December 2008 Archives
The summary statements from my fellow bloggers on this conversation reflect the tenor of the issue - complex, diverse, provocative, passionate, especially, as Jane Remer wrote: " when it comes to constructs like education, values, methods, strategies, not to mention purposes, goals, visions and missions." yet there was much agreement on some facets as well as recognition and respect for the differences.
Perhaps this is one of those moments when convening educators, students, arts educators and artists first and broadening to others so poetically described by Dennie Palmer Wolf would be helpful. I acknowledge the turbulent economic times we are in, challenge of affecting byzsantinely complex systems, and profound educational challenges, That said this may be an opportune time to come together to identify ways in which to more strategically link our individual efforts and to devise an elegant suite of strategies to make sure creativity and art is a part of every child's life in and out of school.
We're in a dark time that is poised to have serious repercussions for many of the nonprofits that we count upon to deliver arts education programs. But the demand for vibrant, relevant art experiences at all levels far outstrips the supply. I am humbled by the fact that, in the midst of economic chaos, demand for our programs is stronger than ever. Old Town School of Folk Music will register more than 19,000 students this year, and if anything, enrollment is building as the recession deepens. In times of trouble, people value the experience of making music together. I can't help but feeling optimistic knowing that a couple of our alumni -- Malia and Sasha Obama -- will be walking in the corridors of power.
As we come down the homestretch of this blogalogue (sorry, let's never use that ugly neologism again), I have been reflecting on its impact on me. [Reflection itself deserves a mention in here, as an fundamental cognitive function, a learning-essential according to John Dewey, that is squeezed out of current schooling--and the arts provide a haven for that capacity; when doing teaching artist work myself, it sometimes feels like I am doing remedial reflective work with the class.] I come to the end of the week with the mix of feeling daunted and rejuvenated at the same time. Perhaps this blog is not so different than the healthy environment for arts learning which is concurrently both safe and charged. Perhaps a passionate player in any field who faces "a sea of troubles" with dubious resources but strong-smart-committed colleagues feels just this. And we have heard many reminders in this week that it ain't all troubles out there--arts education accomplishes a lot.
We are not alone--American arts education is somewhere in the middle of the international pack overall. (I believe we have the world's best teaching artists and the most in-depth partnerships between schools and cultural organizations in the world.) Arts educators in most countries feel many of the same frustrations, bemoan testing demands that strangle the arts, and a lot of them are worse off than we are. Annie Cornbleet from England's Daniel House school puts it: "The arts are the antibiotic injection in the bum of the diseased body of 21st century education." A speaker from Spain found education worldwide to be so rotten at the core, so profoundly wrong, that he believes its current institutional life will just implode one day, like the former Soviet Union; and that the ruins will allow the arts to be seen as the solution to the problem our culture refused to admit it had.
No revolution ever happened without a lot of talk. So we will keep using words and the other power tools of the arts to change the culture--as artists have done since day two in human history. The etymology of "culture" does not mean high arts or sophisticated learning. It's meaning of origin is closer to "agriculture." Like that agar agar in your ninth grade biology Petri dish, culture means "the medium in which we grow."
Thanks to Doug for giving us this platform. Thanks to these generous colleagues. Thanks to those who took the time to read and consider our jumble of thoughts. Doug tells us that this blog is the most read of any he has ever hosted on Arts Journal.
We all share so many ambitions for the arts, and our hearts desire their full recognition as central to meaningful lives. Each of us works in a particular corner of the larger enterprise, and we recognize that our corner presents more conundrums than we know how to solve. I've been further educated by this effort to how complex the inclusive field is, compounding, it seems, the unsolved problems of each part.
In my part, music education, the largest and perhaps most complex (organizationally) of the arts education fields, national level think tank conferences have occurred regularly over the decades, many of which I've had the privilege of participating in, the most recent the Centennial forum celebrating 100 years of MENC. (No, I was not there when MENC started, thank you). Now the visual art educators have followed suit, with their initial such small-sized invitational gathering in Aspen in August, to address the future of that field in a time of great uncertainty. Also an eye-opening event. Each time, I'm made aware of, and become more humbled by, the scope and complexity of the issues we face, and our limited although hopeful attempts to reach definitive solutions. So I've had to learn (kicking and screaming) to be patient, to be modest in expectations, to be grateful for small but important steps toward clarity and coherence. Same here. So many compelling ideas from people with admirable ambition and intense desire (not to mention high intelligence) to make the goods of the arts more freely and authentically available to all. We need to continue our efforts while recognizing the need for patience and for humility, yet still with passion about our mission. The answers to our prayers are not going to appear in a blaze of light, I've finally come to accept. But we have the responsibility to keep shining our particular light, to keep the conversations going, to share our desires honestly and positively, to be open to those of others. Yes, I agree with the emerging consensus -- more efforts are needed to reach concurrence about both ends and means. For all of us the obligation is: Keep on truckin'!
In an email to the bloggers, Doug posed the following question:
1. What is realistic to expect from arts organizations in arts learning? That is to say, what is the potential for arts organizations recognizing their deep interest in arts learning? Or, as the post about the National Performing Arts Convention hints, have they already? One way of putting the question is whether there is a growing realization that the lack of arts education is having a detrimental effect? (Even if as Eric Booth puts it there's not yet collective action.)
2.Linked to this point, as Laura notes, what is at stake - that is, do folks agree there is a link between arts learning and both our cultural life and the ability of folks to take part in it?
I have worked extensively in and with both arts organizations and schools over the years. There is, of course, no simple answer to the question because there are many kinds of arts organizations. Some are dedicated to working in schools, K-12 (e.g., Young Audiences, ArtsConnection, Studio in a School, Lincoln Center Institute, etc), others are focused on one or more art forms for whom public performance or exhibitions are a primary purpose; many of the latter have education and/or outreach departments. Oddly enough, education is often the lowest priority in arts organizations just as the arts are often the lowest priority in public schools.
With some major exceptions across the country, most arts organizations provide arts experiences; these experiences may or may not connect to their repertory or collections. They tend to rely on artists (some trained, some not) to conduct these experiences, in visits or "residencies" both in schools and other venues. Very few of these organizations think about or provide the arts as learning (scope and sequence, developed over time, in courses of study, in which students learn arts knowledge, skills, understanding, history, aesthetics, criticism and the like.) Some of these organizations have extensive experience in arts partnerships often funded by state and local arts councils; these tend to focus more on arts learning, in projects that explore particular themes, ideas or art works.
Overall, I would venture that most of the arts work offered by arts organizations is not concerned with arts learning (as defined above.) While most arts organizations these days are probably hopeful that they are building future audiences, if they work extensively with poor or inner city populations they are keenly aware that it is unlikely a significant number of students will have easy access to the kind of money it takes to go regularly to arts events in their communities. However, whenever there are funding cuts for the arts in schools, the arts community (not the education community, alas) is usually quickest to raise a cry, help marshal resources to "restore" services, and advocate for more arts, more money and more opportunities for kids to experience the arts for a whole variety of reasons, some of which are arts learning.
I do not think boards and administrators in arts organizations think deeply about arts learning nor connect the lack thereof with a weakening of the culture which in turn would have a detrimental effect on their enterprise. Most are concerned primarily with the reputation of the organization, its financial health, and its box office appeal. And many think of their education or outreach programs as both a civic duty and a very good fundraising strategy.
Regarding the second question, I'm not sure many people stop to think about the connections or the impact of one set of circumstances on another. It would be interesting to know more about it.
REFLECTIONS ON THIS EXPERIENCE:
It's been a chock-full five days, full of positions, perspectives, ideas, frustrations, agreements and arguments, and some beautiful poetry, passion and perseverence. It has given me a much deeper understanding of some of the differences in our "field" and some of the strands of near consensus. But the complexity, foci, and concerns expressed are so incredibly diverse, especially when it comes to constructs like education, values, methods, strategies, not to mention purposes, goals, visions and missions, that I think our best chance is to just keep on talking to, past, around, at, with etc each other just so we can recognize, respect and honor the differences.
We each have such unique perspectives and points of view that it is probably amazing that we agreed (or at least didn't burst into rage when we didn't) as much as we did.
The future will reveal our degree of acceptance of the huge arts education pluralism that we have just uncovered as only the tiny tip of the iceberg. That, itself, is a revelation.
Thanks to everyone for the ride. I hope it continues. I suspect it will within the ever-changing "interest groups" that helped us form our conversations.
Happy Holidays and New Year!
A lot of this discussion has involved initiatives on a state or local level, or even a personal level, one to one. But Obama's arts platform makes reference to a possible Artists Corps, presumably modeled on the New Deal. I'm not sure how tangible this is, and whether it would be intended simply to put artists to work making art, or whether it might also involve artists teaching in the schools.
If the latter, it could be a serious resource for expanding arts education nationwide. Has anyone contacts with Obama transition people, like Bill Ivey, who could find out if this is something worth pursuing? Or has it been pursued already, in which case does anyone in this conversation know something more specifc about the proposed corps and its possible application to arts education?
We shouldn't underestimate the power of arts education to simply provide a child acccess to institutions of civic promience. That is, I remember a Chicago school teacher tell me that the most important thing we csn do at the Art Institute is to let her students feel welcome in the museum, that it is their museum too and that all such civic institutions are accessible to them. Once they feel welcomed, and respected, they can engage with the works of art on view with confidence and be ready to return on their own. Sometimes I think we claim too much when describing the benefits of the arts. Sometime it's as simple as a child feeling that the museum or the symphony or the theater is there for them too, that it isn't just for those other folks but that they too have acccess to such instutions and are just as worthy of finding delight in them as anyone else.
By Paul Erickson on December 1, 2008 5:22 PM
What a great blog to discover - with many thanks to my wife and her cohorts at the Detroit Institute of Arts.
As a 57-year-old student teacher, I'm daily battling the incursions and distractions of students' hand-held digital media devices while trying to carve through the ennui with film-strip projectors, circa 1971. I think I'm probably not the only one dealing with techno-lag. That, in fact, is the topic of my master's thesis.
