Slipshod Journalism On Arts In Schools

Readers write

November 25, 1990

From: Ellen B. Cutler


I am appalled at the flippant tone, disregard for facts, and impoverished journalism in your article "School board sends art lovers back to the drawing board," The Harford County Sun, Sunday, Nov. 18.

Before I proceed with criticisms, I want you to be aware that I was a parent representative (Hillsdale Elementary School, Aberdeen) on the Ad Hoc Committee for Art Education in the Elementary Schools, commissioned by Ray Keech and appointed by Joseph Cooney, art superintendent, Harford County public schools.

I am currently a candidate for a doctoral degree in art history from the University of Delaware and I hold a bachelor's degree magna cum laude in art history from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and a master's degree in art history from Boston University.

The credentials of each member of the ad hoc committee are at least as significant as my own. The committee included principals, classroom teachers and art teachers, artists, business people, and volunteers; a number of the non-arts professionals are familiar with the visual arts either through university study, participation in museum-sponsored outreach programs, personal interest, or some other avenue.

For clarity I will discuss the article one paragraph at a time, in the sequence that they were printed, and begin with the headline and layout.

The space devoted to the article includes 11 column inches of text and 24 column inches of photograph. By my mathematics, this makes the picture 2.18 times as important as the text.

The photograph -- a wonderful image -- sends an unfortunate message, however. Neither the text nor the caption contain any amplification of the motor skills and cognitive exercises at which this activity -- puppet-making -- is aimed. Nor is there any discussion of the context of this activity within the larger art curriculum.

The typical reader absorbs the mocking tone of the headline, perhaps notes the "cuteness" of the picture and moves on to other articles they perceive as being more "important" because those other articles have been presented graphically in a serious way and sport headlines that refrain from sensationalist and editorializing effects.

Paragraph 1: The Board of Education commissioned our report, and required our expertise, to examine the role that the visual arts play in the education of children grades pre-K through 5. By stating in her opening sentence that we were "snubbed" by the Board of Education as "art education enthusiasts," the writer has cast the Board of Education as professional educators and we "art education enthusiasts" as dilettantes in the midst of a childish fit of pique. This is not reporting. This is misplaced and insidious editorializing.

Paragraph 2: There is no mention that this group of "art education supporters," and their report, existed in this particular form at the express request of Keech and the Board of Education. There is no explanation of the role that art education plays in the cognitive, fine motor and social development of children during the first 10 years of their lives.

Our report to the board included a synopsis of this role and annotations refer the reader to appended materials from the U.S. Department of Education, the National Art Educators Association, the national Parent-Teacher Association, and other organizations and individuals. It was evident by their problems following Marcia Gayle Snee's articulate and organized presentation that they had not bothered to familiarize themselves with the report and the attached statistics and surveys, although the board received the report about a week prior to the meeting.

Paragraphs 3 and 4: George Lisby's remarks confirmed that he, at least, had not read the report. Furthermore, the "frugal" and optimally efficient distribution of education money is central to the issue of art education in the elementary schools. The writer failed to clarify Lisby's remarks as they related to the report (copies of which, by the way, were included with the agenda for the evening's meeting).

Paragraph 5: I was myself one of the parents "armed with petitions." I was the parent who said to the board when I handed in my petition that I had given an in-service unit on art appreciation to the middle school art teachers on Nov. 5 and discovered that the primary obstacle to working with art historical, critical, anthropological and cultural materials was that "the middle school children were coming into the classroom with the cognitive and fine-motor skills of kindergarteners and the social and developmental baggage of 11- and 12-year olds."

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