Friday, July 18, 2008

Classism and Arts Education: A Need for School Funding Reform in Ohio

I figured I would add one more post to the series on my summer class at the Holden Arboretum. It is more of a reflection and commentary than my other entries thus far.

As I mentioned earlier this week, the "Art and the Natural World" workshop drew teachers from all over North East Ohio, and about eight of us from the Cleveland Municipal School District. An easy camaraderie developed, and naturally, conversations were most often about our own classes and schools.

The stark difference between the CMSD teachers and those who worked anywhere else was obvious the very first day of the workshop, when we were handed sheets of copper foil to work with. While the suburban teachers were considering foil projects for their students, CMSD teachers were all muttering, "I could never afford a project like this."

The comments continued through the rest of the week:

"My school doesn't have a kiln, so we can't do ceramics."

"We have an old kiln, but no money to fix it. "

"Last year I was given a budget of only $200 to buy art supplies for the entire year."

"My principal won't let us take field trips. She says we can't afford the bus."

" Our principal won't let me take my students on a field trip. He said we can't afford to pay for a sub to cover my other classes

" We can't go outside to draw, the neighborhood is too dangerous."

"Last year I did watercolor painting with my classes. I had to buy all the paint myself, and we used copy paper instead of watercolor paper."

"I supply all the pencils for my classes, if I didn't we couldn't even draw."

The suburban teachers would each breathe a quiet comment like, "Gee, that must be tough " or "Wow, you pay for your student's supplies?" and ease away from the group with "Thank God I don't work there" looks on their faces.

When you work in a district that doesn't have money for basic supplies, you begin to make-do with what you have, and figure out ways to get what you need. A new art teacher at John Marshall High School was assigned to teach a ceramics class, (the equipment had been purchased with money from a grant written by a teacher who was transferred) but there was no money for clay. Rather than tell the administration that he couldn't teach a ceramics class without clay, he went to a creek and dug out clay and hauled it to school for his students to use. Art teachers in Cleveland will beg companies for donations, write for grants, and take money out of their own pay checks, just because we know how valuable the creative experience is.

Governor Strickland told the Cleveland City Club last week that the inequality in education funding was a priority that is being studied during 2008, his first year in office, and will be addressed in 2009 by new legislation he hopes will be approved. For the sake of Cleveland's children, and the future of this city, I hope this state's politicians can come up with a plan that will provide a fair solution . I've never understood why other states had school funding methods that worked, but Ohio couldn't figure it out. What has been the sticking point?

It seems a shame that opportunities like these, to enjoy nature and create art, have become the privilege of the suburban set.

I had hoped the American Dream was somewhat more inclusive.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just tweeted this post. You put it out there so well - funding reform is critical to giving city kids the tools to dream.