Michael Armstrong battles for art in provincial Canterbury

Posted By TEU on Nov 10, 2016 |


Tertiary education is the opportunity to pick up students the mainstream has ignored, says award-winning teacher Michael Armstrong from Ara Institute of Canterbury.

Armstrong received a TEU award of excellence on Monday night for his contribution to teaching fine arts to his South Canterbury students.

He says his job is to help students who have never before had their views validated or their learning supported.

“To undertake the education of those students in a wide sense, in thinking, teamwork, speaking and writing, (not to mention manners), in participation in democratic processes in the classroom, these are aspects I have learnt within the union.”

Armstrong describes the job of teaching as a political battle with government.

“I teach art, visual communication, creativity, call it by any euphemism that flies under the government’s anti-art view of education you like.”

Fine arts students need to, and do engage with the current realities that confront them, says Armstrong. He discusses with them class politics, business and survival.

“A fairly common view of artists is that they are navel gazers, dreamers, unworldly, whereas that is very much not the reality of artists who are most generally quite hard-nosed.”

Armstrong says the free-market model of education has failed workers, the economy, and democracy. It is wrong, he says, to tell students with any certainty that some areas of study hold a better, more secure future than others.

And yet, he says, that is what the current government is doing.

“When a minister of the Crown sets his face against your union and your profession, one needs to know who one’s friends and allies are; and I have consistently found the best protection are the people in and of the union and the students I teach.”

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