... I Learned in Spain
(or: in which the musings about Spain continue until you want to throw things at me).
As you may or may not know, I used to be an elementary teacher and still am at heart. So everywhere I go, I notice what kids are doing. When I was very young -- about 8 or 9 - I got it into my head that I (and everyone else) was responsible for setting the tone for what kids think about the world. Even at that age, I knew that I wanted younger kids to believe that the world was a place of peace - or could be - and that they were surrounded by love.
As you might imagine, I was a huge nerd.
But I began really observing kiddos, smiling at them, saying hi, frightening their parents. This behavior continues to this day.
When I was in Spain, I took the opportunity, whenever possible, to notice what kids' schooling was like. Since we were in the capital of Spain, visiting a lot of "the sights", we got to see a lot of school kids out on field trips.
Here are my very unscientific data points:
French teens are relentlessly hip. This is to be expected, I suppose.
A tiny ham sandwich is a delicious after-school snack. We walked past several schools just as they were letting out for the day, and a lot of the parents brought their kids a ham sandwich as a snack (it was about 5 o'clock, and if the kids eat dinner at the same time as the adults in Spain, dinner was a long time off). It's the perfect sort of snack - carbs for short-term energy and protein for longer-term. Contrast that to the snack of radioactively orange "cheese" crackers that most of my students got.
Exposure to the arts at an early age is a good thing. As we approached the Museo del Prado, we saw this group of tinies:
Then, inside, we came upon a group of kids who looked to be around 7 years of age, plopped down in front of Velazquez's Las Meninas. Their teacher was speaking animatedly to them about the painting, and then all of the kids broke into song!
This really struck me, because often in America: a) there's no consensus that art is relevant (just the other week, Bill Maher said: "Highways and hospitals save people's lives, and art is a diversion."); and b) often, we don't expose little tykes to fine art because we want to wait until they can "handle it" and "take it seriously." Plus, you know, we're Puritans, and if we let our kids go to the art museum, they'll see marble penises.
But at the Prado, there were tons of little kids on school field trips. Their teachers obviously carefully planned their museum itineraries to feature the pieces that spoke to the kids' background knowledge and age.
On the same episode of Real Time With Bill Maher, on which Bill made that lame statement -- and I usually agree with him -- choreographer Bill T. Jones was speaking up for the need to fund arts and include the arts in education. He said: "The government is responsible for the material welfare of the people... government is also responsible for a certain type of education of the people. ... Art - when it is really doing what it should do -- teaches abstract thinking; it teachers teamwork; it teaches people to actually think about things that they cannot see."
Panelist Dana Loesch (grr) stated that people who like the arts will contribute to them. Gee whiz, like the parents of my students who couldn't always afford to feed their kids? Do you know why the kids got free breakfast? It's because their parents were contributing so much to the ballet.
I think back to my 8-year-old self, and the message I wanted younger children to hear about the world. If we made art a priority for our kids, I think that message would be conveyed.