doesn’t matter at the table of education. That only art educators would understand art education but that limitation creates this huge chasm between the real work that’s getting done inside an art room. Instead we should be welcoming all types of observers and evaluators into our spaces to hold a mirror up so we can see our practice as something full and vital for all kids. If art teaching is as valuable (or more as I heard so much) than other content areas, is it the art portion that’s more valuable? Is it HOW we teach? What makes us so different than other content areas?
Another thing I noticed was the conversation (and might I add the unchecked conversations) around assessment and standards. This conversation around not wanting to use either or that they take too much time to use really made me question those educators’ real motives. I also heard throughout that art educators do so much more than make pretty pictures except when we are stating that assessment isn’t worthwhile we easily are relegated to being only the interior decorators of our schools. If we are pushing so hard against the use of assessments and standards instead of spending the time to understand the varied ways of using assessments in authentic ways to push our students into incredible spaces and possibilities, we are doing a disservice to our students. The use of standards is the barest of minimums of equity in art spaces. When we refuse to understand or use them we are saying that students everywhere aren’t worth it.
I also noticed that there was so little doing or intentional connectivity occurring. There were lost moments when presenters (me included) could’ve had the audience meet the folks within the session. There were lost opportunities to have folks share what they’ve learned in multiple ways. I noticed there were many things on the app but no one ever referred to it. I noticed there was a theme but no presentation was linked to it.
I noticed that a conference about art education and there was so little art anywhere. That Youth Art Month is occurring and there was only youth art in one area. I also noticed a disturbing lack of kids in a variety of ways. No kids were presenting with the adults. No kids were in attendance when Amy Sherald gave her keynote. No kids were anywhere. Kids weren’t spoken about much except with broad brushstrokes of “all kids like these” or “all special education students are”. Kids seemed to be props for our needs. A means to an end.
I also noticed the lack of accessibility. Stairs and escalators were pretty easy to find but the elevators were tucked away with no signs. The presentations were heavy into speaking but without live captioning, handouts, graphic organizers, goals, or time to talk with a peer. If folks showed videos, captioning wasn’t used and often they hadn’t brought speakers either.
It sounds as if I had a terrible time at this conference. That is not the case, I learned a lot and have ideas of how to grow connectivity, accessibility, and feedback are occurring within the spaces I work and live in. We are all a work in progress and I hope that large organizations ask for feedback in order to serve both members inside the organization as well as the world at large.