Friday, April 14, 2006

Shot through the art

When I was a kid, the subject I could never do well in, no matter how hard I tried, was physical education. Just didn't have what it takes. The teachers were all sure I was just lazy or unmotivated or not trying hard enough, but my body could not do those push-ups and pull-ups. It always seemed unfair to me that classes like this got graded at all, when inborn talent gave such an advantage and inborn ineptness made effort inconsequential.

My daughter's having the same experience now, but for her the subject from hell is art. She's almost 16 years old and still drawing stick figures, and the teacher is sure she's just lazy or unmotivated or not trying hard enough. But she can't draw any better than I could climb a rope. The other day I fished an art journal out of the trash; she just barely got a C on it, and told me later she threw it away because her drawing was so bad. I looked through this thing, and yeah, the kid can't draw. But she did the entire assignment, which involved identifying traits in herself and illustrating them. Some of the words she came up with were, I thought, amazingly insightful, and it was no small thing for her to assemble these ideas and conceptualize an illustration and a sentence for each. For her, I thought it was an impressive and kind of touching achievement. And it ticked me off that she'd received the impression that it was something deserving of a spot in the trash bin.

Which is unfair, I guess. From an art point of view, a C was generous. Her drawings are kindergarten stuff. But it seems to me that cycle classes, of all places, ought to be more about effort and less about ability. As we put special education kids in inclusion classes for subjects like these, should there not be an awareness of where a student is at and what it takes for them to do something that might look lazy in other contexts? I'm not sure that's happening here, and I'm not sure these teachers are being made to understand what a self-esteem hit they're delivering. But at least she does great in gym.

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