Teachers Use Art to Teach World History
‘“It’s cool how they came up with their language,’” says seventh grader Hayten Lamb as she paints Chinese letters with broad strokes on a horizontal piece of brown paper.
The Kiser Middle School seventh grade students have been studying Chinese culture in social studies class with their teacher Fran Lusk. Today they’ve moved their lesson into a vacant science lab turned art studio where they are learning Chinese calligraphy in a hands-on art experience. Local artist Lori Key addresses the class on the ancient history of Chinese characters, explaining how this art form made up of eight basic strokes is meditative and cultural rather than just a style of writing. Another local artist, Pam Cataldo, prepares paints and helps students gather necessary supplies.
Combining art with studies is an idea that comes through the Center for Visual Artists in a program called Cultural Kaleidoscope, developed for the Guilford County school system. The program, funded through the school system and through written grants, works to bring accomplished artists like Key and Cataldo into contact with students. Right now the program only works with seventh grade social studies classes, but there are possibilities to expand into other areas and grade levels if the interest and funds are there, says programming director Courtney Hemphill. In addition to Chinese calligraphy, Cultural Kaleidoscope is offering workshops in African masks and jewelry, Australian bark painting and didgeridoos and Indian puppets. Performance workshops incorporating storytelling and dance are also available. The programs are offered at no cost to the schools but is served on a first come, first served basis. Space is limited as there is only enough space for 10 to 12 schools per year. Schools must fill out applications in advance to be considered.
Lusk said, ‘“[We] would like for this to be a yearly event.’” This was the first time her class has been involved with the program. She said the art helped make social studies more interesting for her class, demonstrating how the 50 to 60 Chinese languages are all represented in the same form of writing.
Fellow teacher Vickie Bethel helped bring the program to Kiser. The Center tapped Bethel for the program and she was particularly interested in the Asian arts to compliment her class studies.
‘“The students loved it,’” Bethel said, stating the seventh graders were glued on Key’s every word during the presentation. They were extremely proud of their work, she said, and they all wanted to know when they could take their paintings home. Bethel tried to talk as many students as she could into letting the works hang at the school for a while before taking them home. Bethel, in just her second year at Kiser, hopes to have the Cultural Kaleidoscope program back next year.
‘“They were wonderful,’” she said of artists Key and Cataldo.
At a table Alec Frisby and David Sykes look through a book of Chinese characters with Key. At another table Max Atchison has already begun his characters: lucky, prosperity and good luck.
After the symbols have been painted the students decorate their hangings with splashes of color, stamps and paintings of flowers. Jennifer Minor asks friend Torrie Holsey if she should add a stem to her flower, a black one or red one.
‘“Red,’” replies Holsey, who then asks if she should connect her flowers with one long stem.
At the end of the class wooden dowels and string are put on the end of the paintings for hanging. Then they are laid on the tables and floor to dry. Key passes out fortune cookies before the bell rings and students are off to their next class. Reds, pinks, blacks, whites and golds turn the bland room into a kaleidoscope of color. Key and Cataldo straighten up the room. It’s their last class for the season and they seem tired and relieved.
With the tidying finished up the two artists chat with Hemphill about future plans for classes. The work has been fulfilling and rewarding despite the long semester. They hope there’ll be money to expand the program next year; they hope there’ll be funding to continue what they’ve done this year. And they hope they can impart how important art is to those in charge of things in the school system.