Are classrooms and teachers equipped to deal with the digital millennium? Can we find ways to harness technology to our advantage and use it to engage students? I would be most interested to hear from other Luddites in the arts and educational communities regarding their thoughts about pod-pedagogy.
My kids can teach me if I can only find ways to keep them awake. Any thoughts?
From Jack Lew to Paul...
In my summary blog, I would like to respond to Paul Erickson's comment above which is THE topic that is most relevant to me. My bio only cites my recent career in the video games industry but what was left out were 6 years in film animation and 24 years of teaching art in higher education plus being a practicing artist for at least that long. Here is my direct reply to you, Paul:
I've had a number of conversations with current educators in high schools, and if they were frank, they would go as far as to say that they simply are afraid of the technology with the biggest fear being that their students know more than they do. As technology advances at lightning speed, the gap between today's students and their teachers widens exponentially. We can get all the funding and policy changes we dream of but if we don't empower the teachers to understand and exploit these new tools, they will continue to have a difficult time engaging today's students. I still hold the belief that learning happens best between teacher and student but outside of school there is the community, and this community expands beyond the traditional community of concert halls, museums, theater, etc. There is also the virtual community - fertile, vibrant, and confusing. This generation of digital natives have grown up in this community of the web, Wikipedia, Facebook, MySpace, Video games, Second Life and much more.
You are not alone in your plight. If I had not entered the high tech entertainment industry, I might have been a Luddite but my 10 years in industry have opened the eyes of the educator in me to all types of possibilities that new technologies can provide. I applaud you for tackling this challenging issue as your thesis. Don't lose heart as you wade through this daunting arena because there will also be plenty of resources in the cyber world. You will learn and become more confident with time but your students may still be a couple steps ahead of you when it comes to the technology. But remember, at the end, these are just tools and sources at the service of education; it will always be you, the teacher, who provides the wisdom and context. Good luck, and if you wish to contact me directly, I am happy to provide some direction.
The fundamental architectures of K-12 schooling are undergoing radical change and experimentation. These changes/experiments involve almost every aspect of education, including governance, funding, teacher and administrator education and development, tenure, assessment, etc., etc. Students are being paid to take tests; people are rethinking the teaching profession as being about short-term peace corps like service; the old vo-tech model is being reinvented; bonuses are given to principals and teachers for high tests scores in reading and math; business leaders are urging schools to function like corporations; teachers are blamed by everyone in politics; anyone with get up and go can create a charter school; whole school systems are being privatized. For the past eight years, it's been small schools, small schools, small schools. And now that has come to a close after $2 billion from one foundation. (next big thing: the comprehensive high school!)
As always, it's both a challenge and an opportunity.
The school system of today, particularly the urban system, will look very, very different tomorrow.
It's why we have shifted to a call for each child to receive a well-rounded education, including the arts.
If you cannot speak credibly from the position of the life of one child, whatever work you may undertake in advocacy/policy loses context, meaning, and credibility. Another way of looking at this is that programmatic work in teaching and learning should exist in a virtuous cycle together with advocacy. The programmatic work and the advocacy talk to, reinforce, and inform one another, and the work becomes whole.
John Rockwell makes interesting points; the good/perfect admonition is a useful caution for any discussion about education. There is another perspective on his observations, however.
the aggregate, arts education in the
When trying to assist arts education from a policy perspective, which is what we were asked to do here, many of us have learned that this complex of complexities and all its various interests cannot be ignored without jeopardizing presence, much less goodness. We focus on these complexities and the puzzles they pose because that is where the policy problems are. Working from and with them is the basis for formulating solutions that have the best chance of long-term success, solutions that meet multiple objectives and support diverse efforts. Perfection is not even on the radar scope. Each puzzle always has too many dimensions; many legitimate interests need to be respected. Especially in large scale situations, perfectionism leads to utopianism which is never the basis for good policy. When coupled with political power, utopianism usually produces dysfunctional tyrannies. Witness No Child Left Behind. Perfectionist goals belong in the individual and small group realm where they can inspire greatness if handled with care.
though it may not sound like it, the basic concern of those John chides a bit
is to ensure that whatever is proposed or enacted do no harm to the good things
that are going forward with the work of arts teaching in whatever setting and
with whatever personnel, and to help more good things get started and flourish
in perpetuity. All of us want to hear many more success stories like
the one from Michael Hinojosa in
presence of complexity and discussions about it should not obscure the enormous
amount of teaching and learning in the arts that takes place in the
Of course good teaching is a complicated matter as well, but not in the same ways as arts education policy. Vocabulary and scope are different. In teaching, immediate results appear most clearly as individual learning and achievement rather than as new or revised systems or improvements to environments and circumstances. The labyrinthine nature of policy is frustrating, but working it successfully can make an enormous difference for student learning whatever the setting. Bob, Richard, and others have given examples.
All the above notwithstanding, John's post is an important one, because it reveals a need to communicate more clearly and directly about arts education policy issues and why they matter. This is not easy, but obviously those of us engaged with policy need to work harder on clear distillation. Another worthwhile goal to add to the list.
The next thing for me is to say thank you to all
the bloggers and respondents, to
I want our blog-community to be sure not to miss two important ideas offered in responses I found this morning to some previous postings.
Dennie Palmer Wolf (writer, researcher, consultant) urges us to focus not so much on talking to each other: "There are huge urgencies in contemporary education where arts educators need to take a leading role - and not by talking to each other. Among the most pressing issues is this: "Who gets the chance to do original work -- whether that is in history, in science, in mathematics - or in music, visual arts, or dance? In fact, the equity issue of this generation is "Who has the opportunity to incubate, pursue, refine and share new knowledge/visions/ or interpretations? So a major way in which arts education might come in from the margins is to begin to talk - not amongst ourselves - but widely and as active agents - about how educators champion young people's need (right?) to learn how to generate new ideas, works and views. That meeting could be initiated, chaired, even designed by arts educators, but just one homework session later. I want mathematicians, historians and world language teachers at the table."
Thanks, Dennie, and my response is the value of BOTH kinds of conversation. Arts educators are a huge resource to all education, and tend not to see ourselves that way or be treated that way. Just as the arts teachers are not generally seen as a uniquely valuable resource for creativity and engagement in a school. AND we really need, in my view, to get clearer on what our real strengths, priorities, and best offerings are, otherwise we risk offering fifty ideas to those major discussions in education, and getting impact with none.
And Gigi Antoni from Big Thought in Dallas (whose work has been cited so frequently here as a model of success) likes Richard's list of emerging trends in agreed-upon priority focus for the field, but wants to add to it: "I see multiple attempts in cities (Portland, Dallas, Philadelphia, Cleveland the list goes on) to innovate traditional arts education delivery systems so that they can provide coordinated, scalable, sustainable, relevant, high quality experiences for whole cities of children throughout their lifetime. These attempts use policy, advocacy, and research as tools, along with coalition building, community organizing and collaboration, to create something different. These are initiatives that are not driven from an arts, arts ed, or even wholly from an education agenda, but from a broader civic agenda. These cities are working to create new delivery models for arts education that include traditional instruction through school systems, while incorporating the broader community system in which schools exist. In some cases, these initiatives are challenging traditional notions of who in our community could legitimately teach the arts, when and to what end."
Arts education becoming part of (creating perhaps) broad civic coalitions that aspire to fulfill a broad civic agenda. And rethinking our ways and means as part of that.
I'm grateful to all of the other bloggers for spelling out the wide range of issues that make it so important - and so tough - for the whole ecology of kids' arts learning to make progress.
And it is an ecology. Kids encounter the arts at home and in their own neighborhoods; they either experience the arts in school or work around the lack of good arts experiences in school; many kids take music or dance lessons after school; many more sign up for after-school programs that emphasize the arts and are taught by artists; and then there are the incredibly diverse summer arts programs. And wait - they can't succeed without vibrant college faculty to train them, state arts agencies to support and connect them, and at the top of the list, arts organizations to feed them by offering both excitement and learning.
Depending on the luck of the draw, kids either have a rich menu of arts learning opportunities; a few scattered and fragmentary chances in a school play, a band or a church choir; or an arts drought that dries up their chances to experience the arts for years. The quality of their lives as young artists depends on luck, too - luck in finding teachers who had opportunities to be challenged to improve their practices, luck in encountering an arts curriculum that connects with and excites them, and luck in simply finding out where the exciting arts experiences can be found in their neighborhood.
"Luck," in this story, is another word for inequity. Most of the kids with luck live in affluent communities, and most of the kids without luck live in low and moderate income communities. So we need more of the arts learning audits that have provided the kick in the pants that has gotten some leading cities to tackle the inequities.
No one of us can, by ourselves, create the arts learning ecology our kids need. But together we can get there. Pluralism is our greatest ally. Need proof? Go to Dallas and look at the work of Big Thought.
The changes our kids need and deserve will take the energies of parents, artists, principals and teachers, college faculty, mayors and business leaders. In this unfolding conversation, artists have a special responsibility: to argue for their ideals while educating the rest of us.
Moy, it is good to hear that Eric, you and your foundation are interested in carrying this conversation forward. I gather from other posts that others would be interested, too. The question is how best to do this. And of course, what is the this. Many agendas have surfaced over the last four days; we dealt fairly quickly with the Rand agenda at first, and then moved on to more general issues about arts education survival and the need for change in the status quo.
I think almost everyone blogging want to see arts education survive and thrive. The question is what are the best strategies to accomplish that end, and on that there is not much agreement among the current group.
I would hope that tomorrow folks might weigh in on what they think are good next steps. It would be a shame to see the momentum of this exchange die, without a trace.
I've read with interest the wide ranging conversation which reminds me the complex nature of learning, arts engagement and affecting change in the public education system. Rather than sum up poorly the eloquent words of others, I'll pick up on the Eric's "throwdown" suggestion. Is there interest in working together to catalyze a broadbased effort encompassing a grasstops to grassroots approach fueled by the intelligence, experience and passionate leadership of educators, students, parents, policymakers, artists, and business leaders? We have the beginnings of this movement in California with the recent efforts of California Alliance for Arts Education, CA County Superintendents Education Association, Stanford Research Institute, CA PTA and LA County's Arts for All, among others.
