Tag Archives: imagination

Focus on national tests robs children of true learning

Richard Gill says it well and with the passion of a man for whom educational change is not just a pedagogical exercise. My younger son, a VCASS music student, has had the absolute pleasure and privilege of working with Richard on a performance of Dido and Aeneas, as well as during recent MYM Summer School.  Richard’s love of music and dedication to excellence in music education was obvious – my son would come home glowing, impassioned and totally connected to the the process of learning within the musical work. He was reflective, evaluative and lucid in ways I hadn’t observed before.

Before the MYM concert – presented as a transparent workshop – Richard Gill spoke passionately about the importance of music education, and the need for people to speak up collectively so that excellence in Arts teaching would not be compromised in Australia. In the following article, his message is loud and clear – the obsession and complete focus on our current testing in schools is robbing our young people of true learning – learning which develops and nurtures creativity, originality and imaginative thinking. I absolutely agree.

Read the article and judge for yourselves.

Wake up, Australia, or we’ll have a nation of unimaginative robots.

School is back and it is a matter of regrettable fact that large numbers of children in state and independent schools will be subjected to a style of teaching directed exclusively to producing satisfactory results in national literacy and numeracy tests and consequently scoring high ratings with My School.

I want to make my stance very clear from the outset: NAPLAN tests and My School have nothing to do with the education of a child. This abhorrent and insidious method of assessing children, teachers and their schools needs to stop now. Principals, teachers and parents need to stand up and be counted and resist this unnatural activity, which only succeeds in turning education into some sort of cheap competition in which the last consideration seems to be the mind of the child.

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Screaming the words literacy and numeracy from Canberra does not constitute having an educational policy. In fact, the race to become the most literate and numerate schools with the best rankings nationally is exacting a terrible price.

Evidence is now available that schools all over the country are cutting back on arts education to devote more time to subjects that will make children literate. It can be demonstrably proven that activities used in teaching for the national tests destroy individuality, stifle creativity, stultify thought and make all children respond in the same way – a sort of educational circus in which the children are the trained animals and the teachers the poorly paid ringmasters.

The very things that promote literacy and numeracy are the arts, beginning with serious arts education in the early years. If we want a creative nation, an imaginative nation, a thinking nation and a nation of individuals, then we must increase the time for arts education, especially music education. If we want a nation of non-imaginative robots who can do tests, then we are well on the way to achieving that condition.

Parents need to know that it is through participation in arts subjects that the mind, imagination, spirit and soul of a child are stimulated. Through this stimulation comes a bonus in all other areas of learning.

Music, for example, when it is properly taught, requires an extraordinarily high level of listening and concentration from the student. It requires the student to have a capacity to work in the abstract, an ability to work across several skill areas simultaneously and the ability to rationalise this verbally.

Children’s involvement in musical activity has a profound effect on the development of the child’s general learning. It is now proven beyond doubt that children who are engaged in arts activities, especially music, have advantages in all areas of learning. The research is in, proven and beyond doubt. Why, then, with the evidence so overwhelmingly supporting children’s involvement in arts education, would schools decide to reduce teaching time in these important fields?

In supporting statements of this nature, let’s examine one school in Victoria, the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School, where senior students spend half a week on the academic curriculum and half a week on their chosen arts discipline. Each year the students from this school seem to do extraordinarily well at the year 12 examinations in spite of only spending half the time on academic work.

How can this be? My view is that they are highly motivated children who have, early in their lives, encountered enlightened parenting and teaching and are motivated to work hard in all disciplines in an environment that promotes creativity, imaginative thinking and individuality. In short, most of them have had early, prior opportunities.

All children in Finland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark seem to have such opportunities; why can’t all Australian children? By ignoring arts education we say to our children: ”You are too stupid to have good education in the arts – your brains will never cope with intense learning in music, for example, so we will only do the bare minimum with you in any arts education and really concentrate on getting you through your NAPLAN tests.”

Wake up, Australia, before it’s too late. Teachers, parents and children need to let governments know that we are heading into a cultural and educational crisis unless we address these issues now.

Richard Gill is the music director of Victorian Opera.

Article in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 9 February 2011.

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Filed under creativity, Education, learning, music, teaching

Pictures take me back to the story

Who doesn’t love illustrations? That’s a rhetorical question. I doubt that anybody would take offense to illustrations being interspersed amongst the text of a story.

The Guardian treats its readers to a taste of a new series of recently  illustrated children’s classics.

Walkers have put together some of the world’s greatest children’s literature with the best contemporary illustrators to create a beautiful and accessible collection of classics for a new generation. Here we gather together images from the first five titles in the Walker Illustrated Classics series.

Even if you’ve read these classics, the illustrations may entice you to have another look. For me, the fresh visual interpretation is even more enticing considering how well worn these stories are.  I’m curious as to how an illustator can create a new perspective when so many have done the same and so successfully. And of course, who can resist discovering the work of ‘the best contemporary illustrators’? The Guardian gives us a taste of the first 5 titles in the series accompanied by the illustrators’ reflections – a sure hook to wanting to see the rest.

