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147 5 L e a r n i n g I m a g i n a t i o n i n A r t a n d Sc i e n c e T he disc o urse o f creati v ity rephrased the progressive ideal of teaching through hands-on projects, which was written into the postwar public elementary schools through outdoor yards and self-contained classrooms with long counters and sinks. In these newly built institutions, special rooms for art, science, and shop put spatial and educational emphasis on teaching children to become productively creative. Yet if new elementary school architecture only appeared to reinforce creativity as an educational value, shifts in art instruction after World War II fully assimilated childhood creativity into the curriculum. Champions of manual training and progressive education who believed that firsthand experience gave vital meaning to abstract subjects incorporated the arts into their pedagogy in the late nineteenth century. Art education was a relatively elite practice before World War II, but it became an ordinary expectation of modern childhood in the postwar years. As the cultural value of the arts rose, the increasingly affluent postwar middle classes enrolled their children in special courses, bought crayons and finger paints for home use, and attended museums that were attracting and accommodating the bulge of the baby boom. Moreover, the postwar critique of American education, which the Cold War and the baby boom precipitated, brought attention to the methods and means of teaching both art and science to young children. In this chapter, I discuss how school arts, manufacturers of art supplies, and new programs and facilities for children in museums disseminated the educational values of creativity to children across the country. Because creativity implied individual thought and action, it was upheld as a fundamentally humanistic ideal and the epitome of a democratic personality. These institutions and commodities show how postwar approaches to teaching both art and science relied on personal ex- Learning Imagination in Art and Science 148 perience, free play, and experimentation as means of stimulating children’s curiosity and awakening their “natural” creativity. Creativit y and Postwar Art Education The belief that children, especially young children, have unique access to unfettered expression was a consistent theme in Beverly Cleary’s books about ordinary children who live in a middle-class neighborhood in Portland , Oregon, in the 1950s and 1960s. The two Quimby sisters, Beezus (short for Beatrice) and her younger sister, the indefatigable Ramona, are a study in personality contrasts. Whereas Ramona is continually praised and sometimes punished for her hearty imagination, Beezus, the responsible , well-behaved older sibling, is not. In a chapter called “Beezus and Her Imagination” from Beezus and Ramona (1955), it is Beezus who learns how to unleash her imagination while attending an afternoon art class at a local recreation center. Young Ramona, who drags a string tethering an imaginary green lizard she names Ralph behind her, immediately gains the teacher’s attention and approval. In the chapter, as Beezus struggles to create a picture of her own imaginary animal, she learns that trying too hard to be creative can have the opposite effect, for “real imagination”—which her teacher assures her everyone possesses—comes in moments of unselfconsciousness . (In later books, Beezus and Ramona’s father aspires to become an art teacher.) The dragon Beezus creates is a whimsical version of Ramona ’s invisible Ralph, with lollipops (she had earlier wrestled a lollipop away from Ramona) protruding from his back. In Cleary’s story, it is the gentle coaxing of her teacher that provokes Beezus to make creative use of the day’s trials. If imagination could be taught or could reveal itself at the suggestion of a teacher versed in both art and psychology, then art education had the potential to transform not only the individual but also society more broadly. The postwar union of art and psychology entered children’s lives in forceful ways, therefore making creativity an ordinary expectation of childhood. The desire to tap the deep well of children’s creativity was the aim of art education in schools and community programs between the early 1940s and the 1970s. “Creative expression” and “creative art education” were two of the names given to a pedagogical emphasis on cultivating children’s skills at depicting and describing their own feelings and experiences using art materials. Instead of following prescribed steps, copying historical sources, or learning or replicating artistic conventions, creative art education prized children...


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