Who needs and wants to be at this meeting? What shall we aim to accomplish for the nation's schoolchildren? At best, there should be a singular vision to work towards... Of course, we can continue to work as the pragmatic Jane Remer writes bringing one teacher, one school, one district at a time. We at Hewlett are game. And you???
In reading this discussion, I get the feeling that there is a lively back-and-forth going on among the arts-education professionals about terminology, ideals, goals, tactics, prior reports and mostly local experiments, and that thre rest of us lob in our little potshots now and then and are pretty much ignored. This may well mean that we (I) aren't taking the discussion seriously enough. Or it could mean that the professionals are living in a closed-off world, talking largely to one another.
Anyhow, I got an interesting comment on my "Glazing Over" post from Bob@music-for-all.org. He makes a number of points, most of which highlight tangible results in various local initiatives and his feeling that reaching kids when they're young is the best way to draw them in for the rest of their lives.
I appreciate the tangiblity, and he may well be right about youth. But what I really liked was his last comment: "To torture an already tortured phrase... let not the good become the victim of the pursuit of the perfect." Right on, Bob.
I have just written three postings that I didn't post. I spared you--you should thank me. As I got to the end of each, they felt passionate and true, but so partial, so unsatisfyingly incomplete, even in the face of our four days of views from 16 amiable colleagues. Each of the issues we have raised is BIG. Sam, I want to talk with you about those lifelong professional instructors; Midori, I want to talk with you about the place of passion and nurturing it in artist training; and Jane, let's talk practical matters; and, and, and. This is a familiar feeling from conferences and meetings, of starting something that piddles away. The feeling is evergreen, but doesn't feel like its growing. Do we have to be bonsai evergreens?
What about this? There is an organization (can't remember its name) that convenes a modest number of representative individuals, like 20 or so. They have them for a week in a retreat setting. They lay out all the information they can about a serious issue, like abortion, or health insurance, and facilitate their coming to conclusions, They have a full week of time to do this, to think through the issues, as we rarely seem to be able to do in groups that come from different arenas (silos?) of our field. And given this wealth of time, they think through and then make recommendations to the field. Is this something we should strive to do? Imagine if we 16 (to suggestion a currently handy, somewhat random group) had a full week together to see what we truly agree on. There's a thought experiment for you. Is this something we should try to foster?
I've had a side conversation with Nick Rabkin, author of Putting the Arts in the Picture: Reframing Education in the 21st Century. He takes me to task for drawing too bright a line between instrumental and intrinsic benefits of the arts, and I think he's right. He mentions James Catterall's evaluation of the schools working with the Chicago Arts Partnerships that found that test scores were rising faster in those schools than they were in comparable schools without the program--results that got serious attention from the Chicago Board of Education. But the reason students do better is intimately connected to arts' intrinsic effects.
Here's what Nick writes:. . . Over the last few years I have concluded that what James reported and what I have seen in those classrooms is not instrumental at all. We mistake it as instrumental because we define "art", as Eric says, by its nouns, the products that artists make. But if art is understood as multiple ways of engaging the world, making sense and meaning from it, and expressing that meaning through a medium, we would understand that the cognitive gains the test may (or may not) reflect and the language mastery that comes with the photography lessons are part of an integrated package. Intrinsic and instrumental are, like the subjects in the curriculum, ways of categorizing the world that can be helpful. But they can also blind us to the complexity of the world, and I'm afraid they do in this case. We could easily say that the "intrinsic" benefits you ascribe to art your post - "pleasure, arts experiences develop in us the capacity to move imaginatively and emotionally into different worlds (as James Cuno has so aptly described), to broaden our field of reference beyond the confines of our immediate experience; to exercise our capacity for empathy; to develop our faculties of perception, interpretation, and judgment; and to form common bonds of humanity through some works of art that manage to convey what whole communities have experienced" - are instrumental. I want to experience some pleasure, so I watch a movie. That is instrumental. I think the confusion grows fundamentally from the frame that defines art: it is broadly understood as affective, sensual, and expressive, and not cognitive. But the most current cognitive science seems to be showing that this is a continuation of what Antonio Dimasio, the noted neuroscientist has called "Descartes Error." I say, let's take a page from the playbook of our new president-elect. Let's call a time out in this intrinsic-instrumental debate. It is not either or. It is both and.
To perform a piece of music successfully requires technique and artistic impulse working hand-in-hand. Logic and spontaneity are both critical elements, as are countless hours of diligent practice and rehearsal.
Music education in the schools is no different. I think we sometimes risk forgetting about the artistic side of music education. We study the most effective methods and their outcomes as determined by evaluation and assessment but we must remember that to maximize the experience, music education must be suffused with passion - passion for the music itself and passion for the delivery.
Two short observations:
1. Laura (and Rand) recommend collaboration and serious discourse between the arts and the arts education communities. I strongly recommend including the research and the general education communities. As change in schools is about the power and who has it (as I say, it's political), neither the arts community nor the arts education community (alas) are in positions of power (which is one of the reasons we are blogging away at these issues). In some respects, the research and the education communities aren't much stronger, but if we pull together, there is a larger likelihood that "they" will pay attention to us and our concerns, a larger chance of action,
2. For your reading pleasure: I attach a connection to a guest editor piece for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by John Goodlad that brilliantly summarizes the context and the background for this blog. While it doesn't mention the arts, the implications are "powerful" and worth your attention..
In short, the answer to what is to be done is, we're doing it...but the larger answer is that we and others must keep on keeping on....enlarging the circle of respondents and audiences...I hope we attract both the powerful and the thoughtful
So, another thought experiment: To what extent do you believe that the public demand goal espoused by this RAND report can be reached faster or more efficiently without public education in the arts disciplines on a significant scale? For example, would subsidizing admission fees, raising expenditures on advertising exponentially, pushing the arts as a brand throughout all education without worrying about arts discipline content, relying heavily on political symbolism, promoting friend-to-friend marketing, etc. be more effective short- or long-term? In other words, to what extent and in what areas are RAND's recommendations wrong? As you think about this, please consider the following two paragraphs.
Whatever your answer, many professionals with high levels of arts education, training, and commitment are going to continue teaching the arts to the public from their various disciplinary perspectives, including performance, to as many people as possible. These professionals serve as instructors in community schools of the arts, private teachers of the arts, arts specialists in public and private schools, professors leading collegiate arts courses for majors in non-arts fields, and usually supplementing sequential education, the educational staffs of art museums, theatres, opera companies, etc., arts critics and writers, and artists who teach part time. Richard Kessler's term "evergreen" is credible because of the work of these professionals over many decades. While reports, projects, and meetings come and go, funding is fickle, and the hockey puck with the "latest thing" written on it moves from place to place, these folks remain at their tasks. There are tens of thousands of them, and to one extent or another, each group of them is organized. In an overall sense, each group knows what to do, and members work at getting better all the time.
Whatever your answer, success with the RAND report goal in any given situation still depends fundamentally on specific choices about content, whether you want to base the effort in formal education or not, or even if you want to marginalize education altogether.
Thanks to Jane Remer for urging realism about prospects for educational planning on a grand scale. The RAND report proposes state and local efforts to help the professionals in paragraph three above to work with greater synergy where they are. For me, the best next steps would be working on ways to make this happen, ways that improve conditions long term and avoid threatening the fragile existence of delivery systems critically important to the mix.
Richard sent in a comment which should show up on the blog soon (I just got it for "approval"), but I wanted to "publish" it to make sure to share it with everyone. Here is what Richard wrote:
I do want to clarify that I wasn't necessarily offering these bullets as my own prescription of the specifics we should be employing, but as trends or buckets of work that I observe the field working on/talking about.
I do think that in a general, certainly less than concrete way, you're seeing a number of ingredients necessary to pursue what has described. That being said, it's pretty complicated in terms on the details and whether or not there should or could be coordination beyond local work, as Eric has been asking about, and how well the work can be done in a large scale.
Thanks, Richard, for the clarification. Here's the rub: The holy grail of reform/change is elusive. Once it appears to be "in motion" (note I did not say "working") everyone is in a huge hurry to "replicate" it, that is, in USDOE parlance "bring it to scale."....and that haste and optimism is always the undoing of any promising strategy, approach, experiment etc....especially in education, and especially American education.
To summarize (and if you want a list of books beside my own that reinforce what I'm about to say, let me know -- the authors include researchers/practitioners/professors Richard Elmore, John Goodlad, Seymour Sarason, David Tyack and Larry Cuban, - for starters):
To state what would seem obvious (but what is consistently ignored by the policy police, both public and private, who want to make sure their "investment" in change pays off by generalizing to everyone else on the planet), every classroom, every school, every district has it's own "culture", politics, (and education is always political), values, and ways of doing business. To assume that the ways your school figured out how to solve a problem, let's say providing arts education to every child in the school in a course of study that has scope and sequence throughout all the grades, to assume that your choices, solutions and experience will "transfer" (apply) to anyone else without a huge amount of adjustment, adaptation and revision (if not overhauling), is simply vain. My experience with the six school district members of the League of Cities for the Arts in Education (JDR 3rd Fund enterprise) taught me and everyone else engaged some rich lessons.
All you can reasonably expect is that, with enough instances of "success" (and that's another challenge - by whose definition?), you can in fact generalize some of the fundamental beliefs, strategies, and criteria for constructing your own version of a solution to say, the arts education problem I just described above. You cannot prescribe uniform change in our idiosyncratic school systems with wildly different socio-economic characteristics and understandings of the arts as education.
So, bringing invention to scale works in factories, engineering and to some degree in those countries that have a national curriculum (though the implementation of that curriculum is always influenced by those who teach).
We're back to one school at a time, I'm afraid, and the point is to accept that and then try to figure out what the essential characteristics and strategies for change are required to allow us to make some suggestions about creating a good process for making top notch arts education accessible to all kids.
We have a lot of work to do, not the least of which is coming to some kind of consensus on what is meant by quality teaching and learning in, through and about the arts. But, of course, that's where the rubber hits the road because there are so many variations of arts education, so many different sources of instruction, and so far, other than the NAEP assessment several years ago, no consensus on how to assess excellence.
