Ruth’s Truths – Ruth Morris

By the time I became an English teacher, they didn’t call the subject “English” any more. I discovered that it was called “Language Arts,” until high school. “Language Arts” sounds closer to the translation of what the Japanese call “Japanese,” which is “Kokugo,” meaning, “country language. In any case, I thought “Language Arts” sounded weird, stilted, somehow “politically correct,” without any apparent reason.

The subject of “Language Arts” or “English” can be broken down into four parts: Reading, Writing, Listening and Speaking. Everything else is details. These four areas can not only be enriched, but, more significantly, happen most naturally, by embedding experiences for students that are considered to be “The Arts.” When I state my belief in doing this to parents each year at Open House, I receive responses of enthusiastic nodding heads. During my summer language classes (Japanese and English) arts, crafts, music, even dance are always a part of the curriculum, because, inspiration, or as Ray Bradbury called it, “The Muse,” is fed when we “stuff ourselves with sounds, sights, smells tastes and textures of people, animals, landscapes, and events.”

The Encyclopedia Brittanica states the definition of “The Arts” as, “modes of expression that use skill or imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments or experiences that can be shared with others.” Day to day, when we are talking about the arts, we are speaking of: visual art, music, dance, film, spoken word, dramatic, comedic or musical performance from either a creator’s or a spectator’s perspective.

For me, Language and Art are not separate. They are not even side-by-side companions. Instead, artistic expression is the culminating demonstration that what has been read, written, heard and spoken has not just been defined or comprehended, applied and analyzed, but that it has been synthesized and evaluated, which are considered the highest demonstrations of learning, according to “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” If a student can read a novel, and create a dance based on the themes in that novel, are they not demonstrating comprehension as assuredly as answering correct answers on a multiple choice test?

Within a couple of years of starting to teach this subject “Language Arts,” I began to put “The Arts” in “Language Arts.” It all started with an e-mail I received one summer when I was checking my school e-mail. The message said something like, “Would you in interested in taking part in an arts integration program…?” I never read the rest; I just e-mailed back, “Yes.” That was 2005.

Nine years later, working every year with the renowned Music Center has led to partnerships with a variety of artists. Every year since, we have delivered quarter-long curriculums of arts based content, while teaching California State mandated Language Arts standards, and then some. Personally, I have learned about the importance of stage presence and how to establish it, about how working toward a performance builds teamwork, or how necessary teamwork is in order to perform. I learned that you can give a performance, but will neither have an audience to play to or money to recoup expenses if you don’t advertise your show properly. Colleagues who have learned these or similar lessons are hooked; if a teacher continues to learn while teaching, you can bet the students are learning right along with us, and often it is the students who are teaching the teachers.

A case study would be the performance my students created this past school year. The culminating activity was a three-part performance of dance, choral recitation and individual spoken word. In order to do this, students listened to a piece of Japanese music and choreographed (wrote) steps in time with the music. They read, chose and memorized passages from famous Japanese literature in translation and spoke them aloud in unison. The learned the steps of creating Haiku, illustrated their poems, and recited them individually. They watched films and read articles on Noh and Kyogen masks and performances, learned about Japanese woodblock printing, calligraphy and customs of chopstick use through articles and film clips, and colored pages of the famous arist Hiroshige’s work, eventually drawing their own Hiroshige-style pictures. They researched and brought Japanese snacks for our performance after party. (See photo)

Through the years, our students have also created and performed a narrated mime performance in Japanese, have learned and performed an emblematic part of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations, have performed choral readings of Pablo Neruda’s Poesia in English and Spanish, have produced both an original school play and, finally, a Broadway play. It bears repeating: the students have done these things, sometimes with only minimal artist and/or adult supervision.

On a recent visit to a private school, that was not (or, not as) beholden to the red tape ofthe public school scenario, from state testing to anti-drugs or violence campaigns, I noticed that visual art graced every surface, from the paint on the outside of the buildings, to the sofa in foyer to the walls of every hallway and classroom. In contrast, public school student artwork is often relegated only to special glass cases.

Too many times, Arts related classes are relegated to the “Electives” arena. Or, an artist is brought in to “teach an art,” while the main teacher tends to other business. Or arts programs are cut as not “essential” or “core.” Yet, when everything else is good in life, humans will often tend to seek out “The Arts” for enjoyment: a movie, a play, a museum, drawing, playing or listening to music.

And it is not only language-related subjects that have arts incorporated into them. All subjects, from Science to Math to, obviously, History, have masterpieces. They have works, within each discipline, that have reached the zenith of excellence, they are works that have changed the world. This is also art, and can be celebrated as such, and by some form of artistic expression (as opposed to just a mutiple choice test) in those classes as well.

Maslow’s “self-actualization” happens when a person is able to “pursue their inner talent, creativity and fulfillment.” ” Enlightenment” or “self-realization,” as defined in Eastern philosophy, is when a person “fulfill’s their own potential.” The twelfth step in twelve-step programs speak of a “spiritual awakening.” I believe that the desire and ability to pursue the arts is a demonstration of this level of human evolution.

