Can You Disagree With Other Art Educators And Still Be Right?

Take a look at this student’s art work. Can you read what it says?



Did you read “Life Is Nowhere”… or… “Life Is Now Here”? A ha! It’s both. Let’s look at this idea in regards to art ed.


The age old saying goes, Never talk about politics or religion. That is, unless you want to get into a heated debate. The reason is simple. Most people have very strong views about these topics and they believe firmly that their views are right. There is another topic we may need to add to the list… art education.

The more conversations I have with art teachers, both in person and online, the more I realize what strong opinions we as art teachers have on a wide range of subjects. There are some obvious topics like “grading” and “due dates” that stir debate. There are also less likely candidates such as “should teachers work on their own art during class time?”

What I’m slowly discovering is which teachers are right and which are wrong. What I’ve learned is, most times they all are both right and wrong. Unlike politics or religion where one usually has to pick a side, a statement can be made about art education that can be right and wrong at the exact same time. Let me provide an example.

I was recently engaged in a conversation about due dates. One teacher argued that due dates were necessary. She cited that graphic designers encountered due dates every day of their lives. Another teacher countered, stating that students need time to develop their ideas to the fullest, similar to the way fine artists work. One can not disagree with the first teacher’s position because it is right. Graphic designers encounter due dates on a daily basis. However, one can not dismiss the second teacher’s premise about a fine artist’s need for time either. So who is right and who is wrong? Neither… and both.

“What we need to consider is how another teacher’s position can be just as valid as our own even if we we fundamentally disagree with his or her premise.”

I have to emphasize that the topic “due dates” is just an example. We wouldn’t want the comment section of this post to fill with reasons why or why not due dates are important. What we need to consider is how another teacher’s position can be just as valid as our own even if we we fundamentally disagree with his or her premise. The reasoning, just like our own, can be both right and wrong.

 Tell us, what are the topics that you most often debate with your colleagues? Can you see the other point of view? 

Does this way of thinking come naturally to you? 

Ian Sands

This article was written by former AOE writer and choice-based art education expert, Ian Sands.


  • linda

    Yes, it all depends on what lens you look at things..both can be right for their own points of view…..However, I know I might have a point of view that differs from my administrator….ultimately, their view will win out. We all have differing views but must respect one another and be willing to listen. Sometimes you find that your view will change depending on information recieved.

  • Lisa R.

    I personally have the gift/curse of seeing both sides, in most cases. This is helpful then it comes time for compromise to be made. A hot topic among many of us right now is TAB/Choice-Based Art Ed.

    • Lisa

      Our district is discussing Choice Based now too. We have all tried it this year, I in grades 4-5, and I have backed away from it now. I am getting a lot of pressure to convert to this method but I see too many kids not working to their potential, just wasting time and materials.

  • Jorena

    As an elementary teacher, the biggest debate I always end up in (with colleagues and students) is messy creativity versus careful craftsmanship. I know that thinking outside the box is important. However coloring within the lines has its place as well. Without attention to detail, without craftsmanship, it is hard to justify that effort was put into the work. I try to pull examples from both camps- for instance in 5th grade we do an American Art unit where we study and compare Pollock, Warhol, and Grant Wood.

  • Erica

    Haha~ great timing for this post:)

    To answer your question: In my district, we are currently debating over curriculum. We want to keep it open, but after making everyone happy with the revision he hem, I mean deletions, we are left with pretty much nothing. So now we are going back and adding yet again. The drama of it all.

  • Liz Clark

    This is discussed in my HS department as well… I have always been more TAB minded…process is more important than product. I think technique should be emphasized in upper level art classes, but lower level classes should be about developing a love of art/understanding it’s importance/ thinking creatively. My department believes that students shouldn’t be allowed to be creative until they master technique. I always thought of technique based assignments as warm ups. Only projects with some creative thought could be final assessments. It is a question of which came first…chicken or egg? I hope this discussion catches on. I’m excited to read responses.

    This brings up another debate…how do you grade art? Should you? Anyone read “Art with The Brain in Mind” by Jennings?

    Where due dates are concerned…I set them, but allow students to extend the due date if they ask.

  • Darla Chapman-Speelman

    i am torn with collegues that put their hands into student work. it is one thing to show a technique, to guide, to make some reference points, but to take the media and do a section, in my opinion, is wrong. in my teaching i give lots of demonstrations, supply lots of references (video, worksheets, etc…) and lots of famous works for inspiration. i do not do my student’s work. thoughts?

    • Mr. Checkers

      That would have been my first reaction even a year ago. Now in my 35th year of teaching, I find myself, in some rare cases, adding a “prompting” line here or there to help some child who seems to have no idea at all what we are doing. I don’t know if it is frustration on my part or that I am somehow getting old, (perish that thought) impatient? or just discouraged that so many children today seem to need so much more help than ever, especially in primary school settings.

      • Mr. Checkers

        and as a note to myself, I was just reminded why we all do this by this story…
        The Starfish Story—
        A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.
        “Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.
        “Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”
        “But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”
        The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.” :-)


      • Lisa

        I am surprised at how many 4/5 graders cannot make a single knot. They come up to me holding their yarn up as if expecting me to do it for them. Apparently they don’t tie their shoes either! I have resolved that these students will be able to tie a knot without help before the month is up!

    • Lisa

      I know what you mean. I usually ask the student to look again and often they can solve the problem as I stand there. Sometimes I’ll say is it this or should it be that, giving them two choices. If all else fails I will make a small mark as Mr. Checkers said below to “prompt” the student.

  • Lisa

    An odd challenge for me this year is that the less experienced art teachers in my district want to go to Learner Directed/Choice Based art. I have 22 years of experience and am highly regarded by my students and community for how far students grow under my high school program. I am not against them using alternative methods but don’t want to be told I have to. At their urging I did try it for 10 weeks for my 4th and 5th graders and at first thought it was benefiting the students but over time I realized almost all of the students were regressing in their skills and creativity plus they were wasting time and materials. Only a handful of students thrived artistically. That is just not acceptable to me. One of the art teachers continues to make Learner Directed her goal district wide K-12. She has met with our instructional coach and our superintendent on her own and constantly is trying to be our self appointed leader. Now that she has gotten the attention of our administrators I feel duped.

  • Jess

    TAB vs curriculum driven instruction is a big one. I personally see my kids happier and more confident when they learn specific skills in class. I have enjoyed a TAB “Studio Club” when asked to teach a club.

    • Lisa

      Jess, That more confident and happier student is what I am seeing when I teach specific skills too. It is heartening when so many students daily tell me they went home and did art work based on what was taught in class on their own. TAB is good for small groups of self motivated students.

  • Karen

    The longer I have taught the more I realize that differentiation is important for teachers and not just for our students. Like so many of our teaching techniques, what works for one person doesn’t work for another. I have come across many ideas over the years that I loved, but I just couldn’t get to work for me. These ideas were too far removed from how I process things. I love the fact that we all teach and emphasize things in different ways. Our students benefit from that variety. It also gives students a real world experience when they have to deal with a multitude of approaches and theories surrounding the same subject.

  • Caelum

    Hey guys I heard there’s a debate on whether or not to remove art education in school. Here’s a website i found about the debate.

  • Caelum

    Wait sorry wrong link this is the real link

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