I suspect that if we could get Bill Clinton and a bunch of his wonks together to address the challenge and come up with the money to do some long-range (5 to 10 years) research and development in strategic spots across the country, we might make some progress with this tantalizing question.
As the sage Wayne Grezky observed, "A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be." Where is the puck going to be in arts learning?
The biggest growth area for kids' arts learning is after-school programs. Working parents demand them and sometimes pay for them; employers and mayors demand them; society is building them every day. And lots of them use arts learning as a core focus, a recruiting tool, a collection of ways to help kids learn and grow, and a source of joy. That's where the puck is going.
Can artists and arts organizations skate to where the puck is going to be? The after-school world is full of part-time job opportunities. It's increasingly where the kids are. And while some of the scarce after-school minutes are booked for reading and math, there are lots of minutes available for the most creative offers to fill them. The location of this puck isn't hard to predict. It's right in your community, a short trip from your arts organization.
Low-income parents and kids want after-school programs that emphasize school success - for part of the time, they loudly say in survey after survey. For the rest of the time, the arts are at the top of their most-wanted list. The demand is there. Are the arts there?
I was struck by Eric's desire to see real change happen in his/our lifetime. If there's a lesson to learn about our K-12 work, I think the lesson is that the work is long-term. There's no magic bullet. The education field is littered with school reform interventions, large and small, smart and dumb, often disconnected from where the real work takes place, with teachers and students, as Jane pointed out earlier. If you want to read more about that, I would suggest picking up Left Back, A Century of Battles over School Reform, by my friend, Diane Ravitch.
In the early to mid-90s, Rob Horowitz, Mitchell Korn, and I
authored a plan to create The Center for Arts Education in New York City,
securing what would initially become a five-year grant of $36 million in
funding from The Annenberg Foundation, government, and private funders to
revitalize arts education in the New York City public schools. It was part of
the Annenberg Challenge and was created by a large scale, community-based
planning project that believe it or not included over 100 people providing
feedback to 10 drafts. The research for this project covered virtually every
aspect of arts and education imaginable in New York City and beyond.
In the early to mid-90s, Rob Horowitz, Mitchell Korn, and I authored a plan to create The Center for Arts Education in New York City, securing what would initially become a five-year grant of $36 million in funding from The Annenberg Foundation, government, and private funders to revitalize arts education in the New York City public schools. It was part of the Annenberg Challenge and was created by a large scale, community-based planning project that believe it or not included over 100 people providing feedback to 10 drafts. The research for this project covered virtually every aspect of arts and education imaginable in New York City and beyond.The project was then led by Hollis Headrick, Laurie Tisch, and Greg McCaslin.
There have been considerable successes, including the
creation of categorical, per-capita funding averaging $65 per student,
restricted to spending on arts education (this fund reached a level of $75
million per year, at a time when the entire NEA budget was $99 million); the
hiring of well over 600 certified arts specialists; major media attention (NY
Times front page, editorial page, and more); the creation of a senior arts
education position and office at the Board of Education, that eventually grew to
over eight full-time staff members; a public private/partnership that included
city government, the Board of Education, and the local teachers union,
supported by civic and business leadership throughout the city; the building of
over 130 innovative whole school arts education partnerships with hundreds of cultural
and community-based organizations, and post secondary institutions, bringing
arts education to every students in those partnership schools; and a public
refocusing on arts education in New York City as never seen before or since.
There have been considerable successes, including the creation of categorical, per-capita funding averaging $65 per student, restricted to spending on arts education (this fund reached a level of $75 million per year, at a time when the entire NEA budget was $99 million); the hiring of well over 600 certified arts specialists; major media attention (NY Times front page, editorial page, and more); the creation of a senior arts education position and office at the Board of Education, that eventually grew to over eight full-time staff members; a public private/partnership that included city government, the Board of Education, and the local teachers union, supported by civic and business leadership throughout the city; the building of over 130 innovative whole school arts education partnerships with hundreds of cultural and community-based organizations, and post secondary institutions, bringing arts education to every students in those partnership schools; and a public refocusing on arts education in New York City as never seen before or since.
While arts education in New York City has certainly
advanced, the work of CAE never went to the scale intended: providing access
and quality arts for all children. There are now almost 1500 schools in the
system! Among the many successes, there were misses, particularly in the areas
of sustained advocacy, and in moving arts education into the educational
mainstream. In addition, it appears, according the NYCDOE studies that we are
losing ground in a number of key areas, and as a local community may not be
well prepared to deal with the economic downturn. And, the categorical funding,
which had leveled off at a mere $67 million per year, has been eliminated (to
support empowering principals).
While arts education in New York City has certainly advanced, the work of CAE never went to the scale intended: providing access and quality arts for all children. There are now almost 1500 schools in the system! Among the many successes, there were misses, particularly in the areas of sustained advocacy, and in moving arts education into the educational mainstream. In addition, it appears, according the NYCDOE studies that we are losing ground in a number of key areas, and as a local community may not be well prepared to deal with the economic downturn. And, the categorical funding, which had leveled off at a mere $67 million per year, has been eliminated (to support empowering principals).
As we passed the mid-way point in this online discussion, I
want to express my belief that our work is evergreen. The success of CAE in the
90s, resembles in many ways the success of Big Thought today. The arts
curricula of today, some of which appears so innovative and important, are only
an iteration of the many arts frameworks and curricula of the past 40 years. The
much talked about report by RAND, only echoes the early reports like Coming to Our Senses. The teaching
artists of today were pioneered by the Ford Foundation sending composers into
schools for three-year residencies in school systems as early as 1962. The
national commitment of The Wallace Foundation is echoed by the commitment of The
Annenberg Foundation, which is echoed by an earlier arts education effort by the
very same The Wallace Foundation, which is echoed by the truly groundbreaking
philanthropy of The JDR 3rd Fund beginning in 1967.
As we passed the mid-way point in this online discussion, I want to express my belief that our work is evergreen. The success of CAE in the 90s, resembles in many ways the success of Big Thought today. The arts curricula of today, some of which appears so innovative and important, are only an iteration of the many arts frameworks and curricula of the past 40 years. The much talked about report by RAND, only echoes the early reports like Coming to Our Senses. The teaching artists of today were pioneered by the Ford Foundation sending composers into schools for three-year residencies in school systems as early as 1962. The national commitment of The Wallace Foundation is echoed by the commitment of The Annenberg Foundation, which is echoed by an earlier arts education effort by the very same The Wallace Foundation, which is echoed by the truly groundbreaking philanthropy of The JDR 3rd Fund beginning in 1967.
We are building, or attempting to build a new house,
brick-by-brick, as the shape of the bricks change, as the design of the
blueprints change, as earlier bricks erode, all in ways that we can not
necessarily predict, making sustainability difficult at best, illusory at
We are building, or attempting to build a new house, brick-by-brick, as the shape of the bricks change, as the design of the blueprints change, as earlier bricks erode, all in ways that we can not necessarily predict, making sustainability difficult at best, illusory at worst.
The work is evergreen.
The work is evergreen.
What's the problem? This is one of our most recurrent motifs. We all seem to agree that too few children and young adults are getting any meaningful education in the arts. But there are other problems to address. Bennett adds that what they are getting is too narrowly focused on performance. Eric says that we do not prioritize the individual's artistic experience; I emphasize that we are not developing the individual's aesthetic capacity; Bau and John point out that arts education ignores ethnic culture. Richard describes "the arts education gap"--children in higher-income schools get more arts education than those in low-performing urban schools.
What's at stake? This is a largely submerged chord that I think needs more attention. Jane touches on the importance of the arts in the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of the individual; Richard also comes back to the fundamental well-being of our children. Eric emphasizes that the arts release the creative potential of the individual. Kiff mentions that she rarely has time to talk about the value of the arts--it's all about the arts as a strategy to promote other goals that government supports, such as student achievement and socialization. But notice that's not what we're worried about losing. We keep coming back to intrinsic benefits.
In our recent report and a previous report, Gifts of the Muse, we argue that the main benefit of the arts is the cultivation of our humanity. Besides providing sheer pleasure, arts experiences develop in us the capacity to move imaginatively and emotionally into different worlds (as James Cuno has so aptly described), to broaden our field of reference beyond the confines of our immediate experience; to exercise our capacity for empathy; to develop our faculties of perception, interpretation, and judgment; and to form common bonds of humanity through some works of art that manage to convey what whole communities have experienced. The reason we bemoan the decline in arts participation among the young is that it narrows opportunities for individual and civic development and spells the deepening of cultural inequities.
What's the goal? Several of us have argued that we should make the arts a part of the basic education of every child. Jane emphasizes that our objectives should be access, equity, and quality in arts education. Midori reminds us that the music education requires a myriad of programs both inside and outside the schools and its objectives are reconsidered and redefined by every generation. John, Eric, and Bau want to see the field move beyond the canon and embrace many diverse art forms and cultures. Bennett and Sam point to models of strong education programs--good teachers of genuine comprehensive programs who are the core of our strength--and argue that these are the foundation we should build on.
What are the barriers to achieving that goal? Another strong chord. Moy describes California's disinvested public school systems, high dropout rates, and short school day; Jane refers to some good books that describe why it is so hard to change anything in our schools; Ed points out that advocates for the arts have been tagged as a special interest group; Sam elaborates on how difficult it is to make progress in a policy environment that is dominated by advocacy that has no specificity or substantive focus (several picked up on the eyes-glaze-over riff); Jane says that arts educators will not gain respect and acceptance until the field figures out how to assess arts learning. And many point to fissures in the field over the purpose and methods of arts education that make consensus elusive.
What's to be done? Nearly everyone has picked up on this motif in one way or another. Eric worries that the arts community will never be able to gather any force through coordinated action. Others strike more hopeful notes, and they are all about developing collaboration. Ed and Michael emphasize that you build movements locally, pointing to the success of vast collaborative networks formed in Dallas, L.A., and Alameda County. Bob Morrison describes what collaborations at the state level have done and are doing now to improve arts education. And despite the problems facing California, Moy spells out the kind of broad-based coordinated effort that could make the arts a part of every child's school day. Eric, in the same post where he despairs of change, tells us that the National Performing Arts Conference, the largest gathering of arts leaders ever, identified arts education as one of its three highest priorities. Could this be the beginning of the kind of collaboration between the arts community and the arts education community that we envision in our report?