The Arts is not a side dish; it is actually the main course.

www.culvercitysymphony.org

15 Comments

  1. I loved this article and could not agree more with the final sentence. It evoked a memory of a train trip I took to Santa Fe, New Mexico several years ago. On the way we were joined by a wonderful Navajo guide who spoke of the traditions of her people. She concluded her talk with a quote from the Blessing Way Ceremony, explaining that its purpose is to bring, restore and maintain the harmony, as the basis of Navajo culture: “In beauty before you may you walk. In beauty behind you may you walk. In beauty below you may you walk. In beauty all around may you walk. In beauty it is finished.” I suspect she would have strongly approved of your integrative approach. Your students are very fortunate.

  2. I really loved this article- I agree with all of it. I love how you wrote “The Arts is not a side dish; it is actually the main course.” I agree with that. Art is not just an elective, as you said. Or, at least, it should not be put with the electives. But, unfortunately, it is, and in my short lifetime, it always has been. I also agree with you in the fact that Art isn’t just by itself. Art is in Language, or English. Art is in Math, and Science, too! Some people just don’t open their eyes and see the world around them. I hope that you write more articles!!!!

  3. I love this article! It really explains how things changed. Before it was just english but now its language arts. I agree with you english makes more sense than language arts. The article said, ” Once I became an english teacher the subject wasn’t called english anymore.” I can’t wait to read more of your articles.

  4. I think that this was a very good article, I really agree with what you had to say about how “language arts” is not just about a multiple choice test… it’s about learning how to take in what you read and put it in a dance or a poem even a song, because it shows and clarifies your understanding of the text you read. I agree with what you said, “arts is not a side dish it’s the main course.” I agree with that saying you came up with because most people don’t get why language arts is so important, but it is the reason that they can do all the other subjects…!great article Ms.Morris, I really enjoyed reading it. – Halen Anderson

  5. I agree that “The Arts” as, “modes of expression that use skills or imagination in the creation of aesthetic objects, environments, or expressions that can be shared with others.” I concur that language and art are not separate. For me, art is a synthesis of music, food, dress, speech, writing, reading, and much more.

  6. I agree with everything written in the article. I like how you emphasize art as not only as an elective, but as part of any subject. You also have strong reasons to back that point up. Ilike how you said “If a student can read a novel, and create a dance based on the themes in that novel, are they not demonstrating comprehension as assuredly as answering correct answers on a multiple choice test?” This is very true. The arts are part of each subject and are important to add to all classes. It expands the range of resources to learn with, and it also is better than sitting in class all day takes multiple-choice tests. Although I tend to dislike art, I do agree with everything you said and think it’s importan to integrate the arts with all classes.

  7. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I really enjoyed your article. As you said, “Language and art are not separate. They are not even side-by-side companions.” I really agree with you on your opinion because although they may be two different words I would have to agree with you because using art you can show what you learned and learn it too. For instance like the book report that you gave us to do. Instead of just reading a book and writing a big essay on it you can draw pictures of the main events and draw captions under them or make a movie or skit about it. That shows that I’ve learned and it’s also artistic.
    As you also mentioned in your article you put “The Arts back in Language Arts”. I really see that in your class and I really enjoy it alot because I like being very creative and artistic. It would be nice to do a little performance in your class and I hope we do. Thanks for putting this wonderful blog up for us to read.

  8. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I enjoyed reading your article. It tells us students about the past and how before it was just english but now its language arts. I feel that your class expresses more of the arts than the language but at the same time, it intertwines with both. By the different projects and assignments you have given us, the little parts of the project, like the coloring and making the head of ourselves, make up the arts and expresses so much of the artiest that all of us can be. Another domain that I enjoyed participating in in your class was that little dance we had to make up with our groups of 6. At least one domain every week would be fun with our peers. I picked this quote below because it stood out to me and it shows that the language, French, isn’t just spoken, but it is also a feeling that you can feel inside and express.

    “French is the language that turns dirt into romance.”
    -Stephen King

  9. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I enjoyed reading your article. I really like what you said about the past and how before it was just english but now its language arts.

  10. Hi Ms. Morris
    I really enjoyed your article. I totally agree that language and arts are not separate or even “side by side companions” like you said in the article. This has been proven in class. one example of this was when we made up the dance for the swing article. that was a lot of fun and was a great experience, not only a fun experience, but a good learning experience because it helped us to express how reading and or any other part of language is already a part of art. i also think that the dance helped us to remember it both then, now, and probably for the rest of our LIVES! 🙂

  11. Hi Ms. Morris,
    I thought your article brought up some interesting points, like when you said, “Language arts sounds more politically correct.” Which is true, I’ve always wondered why it was renamed language arts from English. Your article helped me see why. Now all I need to know is why history was changed to social studies.

  12. I really like this article on how language arts are two different things, but combined to be one. I also agree that “English” makes more sense than “language arts.” My favorite quote was: “Within a couple of years of starting to teach this subject ‘Language Arts,’ I began to put ‘The Arts’ in ‘Language Arts.’” I liked this because teaching through art is inspiring.

  13. Hi Ms.Mooris
    I thought that this article was very interesting and specially the part where it said that Language Arts is broken up to four parts. The four parts are reading , writing , listening , and speaking. I also liked this article because I have a little intrest in arts. I want to read more of your articals because they are really interesting and really fun to read. I an waiting for another of your article MS.Mooris.

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