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Teaching with Crayons
It's always interesting when something related to art makes headlines. Sometimes itís serious, such as art work stolen during the Holocaust. Sometimes it's something silly such as the politically correct name for a crayon. And even here, there is the serious and the silly. When Dr. Martin Luther King pointed out to Crayola that their flesh and his flesh didn't contain the same pigmentation, it was serious. But when, as recently happened, someone thinks the crayon labelled "Indian Red" has something to do with Native Americans, it's silly. It's based upon iron oxide pigments coming from India, so the obvious recourse (if one must have recourse) would be to rename the pointy little waxy things, "India Red." But then, a friend of mine pointed out, doing so would mean a difficult geography/history/sociology lesson on India, Indians, and Native Americans in order to explain to first graders (who can't, most of them, read the labels anyway) what happened to the "n" on their "India Red" Crayola--and why!

It is a point well taken and the Crayola thing is, I suppose, a nice lead-in to the geography lesson. But, it's probably a moot point insofar as the kids are concerned. The reason I say this (and I think most people will realise this about themselves) adults, and I would say children as well, donít learn something until it's needful and important to them. We can teach as much as our minimal five or six hours a day with kids allows, but whether it is learned in the first place and retained for any length of time in the second place depends almost entirely upon circumstances (who, what, when, where, how, and why). Crayons are important to younger children so through them some ideas and ideals can be taught, but the most frustrating thing for teachers is that the sum-total of important things kids should learn keeps skyrocketing! And that includes learning about skyrockets. So a teacher has to pick and choose, usually influenced somewhat by his or her own teaching strengths, knowledge, and interests. And if you think teachers have it bad, just look at the poor kids, constantly bombarded by information (and not just trivia by the way) that someone thinks is (or should be) important to them. And from this unholy smorgasbord of information, they have to pick and choose (with some adult guidance) that which their appetite for learning will allow.

The interesting thing about education, and something we don't often think about, is that every child is tailoring his or her education to their future needs (and vice-versa) by choosing from all the mishmash of facts, figures, skills, ideas, and ideology pumped into their heads in childhood, that which they will actually learn. Parents and teachers push and pull one way or another (often based upon their own self-interests), but if a child fails to learn to draw, it's because he or she has no interest in becoming an artist. It's possible, of course, that will change, but if it does, then is when the drawing skills will be learned. Of course, as I pointed out, things not learned can influence a child's future life choices. If a lack of childhood learning causes one to be ill-prepared for an attractive career then that person has two choices--skip the career or become prepared. There are those who would argue that a child should not be in the position of making decisions regarding what he or she learns. From a societal point of view that may be true; but the fact is, the child is in that position, and has only his or her self-interests at heart, which, to my way of thinking, is the way it should be.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
12 March 1999


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