Eric has asked us whether the four ideas suggested by Richard are the key ones to advance the cause of arts education. My response is I don't think so. Here's why:
Sam Hope has just written for us one of the most eloquent and poetic statements about the critical importance of being concrete, of not resorting to generalities or buzzwords when seeking to inspire others to join an effort toward change. Richard's four points are abstractions,or constructs that don't tell me what he's after. Let me share the lessons I learned when I was working with the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund in six different cities (Seattle, Hartford, LIttle Rock, Winston-Salem, New York, Minneapolis):
If you want to change schools/the status quo, you must set about changing teaching and learning; if you want to change teaching and learning in the arts, you must address the fundamentals of curriculum and instruction, existing standards and policies, and design how you will ingeniously provide arts instruction from say PreK to 12 in every school in your community or district. You must ask yourself what resources you need to do that, find what you don't already have, and working with a bewildering multitude of stakeholders including all the movers and shakers in the community, and with them invent structures that will provide time in the day and the school year to teach in, through and about the arts to every child. (Good luck).
You do all this mind-bending, highly political (but not policy drivern) work with teachers, supervisors, administrators, parents, state and local decision-makers, etc. Only when you have a sketch of this design, a rationale for it's significance to this community, and the backing of a few local champions, can you start to think about the infrastructure, the policy, the quality and accountability issues, the data collection and analysis to keep everyone honest, and the advocacy based on concrete programs in action. Only then can you begin to convince folks that this is valuable, good stuff and must be paid for, sustained and grown....across the system (and if you have a government grant, beyond.)
And then the really hard work of sustaining and surviving begins. It is a challenge, but I believe it can be done.
What makes people living in the most threatening of situations endow themnselves with beauty (think of Dafur in the midst of starvation and genocide)? The images of women nursing children draped (themselves and their children) in beautiful, brightly colored and richly patterened textiles are heart stopping. We have always ornamented our lives. Nothing we have, at least nothing we value, was made without thought given to how it looks. And that is the artistic quotient in our lives. And this is why art education not only matters but is inevitable. It defines who we are and what distinguishes us as people with a stake in our future. It is, in the face of desperation and even evil, a voice of confidence in the future.
I got a nicely distilled response from Richard Kessler this evening that I wanted to offer our blog. He bullet points the key priorities that he sees our field coalescing around. I will want to reflect on these to see if they comprise a net that capture the issues I hear most commonly argued to advance the cause of arts education, but they feel pretty resonant at first glance. Thank you, Richard. Do other bloggers feel these four are the key ones?
"I think there are some clear trends emerging from the field, some of it is still relatively nascent, some of it is much further along:
1. Policy work, including work in federal and state policies, as well
2. Advocacy, including grass roots organizing, including
coalition-building, and training of parents.
3. A focus on improving, defining, and understanding quality.
4. Expanded data gathering.
I think if you look at the work that Ford Foundation has been stressing with its grantees, you begin to see an interesting nucleus emerging that includes the above."
And let me second Kiff's note about the opportunity of artist national service as a real contribution to changing our persistent status quo. It is indeed being considered seriously. Imagine young artists (not just classical arts as I see it) supported (and well prepared as teaching artists) to work in communities across the country. Somewhere between the WPA and Affiliate Artists, for those with long memories. Perhaps we can change the image of what a successful career as a 21st century artist looks like. And begin to change a culture's view of what America represents--as the Peace Corps has done in other counties.
Sorry to be late to these very interesting blog comments. A quick thought: among all the things they do, the arts enhance our sense of place, of how we are part of not only where we live, the immediate community of which we are a part, but also the larger community of which equally a part, the human community of people struggling to make a life and enrich it here on earth and in interlocking and interdependent communities of individuals. For example, the Art institute is a museum in a large and diverse city. Its collections are encyclopedic, represenative of most of the world's artaistic cultures. We show them all, equally: one work of art from one culture next to another without prejudice. And by their presentation we introduce our visitors to the world distant from them/ourselvs in time and space. But since so many people are now living outside the country of their birth - Chicago has some 26 ethnic communities with more than 25,000 members each -- and thus much of the world is moving here, next door, through our collections we are introducing our visitors to their neighbors. All of a sudden, with the tragic news of the bombings in Mumbai and the sectarian violence in Nigeria, our South Asian and West African collections take on new meaning. And our sense of place has been both widened and deepened.
A friend and I were mixing a bass track. I was leaning back in the chair with my eyes closed, "it needs to be rounder, fatter but not too heavy, yada, yada." He said, "ya know, talking about music is like dancing about architecture." We both laughed...and I thought about the transcendent nature of art. If art fit neatly into standard English (French, Cantonese, whatever), what would be the point of it?
But as folks point out, the world of politics, policy and gov't funding is language driven. And we cannot avoid the catch-22 of trying to sell arts education without ever being able to really capture and sound-bite the public value and purpose of art. Tempting concepts like creativity and imagination may be equally difficult to pin down, as Sam says, and may or may not be the memes we need to close the deal.
Congrats to Sam Hope for his eloquent description of how buzz words fade, wraithlike, into irrelevance. I have to say that for all the deep intelligence, long experience and passionate commitment of most of the professional arts-education bloggers here, I glaze over. Too much bureaucratic insider baseball (hence my earlier reference to left field), too much abstraction, not enough practicality -- because, as several of you have pointed out, no one really knows how to foster meaningful change, at least on the K-12 level. Local initiatives make sense, given the lack of realistic hope for a national transformation. The politicians would have to get all aesthetical on us, and that's not likely to happen. The arts aren't manly.
So I will move on, shifting my attention to what I actually know something about, which is arts education for adults. Actually, I know precious little about that, too, except that just as I hated being dragged to concerts as a kid, so my hackles rise at most earnest sessions of music instruction before concerts (the "music-appreciation racket," Virgil Thomson called it). Lots of adult audiences like such lectures, though, with an cheerful, earnest expert tickling the ivories and leading them through a soon-to-be-heard score.
I prefer program notes: you can read them (or not) on your own time, and they can provide helpful background. Academically, I have my doctorate in cultural history (German, speaking of dead white European males), so I like historical context for the dreaded "aesthetic experience." Good program notes give you that, along with a formal anaylsis one hopes is not condescending yet not so technical that it sails over the humble heads of a musically illiterate audience.
As a critic, whether of classical music or dance or anything else, my tactic has always been to lead, but carefully. Express my taste, try to bring an audience along to appreciate a work I love, but not venture too far out in front of troops, cowering resentfully in the trenches.
Ultimately, be it in program notes or books or print or online criticism or even music appreciation, there is plenty that is helpful out there to fan the flames of an already kindled enthusiasm for an art form or a particular piece of art. The trick is how to initially kindle that enthusiasm, that nascent passion. Me, I don't really know how to do that, and I'm not convinced, so far, that many of our bloggers know either. To write eloquently is a start.
Maybe personal is better even than local -- the arts equivalent of the Jefferson family farm as the bedrock of democracy. If you love, say, a piece of music, find a friend who doesn't know it or doesn't even think he likes that kind of music in the first place, and play it for him. Maybe you'll see a spark, and can fan it.
I thank Eric Booth for his comment about my first post, his additional thought experiment, and his pioneering work in creativity across the curriculum. My post below provides an explanation and an example, not a critique of an approach he is developing. I applaud Jane Remer for her forthright comments about quality, another word that becomes empty if it is not connected to something specific, something more than a process--a testing system, a portfolio, an institutionalized yearning. Having conducted Eric's thought experiment and considered Jane's research proposal, I find comfort in being flexible about methodology or time patterns, because as long as the time, method, and expertise are sufficient to the task, many approaches work. If first decisions center on content and knowledge and skill development, the "what, " then the "how" questions seem to start answering themselves, even with the particular opportunities and constraints that are givens in virtually every local educational setting. Gratitude also goes to Bennett Reimer for giving a practical example in advance of this post of what I just wrote about the what/how relationship, to Richard Kessler for the Shankar quotes about the strategic importance of the public schools, and to Bau Graves and John Rockwell for urging bloggers to broaden their scope. Yes, P-12 schooling is just a part of a much larger whole. More on that later.
My response to Bob Morrison's thoughtful question is that
many different means can work if, and only if, all the conditions and resources
necessary to that means are present. Systems based on summative competency
testing have been successful at
If I were advising our colleagues in NJ, I would indicate that inexpensive, multiple choice examinations will not suffice as revealers of arts competencies of a creative or scholarly nature and that there is a need to avoid the unintended consequence of further privileging disciplines easily and cheaply tested. Given present cultural and values conditions, I would ask them to factor in concerns about relying heavily on every student's motivation to learn privately, and about the ability to maintain high levels of aspiration, especially if many students fail and parents start exerting political pressure. I would try to help policy makers remember that process alone is never enough and that pretending that it is usually leads to failure.
The question has been raised about why "eyes glaze over" at the mention of words like "arts," "creativity," and "innovation." Surely there are many reasons, but one stands out as worth considering in this discussion. These words and many others like "critical thinking," "transparency," and "accountability" lose communicative force when they become generic surrogates for goodness but are rarely connected to something concrete. The more ubiquitously they are used without such a connection, the worse the communication problem gets, and the more eyes glaze over when they are offered promotionally or in justification. Eventually, a given word wears out its welcome, and another one replaces it. The long-term result is a parade of ultimate emptiness where each word or slogan constitutes a float that at first seems brilliantly real, then a caricature of itself, and finally a ghostly apparition with all substance, value, and meaning leached away.
It is hard to sustain advances in educational achievement in a policy environment heavily influenced by this syndrome and its adverse impact on clarity and substantive focus.
