What Should We Expect of Public Education?
Questioning Assumptions, Searching for Definitions and Finding an Entry Point
I am delighted to participate in the ArtsJournal debate on arts education this week. Laura Zakaras has launched our conversation with a number of assertions and questions. To begin, I will question some of these assumptions. Ultimately, probably in my next post, I will try to find my way into the enormously complex question of what we should expect of public education. I'll start by looking at Ms. Zakaras' assumptions, both explicit and implicit.
"Will our culture suffer if we don't do more to teach the arts [to public school children]?" Well, what do we mean by culture? Whose culture? What do we mean by "more" -- than what? How? When? How well? With what infrastructure and resources? What do we mean by "teach the arts?" Where is our sense of accountability for qualiy?
To my way of thinking, there is no single American culture, let alone cultural system. Nor am I aware of any overall arts policy (notwithstanding the voluntary national standards). "More" is a vague term and not always better (in quality.) There is no one "best" or "most effective" way to teach the arts, although some people have preferences (or biases). Not all people need to be "enabled" to enter into arts experiences, and not all profound arts experiences give pleasure or even clear meaning.
Most important, I do not agree with the argument that public education is capable of making a serious dent in attendance at arts events...which raises the question of whether we want to teach the arts to improve our culture (however that is defined) or whether we hope to produce more arts "engagement" and patrons (butts in seats), or whether we share John Dewey's conviction that the arts are important to everyone's quality of life in a democracy, for a whole host of reasons, most of which have been repeated over and over during the last fifty years without making a sustainable dent in the status quo.
One final question: I wonder what research supports the implied, and in the Cultivating Demand Report, explicit preference for aesthetic education as the "preferred" approach for teaching all students the arts. There are many other effective ways of providing arts education, and many of them are alive and well, albeit in those scarce"pockets of excellence" that the arts education community likes to point to with pride.
Perhaps the most important definitions, then, that we need to address are "culture,"arts education," and "status quo" -- but as these are all value laden terms, we may not have the world and time for that exercise. I think my next post will address the expectations of public education since I have spent much of my career working in and with schools and districts across the country
Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
Laura Zakaras, RAND;
James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago;
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education;
Eric Booth, Actor;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
Kiff Gallagher, Founder & CEO of the Music National Service Initiative and MusicianCorps
Bennett Reimer, Founder of the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience, author of A Philosophy of Music Education;
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation;
Moy Eng, Program Director of the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
John Rockwell, critic;
Susan Sclafani, Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group;
Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
Michael Hinojosa, General Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District
Peter Sellars, director
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