Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Chicago Children's Museum- 4 hours of observation

My last observation hours have actually been taking place over the course of the semester. I started to volunteer at the Children's Museum to enhance my knowledge of diversity programs taking place at the museum specifically, Play For All. Play For All is a program for families who have a child with a disability. The museum opens an hour early once a month and families can enjoy the museum for free in a quieter environment. In the beginning of my volunteering, I thought that families might not want a separate program just for them. Wouldn't they just want to be seen as normal? What I realized however was that for families to feel like they are a part of the museum, they must first have a quieter time to integrate into the museum settings, allowing them to feel more comfortable with the space.

The museum makes an effort to be democratic in creating new programs for special families. Instead of implementing them based on what the museum wants, they plan focus groups with community members and outside professionals to find out what the VISITOR wants. An example of this happening is when the museum was working on the All Families Matter initiative. The museum wanted to hold a program similar to Play For All but just for LGBTQ families. Through a series of meetings with LGBTQ families in the community, the museum discovered that the families don't want a separate event. They would rather feel like their a part of the museum, not separated.

Chicago Children's Museum is a great example of how museums can cross departments and work together to create what is best for the visitor rather than solely creating programs that are in the best interest of the museum.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Liberty Elementary School- 6 hours of observation

I don't have a car. So when my friend, Ms. J, agreed to let me observe her art class at Liberty School, I immediately map-quested the location. IT'S WHERE? I asked myself when the map pulled up Cicero, IL. I found it would take me two trains and a bus to get there. But I had been a Chicagoan for a year, I could handle it.

The morning of my first visit, I got off the blue line Cicero stop and waited for the bus. The stop was by the notorious Cottage Grove neighborhood,  a place I had seen on the news for murders and drug violence many times before. Also by the stop was two police cars, carefully watching everyone who walked past.

Now I consider myself someone who has been constantly around multicultural situations. I went to a very diverse high school and later lived in Memphis, TN a city where the population is 80% African-American in the urban area. Still, the unfamiliarity of the area and being the only "white" girl admittedly made me nervous.  Why did I feel this way? As I got on the bus to the school I came to the conclusion that I wasn't completely nervous about my well-being, though it was a high-crime area. But instead I felt awkward and out of place because I was different. Mainly, I was shocked by the poverty. The streets were run down and most people on the bus looked homeless. In my safe bubble of downtown Chicago I had never seen such a run down neighborhood. Sure, there was homelessness/poverty in the loop, but it seemed masked by rows of tulips and pristine streets. The cleanliness of the loop had always given me hope for the city; for humanity. In this neighborhood, it all just looked...sad.

As I got off the bus and walked to the school, the neighborhood changed from an African-American to a predominately Latino neighborhood. When I saw loving parents saying goodbye to their children in the schoolyard I felt hope again; a feeling that children often install in me.

I walked to Ms. J and her colleague, Ms. K's class. They were griping about their "resource" period. What should be a free time for them to plan, had recently been changed to the time where they substitute taught or helped administration. Budget cuts had caused a shortage in staff and current staff (especially the "specials" teachers) were picking up the slack. Another gripe, I heard right off the bat was that my friend Ms. J had to teach off an art cart, a cart that she wheeled around to the classes she taught. While there was a main art room, Mr. K mainly used it while Ms. J took supplies from the room that she needed for the day and loaded them on her cart.

While I walked with Ms. J to her first period, she told me the school's demographics: 97% hispanic and 3% other. Two of the three classes she taught in the morning were Spanish-English speaking classrooms and her first class had three special education students who were integrated for specials.

Over the next two Thursdays I had the opportunity to observe the same three classes. I when to Ms. J's first class, Ms. K's secondly and then back to Ms. J's for third period. Ms. J's first class consisted of 3nd graders with the number of boys a little larger than the girls. They were making plaster casts of their hands and if they were finished, thinking of pictures to put on the cast that represent their identity. Ms. J gave the example of drawing something about your cultural background (where your family is from) or possibly a hobby (e.g. Leggos). The classroom was cluttered with different posters listing sentence structure advice, multiplication tables and famous authors. The class had about 25 students. The desks were arranged in groups all facing each other. Each group consisted of eight desks. Of course, the rowdiest group of boys were placed together, constantly talking and distracting each other. While Ms. J had excellent class management skills, answering each individual questions and keeping it fairly quiet, the students were still all over the place. There were students by their lockers, students reading comics and students trying to work but not succeeding because of the distractions. Because Ms. J came to them, they thought of the class as a break from work vs. Ms. K that had an actual room that set the tone that actual artwork would be completed. With twenty-five students I was shocked that Ms. J had to handle the entire class alone. What she could have done with a teacher's assistant that could of helped with the execution of the actual project. Unfortunately, what I've heard from my friend's who teach in public schools, 25 students and no assistant is the norm.