Paul Howard illustrated Classic poetry and reveals his initial apprehension:

The idea of illustrating classic poetry terrified me at first – I can’t remember jokes let alone poems from my school days and consequently think of myself as a ‘poetus ignoramus’. To my great surprise this worked in my favour and I found myself embarking on a fantastic voyage of discovery.

Childrens-Illustration-poetry

Howard’s personal challenge to tackle poetry could be an inspiration for the current reading generation for whom poetry has become largely engimatic.

When I was battling to understand some of the poems, Michael Rosen would read them to me aloud. Listening to him was like clearing a misty window and letting the sun pour in.

Helen Oxenbury’s unmistakable style brings a contemporary realism to Alice in Wonderland.

I admire Tenniel’s original illustrations enormously, but I find his typically Victorian style rather stiff …

Childrens-Illustration-Alice

Inga Moore’s reflection provides a fascinating honesty:

The Secret Garden is one of the greatest books for children of all time and it took me a long while to pluck up the courage to illustrate it. What made me think I could do it justice? I knew a merely decorative approach wouldn’t do for a work with such depth of meaning so I decided to bring out as much of its meaning as I could in my pictures, carefully placing them next to the words they illustrated in the hope that the two together would make a more vivid whole …

I love the atmosphere of this picture, and the attention to detail (notice the tiny red bird high in the tree).

Childrens-Illustration-secretgarden

Nicola Bayley combines contemporary realism with the exotic in her interpretation of  Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle book.

For me, illustrating a classic is treading a fine line between authenticity and beauty.

Childrens-Illustration-Junglebook

Chris Riddell brings his own style to the classic Don Quixote:

Very early on I decided not to be daunted by the size of the book and to approach light-heartedly, in an attempt to reflect the satire and humour in the work. Don Quixote is a great big book that satires great big books, an epic romance that pokes fun at epic romances. I looked at the paintings of Velázquez, and used costumes and settings from his great Royal portraits to give the illustrations a 17th-century feel, but I also wanted a fantasy feel to the illustrations, so the giants and monsters came out of my imagination …

Childrens-Illustration-DonQuixote

In light of Anne Fine’s recent outspokenness about the grimness of contemporary Young Adult fiction, Walker’s collection of contemporary illustators’ re-envisioning of well loved classics, may be just what we need. As much as I love the honesty and power of modern fiction for young people, I don’t mind revisiting my old fantasy haunts, entering the rich, illustrated world which has always been such a tantalising, albeit temporary, escape from the everyday. If, as children, we fed our imagination and creativity with favourite illustations of fantastic tales,  why shouldn’t we revisit now and then to take nourishment?

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Filed under art, Children's books, creativity, Literature, poetry, reading

early images of reality from picture books and today’s clickability

We take for granted today the clickability of information. We should think back, really think back properly, to the days before we had the internet as a source of information.

I was talking to my son today about our early conceptions, and we shocked ourselves about uninformed and xenophobic ideas we had of people and cultures when we were children. My primary school years situated me in a very narrow place, although not as narrow as some, since I did come from an ethnic background. These are very interesting times because we are developing and learning like crazy but we don’t have a great deal as points of reference, so our learning is coloured by our often incomplete or erroneously formed concepts. To put it another way, what information we do gather is not always correctly understood and is even reconstructed by our own imagination. I say imagination because you need a great deal of it to fill in the gaps between the isolated pockets of knowledge and understanding.

So, I remember growing up with Australians who were either ‘real Australians’ or from a European background (Greeks, Italians, Macedonians) and Russians from my own cultural group which was always a minority (and none at school). Since I loved to read, my knowledge in these days was gleaned from books, most of which I owned and some from libraries. Information books didn’t seem to abound, and picture books were often teachers of the world beyond my own. I remember learning about dark-coloured people with grass skirts or slanty-eyed people, people living in teepees or igloos or swimming underwater every day. Now, that’s not a deliberately racist description because, since my information was delivered through a visual medium, my knowledge of these people was almost entirely visual. And not a realistic depiction but usually a cutesy illustration.

Now we take it for granted, but a little context to information is just a click away on the internet. Google Earth or Maps would have given my little snippets of information of other cultures a geographical location, and joined all those floating, isolated bits of knowledge into a world map; Flickr could have given me an easily accessible collection of pictures. Of course, information books with photos abound, even picture books with beautiful photography which deliver early aspects of reality to the preschool child.

How has this affected my development of knowledge? Do I still harbour distorted ideas of the way things are in the depths of my subconsious? Or have I worked hard at reconstructing and revising the way I see and understand things? Is this a blessing in disguise, a constant practice for maintaining elasticity and flexibility in the course of life and my understanding of it?

Meanwhile, I remember my picture book worlds with nostalgia. I used to imagine myself in the pictures, and dreamed of living on the little island where the smiling grass-skirt girls lived, so tiny that you could walk it in a couple of minutes, always sunny, water crystal clear, fish and birds abounding, all things provided for idyllic living. Did you wish you lived in any of your picture books?

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Filed under Education, flickr, learning