To illustrate further, let's consider creativity. Building on what Bennett Reimer wrote mentioning Howard Gardner, creativity can be viewed across the spectrum of human action; it is not exclusive to the arts. Even though none of us would recommend it, student creativity can be encouraged without any arts references at all. It can be "taught" by teachers of many types and specializations in ways that do not lead to any residual learning or conceptual expansion in any aspect of the arts. Developing greater understanding of creativity is surely a good thing, but a school agenda that gives a high priority to creativity does not lead automatically to arts teaching and learning of any kind, or of any form, or in any time frame.
Creativity becomes noticeable, important, and real when someone makes or does something creative in some specific field or discipline. While developing a more "creative" environment in schools is to be applauded, eventually a strong connection must be made between creativity and one or more bodies of content if an individual is to mature in creative work through high school and beyond. Creative potential rises as capabilities grow in some particular thing.
As Midori points out so gracefully, all artists experience the deep symbiotic relationship among creativity, knowledge, and skills. Each of the three lifts the others toward ever higher achievement. Theoretical physicists, investment bankers, surgical pioneers, entrepreneurs, diplomats, historians, and other deep-knowledge professionals have the same experience. The writers for this blog could not communicate with the creativity and eloquence they exhibit without high levels of knowledge and skills in English and years of practice with the language. The same connections work at elementary through advanced to genius levels of competence in all disciplines and professions. But so much talk about arts education seems to minimize or avoid knowledge and skills development and practice as though they were in the way. Experiences and personal reflections about them are essential, affection for certain genres or artists is an important base from which to grow, but neither of these is a substitute for the daily study and work that leads to knowing more and being able to do more each day in one or more specific aspects of the arts.
"Diversity" appears in a lot of our postings here, but if we are not prepared to address the actual sources of diverse cultural activity, can this commitment be taken seriously? This is not a matter of high art vs the rest. Here in the upper Midwest polka is huge, and a lot of Mexican Chicagoans listen to banda all day (at least they manage to support multiple commercial radio stations) -- but that does nothing to diminish the relevance or importance of Mozart. We just need to expand our field of vision. There's a whole forest out there. Why are so many of our resources and this discussion limited to so few trees?
We've not discussed the economic impact of the creative sector. Perhaps legislators and policy makers who are not willing to give arts education its due value, will take a second look at hard numbers. The following quotes come from a poster I received from the Ringling College of Art and Design. Their sources for these stats come from the Bureau of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor, Americans for the Arts, Entertainment Software Association.
-1.25 million Americans work in the visual arts.
-One in 111 jobs is in art and design.
-The economic impact of art and design exceeds that of sports worldwide.
-Jobs in design have increased 43% in the past ten years.
-Yearly sales of art reach an estimated $10 billion in the U.S. alone.
-200,000 people are employed in the film industry.
-People spend approximately $55 billion annually on video games and related hardware.
-The computer animation industry generates $33 billion annually.
-America's nonprofit arts industry generates $134 billion in economic activity every year.
-Analyst John Hawkins estimates that the creative sector will be worth $6.1 trillion internationally in less than 15 years - the largest economy in the world.
....to create an environment in which they find themselves as beings artists in a bigger world. Where their own personality, their own capacity, their own learning ability is like a brush, and they can paint a new democracy if they really apply themselves to it."
Why do I continue when so much of what I've worked for seems threatened? To a large extent, because I believe that public education is the glue that has held this country together. Critics now say that the common school never really existed, that it's time to abandon this ideal in favor of schools that are designed to appeal to groups based on ethnicity, race, religion, class, or common interests of various kinds. But schools like these would foster divisions in our society; they would be like setting a time bomb.
A Martian who happened to be visiting Earth soon after the United States was founded would not have given this country much chance of surviving. He would have predicted that this new nation, whose inhabitants were of different races, who spoke different languages, and who followed different religions, wouldn't remain one nation for long. They would end up fighting and killing each other. Then, what was left of each group would set up its own country, just as has happened many other times and in many other places. But that didn't happen. Instead, we became a wealthy and powerful nation--the freest the world has ever known. Millions of people from around the world have risked their lives to come here, and they continue to do so today.
Public schools played a big role in holding our nation together. They brought together children of different races, languages, religions and cultures and gave them a common language and a sense of common purpose. We have not outgrown our need for this; far from it. Today, Americans come from more different countries and speak more different languages than ever before. Whenever the problems connected with school reform seem especially tough, I think about this. I think about what public education gave me--a kid who couldn't even speak English when I entered first grade. I think about what it has given me and can give to countless numbers of other kids like me. And I know that keeping public education together is worth whatever effort it takes.
Is it possible that the quality of arts learning experiences for kids will actually be improved, given the constraints others have pointedly noted? Well, in another important piece of news from the new Rand study Revitializing Arts Education Through Community-Wide Coordination, it's not only possible, it's happening - and in ways we can all learn from.
The cities in the Rand study, from Dallas, New York and Boston to Alameda County, Los Angeles and Chicago, are finding their own ways to build quality arts experiences for kids. What they have in common is their effort to make quality an explicit focus of arts learning - and that's crucial, because it opens up the discussion of what quality looks like and the different ways to get there.
- All six cities are using portfolio assessments and exhibitions to build quality and discuss what it looks like. For example, the Boston Public Schools partnered with the Mass Cultural Council to develop and initiate grade-level assessment experiences.
- Since many cities rely on arts organizations to enrich their arts offerings, cities are building quality by figuring out how to identify high-quality arts learning providers - so Los Angeles County's Arts for All has started asking applying arts organizations to submit streaming video of their work in schools, for review by other schools. In Boston, after-school programs that provide arts experiences are carefully vetted before they receive contracts.
- Peer review and modeling have stimulated and stretched arts organizations' approaches to serving kids - and they've deepened the local conversation about how to achieve high quality. Dallas's Arts Partners has used peer review for years, and the Alliance for Arts Learning Leadership in Alameda County hosts summer institutes for arts organizations and teachers to share and critique each others' ideas.
- The creation of new kinds of curriculum supports is building quality in many places. New York City's well-known Blueprints cover four arts disciplines and are full of ideas. Arts for All in Los Angeles uses an interactive website with host of practitioner input to share quality-building approaches (along with model budgets, job descriptions, surveys, and strategic planning tools!) - and provides a forum for asking questions to the whole arts learning community.
Building quality arts learning is a big challenge that lots of us shy away from - but the news is that across the country, it's a priority that local leaders are embracing and energetically pursuing. Please take a look at Rand's Revitalizing to see if there are any ideas you can run with!
Maybe I have become a selfish old frump, but I would like to see some real change in the status quo in my lifetime. I have been fortunate enough to see and participate in (most of us have) great experiments that show possibilities--thank heavens for those examples and models of what could be. Maybe that's the best we are going to get, more and more examples, some being at the classroom level, some at the school level, and some even at the district or community/city level. I have also heard ten plausible strategies for making that serious dent in the national status quo--a number of those strategies have appeared in our blog. Where I lose my innate optimism is in the sense that we as a field will never be able to gather our force in any kind of coordinated focus to work as a community. We are good at identifying twenty ways in which the arts and arts education are important; we are good at "should-ing" on people and institutions; but we are hopeless at agreeing upon one or three ways to create change. Perhaps it is counter to our essential nature to do so, but I don't see how we can ever escape the gravitational pull of cultural norms unless we do.
I was struck by the lesson of the National Performing Arts Conference in Denver this summer, the largest gathering of arts leaders ever. The design of the conference, guided by the group America Speaks, culminated in voting as a performing arts community on priorities for common actions that would positively impact the climate for all the arts. There was clear agreement about the three top arenas for common action: advocacy, arts education, and diversity. Not much agreement on the specifics--the conference leaders intend to keep the community-building process underway to bring consensus toward common action, but the process is incredibly slow. And it took huge amounts of money, and years of preparation, just to begin. Many at the conference had never seriously considered they were part of a functional community of the arts before. One idea I have heard resonate in this blog is to focus locally. Dallas certainly provides one example of how to do that, and that arts education can lead a change in the cultural community, not follow it--to connect with the original question of this blog. How do we get enough local agreement to break out of gravitational norms at the district and community/city level? And what other strategies might there be for getting effective agreement within the field as a whole?
I have a full day tomorrow (Wednesday) in schools and at arts policy meetings, so I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts before retiring -- this blogging can be captivating and time-consuming.
Throughout our discussions I keep thinking of John Goodlad's little book that was published, yet again, last year by the Phi Beta Kappa International Society. I had the great good fortune to meet and work extensively with John in the 70s when he was researching and writing his impressive study of schooling. We have remained friends over all these years, and I credit him, Edythe Gaines and Kathy Bloom (along with the rest of the gang of arts in education pioneers in those days) with the framework I have developed over the years to try to understand and address the challenges of bringing all the arts to all the children. If you have not read it, I urge you to get hold of a copy; it clears the palate and provides a larger view about the intersections among education, culture, change and democracy.
This is not the place or time to go into the history of arts "in" education (starting in the mid 60s in the halcyon Johnson days) and trace the lessons learned as we faced challenge after challenge, assaults from within and outside the "field" and the eternal problems of never enough time, money or stable leadership to make progress in any organized let alone systematic way. About the only thing the "field" agreed on in those days was that we wanted to change the status quo; the problem was that we could never fully agree on what that was in what turned out to be a very complex and confusing mixture of approaches, methods and phlosophies about arts education.
As a member of PDK, I get its monthly Kappan journal, and December has a honey of a piece by Larry Cuban (who with David Tyack wrote the landmark book, "Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform"). Larry writes about the problems of fixing school time, the most precious coin of the instructional realm, and in the process touches on so many of the issues we've been raising in our conversations.
I urge you all to read it, if they've posted it on pdkintl.org or if you can pick it up in the library. Larry skewers the policy and business elites, summarizes many lessons of school change and the failure of reform, and makes some trenchant observations of why changing anything in our schools is hard to do because of the stubborn resistance by the larger (vocal and voting) public to give up their "conservative" values and high expectations of their own schools to socialize, protect, discipline and shape their young for a productive life in their own communities. Of course, there's nothing about the arts - there rarely is in the literature on educational change and school reform - but it is easy to play a "mind game" (thank you Sam) and introduce the arts into the picture to get a vivid view of why it's so hard to find time for the arts in our schools.