Second period on Thursday's were a little bit quieter. Ms. K had a smaller class of second graders in her room. Unfortunately, Ms. K was unhappy with her lessons for those two classes. The first, the students were required to make paper flowers for the school dance. This was something administration had thrown on the Ms. J and Ms.K a week before the decorations had to be completed. The second lesson was "what career can you have as an artist?" The classroom seemed calmer as Ms. K spoke with a low voice calming the students down as well. This is not to say that Ms. K was better than Ms. J which was not the case. In fact, I had never been so impressed with Ms. J's classroom management skills. The fact was, the classroom was smaller and the class was smaller. When talking about their careers, most students said they wanted to do what their parents did, which mainly involved working in the food industry. Since most of the students had not been outside their community, it was very hard for them to visualize what an artist could do. For example, they could not understand the concept of design. To them, an architect was a construction worker or someone that designed cars actually worked in the factory. The reference they did understand was fashion designer which is a career constantly shown in television and magazines. Overall, the kids were more focused and excited about art when they were in a smaller class, in an actual art classroom. Ms. K however says she is looking for another job as administration affects her daily teaching practice in a negative way.

The last class I observed was Ms. J's 3rd grade bilingual class. The desk arrangement was similar to the first class but the students were a lot quieter. Ms. J had told me previously that most of the students in the class spoke English but that there were a few that received help with translating Ms. J's English from fellow students. What I observed from the two session was that this was the most inquisitive class. They marveled when Ms. J showed them how to make colorful butterflies for the school dance. During the second class, they were in awe when Ms. J or as they call her, "teacher" was explaining aboriginal art. I noticed that there were stand out characters in this class. There was one child who constantly cried when his artwork didn't turn out perfectly, the child who had an anger problem or the child who needed constant approval from "teacher". Ms. J again exhibited her wonderful classroom management skills giving individual attention but at the same time keeping the class on task.

Overall, I had a positive experiences with the teachers and the students at Liberty School. It was interesting to experience the student's culture through their stories I overheard. There were gripes about the administration but I can't say I was surprised. I've heard too many teachers complain about the lack of communication in their public school.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Miss Representation Documentary- 2 hours of observation

On February 27th I went to go see the film Miss Representation by Jennifer Siebel Newsom about how women are represented in media. Pretty overdone right? Well... Newsom had a refreshing approach to the topic. As a pregnant woman, she was scared for her daughter's future, afraid that she would struggle with the same self-image issues Newsom did when she was younger. Shown at Blaine Elementary School, parents and teachers are trying to create awareness about issues through their "Blaine Film Festival".

The film showed a lot of the basic ads you see when talking about this subject such as women in bikinis or Britney Spears scantily clad. However, it also talked about women in politics and how they either have to be seen as the "ball-buster" or the sexy one. The main example Newsom used was the comparison between Hillary Clinton (the crazy bitch) or Sarah Palin (the hot stupid one). Whether it is in politics, TV, or news, it seems as if women are being classified which leaves the younger generation to believe that they have to be a certain way to succeed. The most surprising part of the film for me was the radio hosts and news anchors that were shown making overtly sexist comments. Just think of the recent uprising when Rush Limbaugh called someone a "bitch". The worst part of that scandal was that it was nothing new. I had watched that happen multiple times during the film.

What links the film to Doing Democracy is how this film was talked about in the context of a school. The film explicitly said that parents and teachers have to start having a conversation about what they see in the media. After the film, the school hosted a discussion panel with Rachel Durchslag the Executive Director of CAASE, Kate Webster the Director of Violence Prevention at the Thousand Waves Martial Arts Center and Jennifer Loudon the Director of Behavioral Health from Chicago Public Schools. These influential women talked about how to have those conversations with your students or children. Jennifer Loudon suggested casually asking your child what they think is wrong with the way that person is shown on TV? Or, how does it make you feel to see a woman on a magazine cover like that? The movie and the panelists stressed not only to talk to your girls about this, but to reach out to the boys because males contribute heavily to gender stereotyping.

This film was important in making me realize the way I often accept the representation of women. I have called other women bitches, I don't stop my male friends when they sexualize or put down successful women. With my growing awareness, hopefully I can make others aware of how women are represented through media and in our everyday lives.

To learn more visit: or text represent to 313131

For more on the Blaine Film Festival visit:

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chicago Public School Board Meeting- 3 hours of observation

What a heated board meeting! As our class waited in line to get in to a CPS board meeting, I couldn't help but feel excited and encouraged that so many people were showing up to support public school education. There ARE people who are outraged enough to stand up for what they believe is hurting their communities and children.

