There’s a portrait in my friend’s office. An eight-year-old drew it. My friend’s ears look like wide-open car doors, but otherwise I’d say it’s an undoubtedly accurate depiction.
My friend teaches art. Well, sort of. He teaches it once every two months, since Alabama schools have deemphasized arts and music. He tells me his students didn’t even know how to operate scissors or draw basic happy faces.
“It’s sad,” he says. “Technology has changed everything. And so has the school system, we’ve just kinda let art dry up.”
Most of his students spend school hours doing math homework.
“If our school doesn’t bring math grades up,” my friend says. “It affects our funding. These kids have an hour of homework every night. It’s crazy. There’s no time for kids to go outside and play anymore.”
God help me.
I don’t have many bones to pick with the society. In fact, I believe American kids are quite privileged. Furthermore, my wife is a math teacher, so I need to be careful or I’ll be sleeping in the barn. But it burdens me to think children don’t have time to practice shooting cap guns.
My friend decided to fix this by holding after-school art classes.
“It was just me and a few other dads,” he said. “The first class, we taught’em to draw turtle shells. Which is just a bunch of equilateral octagons.”
For the love of Crayola, refrain from the math jargon.
“Kids got into it,” he went on. “Then, we taught’em faces. Everyone took turns drawing portraits of their partners.”
His art class grew.
Soon, several kids and parents stayed after school to get messy with paint and clay. Once, they even made guitars out of cigar boxes.
And then the county got involved. Someone didn’t like the idea of folks on school property without sufficient staff. After all, someone could get injured with a paintbrush on school grounds.
One parent suggested hiring personnel to stay after school. The county said it would cost too much. So they shut the art class down.
“I was bummed at first,” he said. “But then I decided, it was our mission to make sure kids had something else to do besides homework, you know, to keep their minds stimulated.”
So, he found a local church who agreed to help. Not only did they host the program, they donated all art supplies, too.
“These’re different times,” said my friend. “Kids need us. If we’re not fighting for the happiness of our kids, what’n the hell are we fighting for?”
I wish I could follow that line up.
But I can’t.