This is a rich discussion indeed. Fascinating yet frustrating in its many threads yearning for a discernable pattern into which to be woven. At the general end is the desire to "teach creativity." But as Gardner has so clearly explained, there is no "general" creativity -- each role humans play entails its genuine ways to be creative, and transfer from one to another is unlikely except with more massive attempts to cause it than we know how to make. (Same with "critical thinking," etc.). Nothing substitutes for real encounters with art in all its ways of being, each role in each art its world of meanings/doings.
SO: Sam's mind game of "what would you do with x number of interactions with kids" leads me to an answer. I would identify the major roles each art enables to be played (not difficult) and introduce each of them to that imagined class by having them play each role under the guidance of an encouraging teacher, assisted, as often as possible, by community members who actually live that role, whether as aficionado, amateur, or professional, giving each experience as much time as can be devised within the limits of time available. I would encourage each child to "try on" each role, and the many kinds of art entailed in the many roles, to see which of them fit comfortably and delightfully. A good general education in the arts would do this, year by year in developmental fashion. Then (isn't it nice to dream?) electives in all those roles would be available at appropriate grade levels for the individuals who have discovered a delight in any of them and the desire to pursue it (them) further with specialized teachers. The result? An arts educated young person, equipped to enjoy the arts in whatever way(s) appropriate for his/her individuality, both now and in the future. This is doable, not just pie in the sky. It rescues the diversity of each individual student as being the point and purpose of education, in the arts and every other domain. And gives us a tangible goal in consonance with our larger hopes for the security of the arts in education, supported deeply because it addresses individual needs for fulfillment in all their multiplicity. Yes? No? Maybe?
Having said this, music education is still a very broad term. In the last decade-and-a-half, it has become synonymous with the teaching and learning of music for K - 12 students in the (mostly public) schools. However, music education - and funding for music education - should not be restricted to K - 12 classrooms. Music education, by definition, should encompass imparting knowledge of both broad and specific skills about music, as well as of how this imparting should be done. A conservatory education is also a part of the field, as is professional training and workshops for young musicians to acquire tools to engage audiences in various settings and ways. Furthermore, the nurturing and teaching that these workshop leaders/moderators do is an indispensible component of music education.
For a musician, playing the repertoire, discussing it, teaching it to a fellow musician, analyzing it, are interrelated yet individualized skills. All must be taught and learned. All are indispensible components of being a professional musician. Also, we must not forget that what music means and its relevance to one's life are critical awarenesses necessary for a healthy dynamic within the profession and to enable us to advocate fully for the art form.
What is a comprehensive music education for non-professional musicians? What are the necessary steps to take to be artistically cultured and educated? What does it mean to be artistically educated?
The answers to these questions are always in the process of evolving. Education, and particularly mandatory education, is an effective agent in the formation of an individual's tastes, preferences, value systems. As societal preferences and standards of living are re-formulated and re-defined, so should be the goals/definition of music education. What was sufficient in the past is no longer so in current times and what suffices today will be outdated in the future. For example, providing an opportunity for a group of children to audit a special concert was at the forefront of progressive music education a decade ago. Now, we have moved into sequential learning, prolonged impact, and multiple exposure. The tri-partite music education in the schools, which includes appreciation, performance, and theoretical skills, is currently the way to go. In this sense, more and more emphasis is being placed on the details of the art form than ever before. To "know" Mozart meant something significantly different for a 10-year old in the 1980s in underserved areas than it does today.
My point here is that thinking about music education is not so simple. In fact, it takes a myriad of players to achieve a successful music education program in a school. How well are we servicing/enabling the providers of these programs? How are we doing in terms of supporting the mechanisms (teachers, programs, internship opportunities) that can make the K-12 classroom education function better, both today and in the future?
Returning to the first question Laura posed a few days ago, I will explore the territory that has, with a few exceptions, been pretty much sidestepped. Whether one agrees or not with her report's definitions or arguments about the implied relationships between the arts, the schools and American Culture, and whether or not we are talking about policy, practice or preferences, the gorilla in the room is "the public schools."
Bascially, Laura argues that there is a relationship between teaching the arts (in Rand's case, the "high" arts) and the quality of our culture, and therefore, the American public schools have a role and responsibility for making the arts "accessible" (offered in scope and sequence, Kindergarten through High School), equitably distributed (to all children in every grade in every school in the country). What she does not address is the pervasive issue of highly variable quality.It is my position that access, equity and quality are what we should expect of public education when it comes to the arts (and any other subject).
I hope you will accept, for a moment, that my background, training and experience as an artist (dance, theater, music, poetry, expository writing, etc), educator and researcher qualify me as one of Elliot Eisner's "connoisseurs." Borrowing that mantle for a minute, I will state my reasons for the trinity of access, equity and quality:
- As critical and elusive as it is to find the ideal access and equity in most school systems, quality is even more of a challenge. What good is it to claim that all schools and all children have full and inimpeded access to the arts throughout their elementary and secondary education if the teaching of those disciplines ranges anywhere from inadequate to sterling?
- Without both pre-service and inservice professional development for teachers, their supervisors, and yes, administrators, there is little chance of sustained quality instruction by eager and willing teachers in the classrooms. Frameworks, blueprints and other resource materials help enormously, but more is needed to encourage and support teachers who try to authentically incorporate the arts into their classrooms without benefit of expert coaching and guidance.
- As much as I champion the promise of carefully built cultural and community arts partnerships and the potentially illuminating roles of artists as trained and professionally developed resources to the schools in their locales, there will never be enough money to provide each and every school with these "credentialled" artists at every grade level, K-12. And artists, much like arts educators, can run the gamut of quality.
- Until and unless the school, arts and research communities sit down together to discuss, design, field test and carry out a multi-dimensional framework for assessing arts learning, instruction and curriculum design, respect for and acceptance of arts education will remain elusive. We must design a fair and equitable system to assess the effectiveness of services and programs that claim to result in arts skills, knowledge, understanding, performance, and authentic connections to students' lives and their communities.
- Our goal should be to demonstrate convincingly how access, equity and quality in our public schools can produce enviable cognitive, social, emotional and physical growth in all our public school youngsters.
I see this not as a national or federal task (education is still a state responsibility) but as a state and local challenge, and certainly an individual school community necessity. From the bullet points above, and others that should be added, it could be relatively easy to design a research and development study that would operationalize the multiple implications embedded in the "design.".
This is the kind of work that fares best when it brings together public and private (foundation and other) resources, operates both from the grass to the top roots and down again, and brings together all the central and "outlier" players. As an old hand at program design, research and evaluation, I am just itching for the chance for a group of people like us to to take a stab at it.
Sam, those thought-experiments are useful to me. May I add one. What if...we stopped trying to leverage more 40 minute blocks of time for arts education (only the hardest currency to get in schooling), and considered "creativity across the curriculum." I have done some work with classroom and arts teachers at every level to create two to three minute activities that they can do five days a week that isotonically develop basic arts skills like ideational fluency (generating multiple solutions) or metaphor-making, or pattern-recognition, etc. What if those skills and others were distributed throughout all classes, and all activities in school, and arts teachers were the resource leaders for how to introduce such skills in twenty ways throughout every day? My early dabblings in this approach tell me it works, bigtime.
And responses to John's three accurate throws from left field. To #2--in Scotland they have developed an official national cultural rights policy to announce what ALL Scots can expect culturally from their culture (to address the inequitable distribution problem) (this is akin to the work Bill Ivey is doing and published in his latest book--and interesting, John, that Bill is heading Obama's arts/culture transition team), AND Scotland instituted a music education policy that equates all kinds of music. The state schooling does not prejudice violin over electric guitar, and takes responsibility for developing skills in either, determined by the interest of the learner, to the level of expertise the learner wants to go. To John's #3--the advocacy dream I have, that people laugh at, but I am serious, is to have pairs of adequately trained artists knock on every single door in America to talk about the arts in people's lives. To let people know about local resources, free and not, to engage in dialogue about artistry and personal history in the arts, etc--all the stuff you can do one on one. The Wallace research in Dallas found that lack of awareness and transportation were the biggest blocks to greater arts participation for residents. So I imagine a national initiative to get artists and arts-lovers in every community mobilized to knock on doors and listen and share and connect. Yes, it is like Jehovah's Witnesses, but I think it is an answer that can work.
Eric asks: So what do we do? Richard grounds my dream of our field ever coming to any kind of consensus about a deeper truth that contains our organic polarities that we can all get behind. The public has a limited definition that balkanizes and limits the range and value of arts and arts education? Michael and Edward and others point out that the action ground is local, and the remarkable example of Dallas and Big Thought provides a sense that movement is possible under their circumstance anyway. So what do we do?What do we do? How do we harness the kaleidoscope of arts and arts education allowing key elements to come forth, universals that are ultimately understood by everyone because everyone has a connection to some part of this larger canvass we call arts and arts education.
I think that sometimes in an effort to organize the work into a prototypical education framework, such as standards and curricula, we lose the meaning and opportunities for everyone to see themselves in the art. People paint, people write sentences; people decorate their homes; people cook; people go looking for the most outrageous holiday decorations. The everyday arts, they are there among the more rarified, more technical, professional-based brand.
I think that part of the answer lies in helping to create a fertile ground in schools and community for local context to be created, rather than having it come from up high. What goals, partners, structures, disciplines, does the school want to pursue, rather than having some meta structure or approach handed down.
The most interesting work I have seen among the over 130 whole school arts partnership CAE had created came from the local context of educators, students, parents, and partners forging their own vision. It takes work, to empower and develop the capacity, but the authenticity of the work often has legs that sustain it and positively change the culture within a school or community setting.
Arts education for the general public is always a challenging topic, in part because the arts are so rich in content and connections with everything else, and because the arts are extremely accessible without study. Even though we have the National Voluntary K-12 Standards of 1994, prior to their appearance and since, many kinds of content, many different connections, and many different priorities for experience and study have become the bases for formulating and institutionalizing different purposes and concepts. The overall result: serious agreement that arts education is important, but serious disagreement about what it specifically should be. These fissures have already appeared in this blog. They are the reality that informs any large scale policy discussion.
