Sexual stereotyping, and a tendency to stay within the most expected of role models it would seem is alive and well in the classroom. Or at least it is amongst the fifteen and sixteen year olds that I teach.
For several weeks now I’ve been working with them on a module about architecture. It has been largely theoretically based focussing on contemporary buildings in our locality and via the internet, around the world. All ninety two of the pupils I teach have completed this part. To add further depth to the assignment I include practical assignment at the end of the project. This involves producing an architectural design, firstly for the interior layout of a building (done on paper) and then for the exterior (done on the computer using Google Sketchup). I’ve done this assignment a number of times and know from experience this somewhat technical challenge is not everyone’s thing. So I have started to offer an alternative assignment in the form of a fashion design assignment. An architecture/fashion choice is always going to split pupils along a bit of a boy/girl sort of axis I suppose, but this year it is particularly pronounced. In the overall group, which is probably pretty close to 46 boys and 46 girls, just one boy (well done for being up for it Daan!) has chosen to do the fashion assignment and the number of girls selecting the architecture assignment can be counted on the fingers of one hand. I can’t recall ever seeing such a uniform division of my groups.
It is all pretty anecdotal evidence of sexual and cultural role models in the classroom, but does perhaps hint at greater and more significant imbalances. This particularly the case when you look at both the pupils who choose to study art and culture as an exam subject in the upper years of school, and (not insignificantly) the teachers doing the teaching in schools.
I work in an art department of eight members. It is a group of diverse ages from mid-twenties up to colleagues in their fifties. Within this group of eight, I am the only man.
I am also the national arts subject leader for bilingual education in the Netherlands. In this role I regularly chair meeting for groups of art teachers. At such meetings the female/male balance is often of the order of 80/20 at the very best. A further observation and confirmation of the ‘female heavy’ nature of the sector was made clear to me last year when we were interviewing for a new department member. As I sorted through the pile of application letters and CVs I was desperately hoping that after thirteen years working in an art department of only women I might actually be able to turn up a male colleague at last. But there simply weren’t any such candidates to be found.
Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with female colleagues, I enjoy working with them. Where my problem lies is what image this sort of situation presents to the pupils. It cannot be unconnected with the classroom observations that I started with. We really seem to have our work cut out in trying to persuading teenage boys in particular that creativity and artistic flair is something they could aspire to wanting to be successful in. It’s a bit of a paradox really, within school male artistic role models are at something of a premium, outside of school in the art, music, film, photography, theatre, design and architectural worlds there is an abundance. You could even argue that the situation somehow reverses itself, a problem that has often enough been addressed by women artists in the past.