What were people so upset about? Well... a lot of things. But one of the main issues under scrutiny was the closings and turnarounds of schools. If a school is low-performing, under No Child Left Behind, the district has a right to fire all of the staff and basically "refresh" the school or turn it around. Many people who spoke at the meeting felt that doing this to the schools or closing them is detrimental to the community. One word that was used a lot was apartheid, noting that the kids in Title I schools are purposely getting less and being shuffled from one bad school to another. Another speaker mentioned that  more policy can actually hurt the schools and that the board needed to start at the grass roots. Grass roots was a word also used a lot- the sense that the changes need to start within the community. Community members know what is best for their neighborhood and they need to come together to create change.

While I heard a lot of empowering speeches, unlike when I came in, I left discouraged; knowing all too well that the public's voices would not be heard. It was very clear to me that the Chairman of the Board was obligated to sit there and that he really did NOT want to. Under this democracy, leaders are mandated to listen to "the people". However, this democracy is dysfunctional because the leaders might listen, but they will still make decisions on what is best for them and their advisors.

On the other hand, I almost felt bad for the board as they had to sit there and be ridiculed. Perhaps they deserved it... perhaps they didn't. Part of me thought, it isn't the board's fault- it's the whole system. CPS cannot make real change because they have the state and Washington breathing down their necks. They are confined under NCLB and other policies. So what big changes can they really make?

While I felt discouraged, there is still the part of me that was proud of the people who fought for what they believed in. If more people got angry, not just the ones being affected by the closings and turnarounds, I think we would be a much different society. I definitely feel more aware, and I know that's a good thing.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Doing Democracy

This semester as a Master's in Art Education student, I will be blogging about my field experiences in my class Doing Democracy. I'll be talking about my experiences in a school, watching films, and observing things in the Chicago community. Post about the CPS Board Meeting tomorrow!! It was HEATED.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Carol Krukoff and the Types of Museums

For my Social Theory class we were supposed to see a social worker speak and write about it in some form. Unfortunately, all of the interesting talks available to me this semester were are on class dates ARGH! So when I heard the museum educator Carol Krukoff would be lecturing to my Museum Education class I decided to see if I could make her work as my social theorist. After all, educators of any kind are constantly reassessing the environment around them and interpreting things about the world to their students or visitors.

When Carol walked in I felt humbled, here was this woman who had to be at least 75 years old still very much involved with the museum education community. Carol is a Chicago legend. She began her work at the Chicago History Museum, then worked in the education department at the Naper Settlement (a landmark museum) and now is the Director of Education at the Oriental Institute of Chicago (at University of Chicago). In addition, she is a grant reader for IMLS (museum and library services) and allocates thousands of dollars a year to those trying to do something profound in the museum community. Needless to say, Carol knew a lot about museum governance which was the topic she would be speaking on in class.

She explained that there were four main types of museums: private/non-for-profit, public museum, university museum, and public university museum. Each have a different hierarchy. For example, the University museum educator reports to the Board of Trustees at the University, the President of the University, the Provost, the Dean of the Department, the Department Chair, and then finally the director of the museum. Carol talked about how fast or slow changes can be made depending on how many people have to approve it and how having so many people to go through can affect the culture of the museum. Meaning, how collaboratively the educators, curators and other staff work together. She also discussed how sometimes having so many people to go through can be a good thing. A museum needs layers as a checks and balances system to make sure that there is not just change for change sake.

Carol also talked about the stability of the different kinds of museums within the economic crisis. As a class, we decided that public art museums are in the best position because they will always be funded by the government. While some of the staff jobs might be cut like other museums, it is unlikely that the museum will be shut down because they are a sign of a flourishing society. The government does not want our country to seem poor even though it might be and they definitely do not want it to be seen as an under-cultured country. This leads to a larger question of the function of museums in our American society. It is place for groups to gather, it is a place for the education of society, it is where priceless pieces are held and displayed. A museum is a monument in our cities and shows that we are still a great world power. Anyways, I'm getting a little off track but I think Carol's main point was not only how museums function internally, but also how they become symbols for our community and how they interact with groups within these communities.

I was so fortunate to meet someone who does exactly what I want to do. Our class had a great discussion about the roles of educators in museums and our obligations. To see the work Carol Krukoff has been doing at her museum, visit the Oriental Institute of Chicago on the University of Chicago campus or visit their website .

Museum 2.0 Post

Museum 2.0, a blog I heard about through our Cyberpedagogy class recently had an interesting post about  redesigning a museum website. I thought this was VERY relevant to what we had been learning in class about how websites can support or hinder museums.

Museum Website Redesign