Opinion: Cheerleading for art

September 20, 2013 in Comment, General

Bill Stott at Big Board

Bill Stott at the annual Shrewsbury International Cartoon Festival

Bill Stott writes:

Remember your school reports? They become ingrained. Like your first snog. Mine weren’t bad. English, history, art, even P.E. (he was a bully) were all good but then they fell into the maths abyss. That bit was never good. I really didn’t care how long it took six men with rubber teaspoons to fill six wheelbarrows etc.

Last week I saw my 11-year-old grand-daughter’s report . She’s in Year 7 (that’s first year in old money and is a term thought up by some non-teaching think-tanker to give the impression that the learning process is seamless. It most definitely is not.) It was a good report apart from maths where the rubber teaspoon brigade didn’t quite click.

But there were a couple of subjects Grandad didn’t quite understand, i.e. why they were being taught and how they being taught. One was, you won’t believe this, cheerleading. That’s right, cheerleading. I mean, dear God, this is an all-girl comp. What on Earth is the school encouraging here ? Cheerleading is where a group of comely young women wiggle about celebrating male sporting prowess, isn’t it?

And the other was – gimme an A, gimme an R, gimme a T – Art, art art! (See? We got there eventually). Emily – for it is she – got a good comment in art. So I asked her what they did in art. “Well,” she said. “We’ve just done Jasper Johns.”

Now, I think that art, unlike cheerleading, is useful and teachable, and I’m all for the Big Draw events. But Emily and her 11-year-old chums don’t get all hands-on with clay, ink and paint. No. They DO Jasper Johns. She did say that “sometimes” they were allowed to draw. But mostly they DID artists. Don’t misunderstand me, nothing wrong with history of art. But exclusively? With 11-year-olds?

So who’s the villain here? I will tell you. It is Michael Gove, that’s who. I know that cheerleading sneaked in under the common-sense radar because apparently it’s accepted as being an alternative to P.E. Do they do history of cheerleading too?

Mr Gove doesn’t care about the arts subjects – quite possibly because his own art education was a bit thin. He sees dance, drama, music and art as hobbies. Pastimes. They no longer merit a place in the core curriculum (from September 2014) but because it bumps and grinds in under the P.E. banner, cheerleading does.

A pound to a penny Mr Gove believes that being able to draw is a “gift” and cannot be taught. He probably believes he can’t draw. I could teach him.

Ed adds:  We hope Mr Gove takes up Bill’s kind offer. We think a lesson would make some fine Reithian-style television for the British Broadcasting Corporation or similar. Don’t miss part two of Bill’s thoughts on art in education which is due next week.

Cartoon © Bill Stott @ procartoonists.org

© Bill Stott @ Procartoonists.org


12 responses to Opinion: Cheerleading for art

  1. Agree with your sentiment Bill, though all the evidence would suggest that Mr. Gove is quite unable to learn anything much, least of all from his mistakes.

  2. So long as we can reintroduce (temporarily) the cane to proceedings… 

  3. Don’t you mean tawse, Steve ?

  4. Interesting stuff, Bill, and different to my own experience.

    I shall have to go lie down and think about. Already thinking about caning Gove though. 
  5. Gove isn’t worth the effort Clive. But I’d be very interested in colleagues’ secondary art experience. I didn’t mention my own because it was non-existent [in a tiny sec. mod.] until the arrival, when I was nearly fourteen of a teacher who actually could draw and paint and knew how to generate enthusiasm. Before that, art education was in the [territorial army] hands of science teacher [no enthusiasm] Dirty Dick Halstead.. We did a lot of pictorial elevations with him.

  6. Agreed on all counts. Gove seems hell-bent on returning to some past era, the chief merit of which, presumably, was that it turned out fine products like him. I don’t remember the educational apartheid of the Fifties/Sixties as anything too special, not least when it came to Art. The subject didn’t exist at my school, not even 20 mins of duff powder paint on grey sugar paper. Art was for the, er, educationally challenged. Only thickoes did Art. (Sorry to use such appalling terminology, but how else to convey the mistaken attitudes of the time?)In the 70s I took up teaching (struggling to impart French & the Tudors to those not keen to have these imparted to them). I had the good fortune to join a school with a brilliant art teacher (and a brilliant artist). Sculptor, turned jeweller, turned teacher, K enabled his classes to see things differently, to find creative expression with exciting media (usually 3-D) and to complete the most superb original artwork. ‘Inspirational’ is an over-used word, but he really was that, to staff as well as pupils. It’s no exaggeration to say that in some instances he transformed lives.Sadly, K died far too young. I was lucky enough to be given some of his brushes and materials and I think of him most days. I wish he were around now. He’d give Gove a much-needed lesson.

  7. Doh, paragraph breaks gone again.

  8. Super stuff Rupert [there now follows a paragraph break]

    This is the sort of transforming educational experience I assume many powerful people like Gove never had .And of course you’re quite right that Art was used as something to keep the dimbos quiet. In my own experience, certainly in Primary school, this sort of ploy extended to  Music as well. Those judged to be able to sing [by Mrs Binney who pounded shite out of a piano during assembly] sang. Others were placed in what she called “Grunters’ Corner”

  9. Hahaha.Ours was called Miss Wragge and it was the New National Songbook that the whole school sang from, filled with airs and lyrics of which anyone to the right of Mosley might well have been proud.

  10. Dammit, I left 4 lines clear between ‘Hahaha’ and the oncoming paragraph. What’s the secret?

  11. Well, I usually press a big button thing with “enter” on it and it moves everything down a bit.

    Like that.

    Yes, we sang stuff like that, including “Fairest Isle, All Isles Excelling” and the deeply moving, “What is Life to me Without Thee ?

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