Employment, Education, and Identity

24 March 2014 —Arnold Thomas Bigger, Master of Arts in Teaching

For me, being a Corcoran College of Art + Design Graduate Student keeps me involved with current events because Corcoran instructors find creative ways to make lessons relevant to daily life. For example, a recent assignment I had for my art history class (taught by Gillian B. Elliott with teaching assistants Josephine Cabezas, Megan Pirron, and Ramzah Khan) is based on a CNN Politics report about an art history professor, Ann Collins Johns, who received a handwritten apology letter from President Obama about a comment he made about art history.

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The assignment was:

SHORT ESSAY QUESTIONS

  1. Take a look at the following web site: http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/02/19/art-history-professor-receives-handwritten-apology-from-obama/

Write a letter discussing the issue: is art history useful today?  You may either write a letter to President Obama in defense of art history, or you may write a letter to Dr. Ann Johns at the University of Texas explaining why you understand/support the president’s comments.  You are encouraged to think about your own experiences of Art History at the Corcoran and the current state of affairs at the museum/college.

I tried to decide whether to write to the President or the professor but, in the end, I decided to write to both of them. I invite you to post your letter discussing the usefulness of art history in the comments for this post and for those of you who are wondering how I responded to the assignment:

3 March 2014

Greetings President Obama and Professor Johns,

My name is Arnold Thomas Bigger and I am student in an art history class at the Corcoran College of Art + Design. I am writing because of comments that both of you made about employment and art education. President Obama, according to CNN.com Blogs, you commented that, “folks can make a lot more, potentially, with skilled manufacturing or the trades than they might with an art history degree” when you were in a Wisconsin factory placing value on manufacturing employment.[1] Professor Johns, according to CNN.com Blogs, you commented that, “[art education professors] really work hard on teaching students…who come in and take an art history survey class how to think, read and write critically, because that’s what you do with art” in response to President Obama’s comment placing value on art history education.[2] I am writing to both of you because, by commenting on employment and education, both of you have failed to address the issue that causes people to value one person or one group of people more than another person or another group of people: identity.

Frequently, Identity allows people to value one person or one group of people more than another person or another group of people because people usually feel better about their own identities when they believe they are superior to other people. This belief of superiority is the result of a tendency of identity to cause people to compare themselves to other people because most people learn to define identity as the groups of people that that they identify with and the groups of people that identify with them. Consequently, identity causes some people to believe that being identified with a high valued group of people is good and being identified with a low valued group of people is bad; unfortunately, value is most often associated with income, which causes some people to value one type of employment over another type of employment and one type of education over another type of education.

President Obama, perhaps you might have said that “[folks who might not be attracted to a college degree might be attracted to] skilled manufacturing or the trades” so that one type of employment is not valued over another type of employment.[3] Professor Johns, perhaps you might have said that “[art education professors teach students]…who come in and take an art history survey class how to think, read and write critically [in the language of art history just as other disciplines teach students] to think, read and write critically [in their disciplines]” so that one type of education is not valued over another type of education.[4]

I hope both of you are able to identify with my understanding of employment, education, and identity.

Sincerely,

Arnold Thomas Bigger


[1] CNN.com Blogs, “Art History Professor Receives Handwritten Apology from Obama,” CNN Political Ticker, http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2014/02/19/art-history-professor-receives-handwritten-apology-from-obama/

[2] Supra note 1.

[3] Supra note 1.

[4] Supra note 1.

Questions…Comments…Concerns? arnold_bigger@gwu.edu

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