Tuesday, June 21, 2011

School ramblings

This post was born from a couple of links that I was gonna put in Friday Links with some notes. But the notes were getting a bit long so I decided they deserved posts of their own. Mostly so I didn't have to cut my rant down to a sentence or two.

First, in a great emulation of absolutely no political or corporate leader ever, a principal resigned his job to save the jobs of two music teachers. [link]

Bravo for the principal, however... By resigning he saves the school $180,000. Why the heck was a principal making that kind of money? Why are music teachers making $90,000 a year? If any public school teacher anywhere made money like that I might have continued on that career path a bit longer.
The school has 6 music teachers for 5th through 12th grade? Is that a lot? It seems like a lot. My school had one music and one band teacher for 6-12, but there were only 73 people in my graduating class. (100+ in the freshman class during my senior year. Did we have that many or had the class sizes grown?) So, lets assume this is a school that actually has some students. 6 isn't unreasonable.
I do have to wonder if the gym teachers' had any threats against their jobs. How about football? Once schools are that big they often start making football coach a full time job. Are they under any kind of threat? Can the assistant principle handle a school this big alone?
But bravo to the principal for being willing to take the hit. Or maybe this was just his way to escape while looking like a hero.

The next article was about how art teachers are so often under threat. But why not history teachers? [link]

This brings up two subjects I dwell on.
First, there are several old art classes whose lessons I draw on in my job. Doing color correction on photos causes me to look back on mixing paints. One art teacher would try to subtly touch up our photos after hours. They were improvements, but it pissed us off. However, finding those really quite minor tweeks taught me to see some of the little details in a picture and recreate them when cleaning up old photos and filling in damaged areas. When a picture doesn't look right I'm better able to see why. Painting myself using only 4 shades of the same color has been used in lots of Flash animations over the years. More and more often I find myself using and understanding cross hatching lessons that I didn't get at all at the time.
But how many people are gonna have to doctor photos? How many Flash apps have you developed in your career? Why should this be a class that all kids should have to take when they already suck so hard at math and really need the help?
Let me ask you, how many Powerpoint presentations have you had to make? Ever have to design a website, even if only for yourself or your family? Or a flier or a brochure or a poster? Maybe I should just stick with the Powerpoint example.
You've very likely had to sit through some simply godawful Powerpoint presentations. Or struggled because you knew yours wasn't turning out right, but you didn't know why. There are certain principles of design that you can learn in an art class. You can learn about how colors go together and what combinations do and do not go together. Some of that didn't show up until design classes in college, but there was no reason it should have taken that long. These could be taught before you make your first science fair display. You can't (or at least shouldn't be able to) get out of high school without doing a Powerpoint presentation or three. Shouldn't you know right then not to use every single transition or text effect?
Maybe the art classes need to change focus. Working with clay is good and may even help you apply mud to a sheetrock wall later in life. Using foam core to build and see the flaws in a potential dream house does show you how to think things through a bit better. But in this day and age doesn't everyone need to know how to make a presentation that doesn't make you want to scoop out your eyes?
Art classes are important.

His dumping on a history class is the second time in a week that I've heard someone going on about history. The other person was talking about how Google has made learning history irrelevant. Students will learn about the Battle of Hastings without learning it was fought in 1066. Well, yeah. Who the fuck cares WHEN it was fought. Get it within a century either way and you're good. The year isn't the important bit. Not unless you're looking for something for students to put on a test that has an answer that can be considered 100% right or wrong. I've been arguing that since before there was an internet, let alone a Google.
This doesn't mean that I want to get rid of history classes. But the author has a good point about showing a documentary and calling it good. The value of the history teacher is that a good one can tell a story that makes history interesting and gets the students to learn the important bits even if on a test they don't know the year. A bad one, however, can take the most interesting event and make it dry and hateful. The 9-11 book we're putting a final polish on is an excellent example of that. How can a terrorist attack, the collapse of two sky scrapers by aircraft collision, and a section of a major military installation being leveled be DULL!?!

I've discussed before my desire to make video curriculum that can be used by home schoolers or bad schools. History is a perfect subject for this. Get some of the best history teachers to develop the curriculum for different age groups and give them the resources to make their show. A school could get to letting the previously mentioned football coach sit there and run the videos, give homework, and, most of all, act as a security guard and save money that was spent on a history teacher that denies the holocaust or refuses to mention Thomas Jefferson. It'll cut off the major career path for most history majors, but it could give us much better educated and intelligent voters. It would make it harder for those who want to claim that the American Civil War was about state rights.

Two last links:
I want you to watch a few episodes of the show Connections (and C2 and C3) and tell me that these aren't interesting and that this stuff doesn't stick in your brain better than anything in that class with the elderly professor who rode her bike to school and never every used deodorant. Or was that not a common college experience? [link]

Next, I want you to look at Kuler. It's a site where you can find groups of colors that go well together. Personally, when I need colors that go well together I tend to sample them off of a photo that's going in the display. But if I'm drawing everything Kuler is a great resource. [link]
And don't use more than 3 fonts. In your book, poster, Powerpoint presentation, website, whatever. Just don't. OK, 4 if you absolutely have to. But no more. Seriously, look at some attractive presentations and some unattractive ones and count the fonts. No, Times italic isn't a different font from Times.

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