Here is a thought experiment that may illustrate and illuminate one aspect of the present situation: Given that math is not art, but is definitely a "basic" subject, read the blog and the RAND report substituting math for the arts disciplines. Many questions will pose themselves. For example, would it be credible to argue before a local school board that because there are many purposes and applications for math, any one of them should take precedence over learning to do math itself? For subjects considered basic in formal education, the subject learned on its own terms is considered the most authentic means for reaching all the other purposes, applications, and collateral benefits whether immediately, or later in life; there is no substitute for cumulative acquisition of basic knowledge and skills.
Here is a second thought experiment along the same line: Take your favorite art form, pretend you teach it full-time in an elementary school. You have sixth grade class that has never studied your art form before; you have an unusual and munificent gift of one hour a day for two 15 week periods. What do you want the students to know and be able to do in, through, and about that art form at the end of each of those periods? How would you organize your time to accomplish your goals in terms of specific content and knowledge and skill development? Even though there are many good answers, working this kind of problem individually for a particular setting gives a new perspective on generic justifications and yearnings for better arts education. It shows that such generics are not the "it" of arts learning. It includes the reality of time limits, and thus demands hard choices. For example, how much breadth, how much depth? How much emphasis on experiences that create good memories or serve other educational and social priorities, and how much on learning in the art form itself that provides the basis for going further individually in study, in understanding, in commitment, and hopefully in future informed participation? Remember, the question in this experiment is what would you do, not what everyone else should do.
1. Jane Remer suggests that Americans have always been gun-shy about the high arts. It seems a little more complex than that. Look at Lawrence W. Levine's book "Highbrow Lowbrow," and in particular his long chapter on Americans' obsession with Shakespeare up until the late 19th century, for a corrective.
2. This debate seems to focus on school children, but the Rand report carries the discussion through higher education and beyond. I have long thought that one simple solution to stimulating demand for the high arts (esp. the expensive performing arts) would be cheaper tickets. All sorts of scatter-shot programs have been attempted, privately and publicly funded, at individual theaters or locally or statewide, to address this. Problem is, as I observed when I ran the Lincoln Center Festival, that simply lowering ticket prices may well attract more people, but mostly more people of the same demographic as those who buy the higher-priced seats. There have been all kinds of experiments with student seats, student rush seats, etc., many of them promising. Just now the British Arts Council is about to name theaters in Britain that will receive grants to provide one million free tickets to anyone under the age of 26.
3. Barack Obama had a fairly detailed arts plank in his platform (John McCain had none). There's a petition going around the Internet -- I have no idea what traction it is getting -- to urge Obama to appoint a cabinet-level Arts Secretary. Surely doing so would go a long way to defuse the idea of the arts as a "special interest" and to focus national attention on the subject.
Susan, Jack and I are noting how the imposition of outgrown understandings of what "arts" and "arts education" mean hobbles the organic and natural expression that the arts always have been and continue to be--clearly in Jack's example of The Sims in the Hands of Artists experiment. The semantic trap seems to be just the tip of the real iceberg that we are grappling with. I don't think there is an easy solution even to the semantic trip--people in business have asked me if we can just stop using the word "art" because they stop listening. They then confessed they are not really interested in the word "creativity" either--they kind of glaze over--they like the word "innovation" because it is the product that they really care about, getting new business-ready products as a competitive advantage. No, I don't propose that we get into a language dance to please anyone.
In a comment on this blog Richard Kessler added a strong point: "These questions of definition occur partly because of the many ways in which arts and arts education takes place. You've got the disciplines, ever changing, lines blurring; you've got the originating versus interpretive, and of course, the combination of the two; you've got the professional versus the amateur; you've got discipline based or centered, versus integrated--both in a an educational framework, and more and more in how the arts are being created and performed by cross disciplinary artists. Not to mention youth development, in-school, after school, community-based, traditional versus non-traditional. It's a kaleidoscope, and you can find virtually all of the different kinds somewhere in some school and community setting."
So what do we do? Richard grounds my dream of our field ever coming to any kind of consensus about a deeper truth that contains our organic polarities that we can all get behind. The public has a limited definition that balkanizes and limits the range and value of arts and arts education? Michael and Edward and others point out that the action ground is local, and the remarkable example of Dallas and Big Thought provides a sense that movement is possible under their circumstance anyway. So what do we do?
In my professional opinion, in this day and age of high stakes accountability many school districts are taking short term actions that will cause long term pain. There is significant research that the arts will improve the academic performance of students. The results will not come immediately but will appear in the long run. I am not an artist nor a musician, I am a former athletic coach, but I have seen enough research both quantatative and qualitative that indicate that the arts have a big impact on students socially and academically.
The Dallas ISD has committed to funding art and music teacher at all 130 elementary schools. We recently had an unexpected significant budget shortfall. But there was no discussion of reducing our commitment to the arts. We have had significant external support from the City of Dallas, the local arts community and the Wallace Foundation. What was refreshing is that no one waned in the commitment we have made to the arts despite the very public budget difficulties we recently experienced.
Following up on Eric's comment, "about taking a skill or craft to a high level of expression, about inquiring and exploring in original ways and coming to new discoveries." I want to cite a project we at EA sponsored titled, "The Sims In the Hands of Artists" where we provided a video game to 3 art schools to use as a creative tool and the climax was an exhibit of the work held in NYC, SF and LA. We had no idea what to expect but we did know that the students were highly skilled/engaged in playing video games and understood the medium. The end result far exceeded our expectations in terms of interest and creativity. The students not only readily embraced the tool but they also dissected it and came up with inventive ways of redeploying this tool to create films, installations, and traditional objects. As sponsors, we never said, create Art, we just said, here is an amazing tool, see what you come up with. Discovery and expression can of course come from traditional modes but the possibilities in new media are hitting us right in the face and today's students are fearlessly grasping it. If you Google "The Sims In the Hands of Artists," you will get over 4 million links. Talk about scope of interest!
The first link is an article from Art News: http://www.artnews.com/issues/article.asp?art_id=2316
This link if from USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/tech/gaming/2007-03-21-ea-contest_N.htm
KIff, I think the traditional canon vs. non-traditional music focus is as red herring an issue as arts skill building vs. arts integration. Yes, we pour energy into these seeming dichotomies (and I think other fields that happen to notice us are glad we do because it diffuses our potential force for change when we circle the wagons and shoot at other). I try to follow the challenge of David Bohm, the great physicist of the 20th century who said that any time you see seeming polarities, look for the greater truth that contains them both. I think we all know something about these greater truths, but we are not aiming for them.
I am not convinced Americans will ever value a serious commitment to the arts as a high priority of American life, as Laura posits the challenge--certainly not the way we define the arts so narrowly in this country--and if no change in that, there will never be any real change in the status quo of arts education. I think we need to tap that deeper agreement area about the arts where all Americans live the value of the arts but don't call them arts. Where we engage fully as humans. Where we pour ourselves into a task because we are intrinsically motivated to make something beautiful of it, even if it is a Thanksgiving table setting or conversation with a friend or report to a business committee. This is the deeper place that "art" has always come to life in, including the art of bricklaying, and it is about a pouring of the individual self into an enabling constraint in any medium (rondo form, 8 by 10 piece of paper, 5 paragraph essay, scientific method), about taking a skill or craft to a high level of expression, about inquiring and exploring in original ways and coming to new discoveries. And more.
The default definition of "art" is a huge problem for us--it puts us into a frame with many limiting associations, associations that are NOT true in the "artistry" people know, value and apply throughout their lives. I dream of an arts education that explicitly attends to these deeper, universal capacities, as it develops those skills, largely through arts media because they are more responsive, eloquent and rewarding than other media for exactly these skills.
I'd like to point to some important new evidence pointing to effective ways we can support arts learning opportunities for our kids. The new Rand study, "Revitializing Arts Education Through Community-Wide Coordination" commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, identifies lots of great ideas AND the evidence that shows their recent track record. One of the most powerful approaches to building educators' and community members' support for arts learning is an audit that shows who's getting what, and who's not.
Rand's research team looked at six cities and found that most "used audits to gather information on how many students were served by arts learning programs by school, neighborhood, or region ... highlighting inequities in provision in order to galvanize funders and policymakers, and establishing plans to fill gaps in provision. Audits often served as the first step in igniting coordinated efforts to improve access."
And these audits worked. They revealed "similar patterns: Access to arts education in these regions was inequitable ... students' access to these programs depended on the school they attended and was, at best, idiosyncratic ... [Leaders] reported using audit reports to galvanize supoport for more equitable provision of arts education and to launch coordinated efforts to overcome inequities."
When we connect with other educators, parents, and community leaders around the facts - who has opportunities for rich arts learning and who doesn't - we can start a conversation about our values, our kids' needs, and the challenges facing our schools and our after-school programs. And with the facts on the table, cities across the country have built on that conversation to construct their own approaches to making quality arts learning available to all kids.
Facts are friendly. We need more of them.
Laura Zakaras: It will take a powerful coalition of cultural leaders--including directors of arts organizations and the business leaders that sit on their Boards, the arts policy community, artists, and the professional organizations that represent thousands of arts educators--to change state education policy. Only by working together can they persuade the general education community (and the American public) that the arts should be part of the basic curriculum of the public schools.No doubt. That beings said, there are more and more studies pointing towards school reform and policy change coming about through grass roots movements. If I were to show the list above to someone at the AFT or NEA (not arts endowment), they would point out that we are missing the larger cohort of teachers and parents, the center of what would make such a coalition potent. Policy is ultimately politics, and elected officials respond to voters. Thus, you're going to have to have parents and an army of teachers to make change on the local level. What is more, there are capacities in "community organizing" (see Rudy Guiliani), research, policy analysis, and more, that remain relatively nascent across the field.
For my entire career in arts education, I have seen arts education as an outlier in the field of education. While programs can make change, most likely temporal, in a school or group of schools, scale, will require the building of coalitions that embrace people beyond what might be called the "special interest groups."
What a rich exchange of ideas we've had this first day. I'm going to pick up on one strand of the conversation that surfaced early. Several of you have expressed discomfort talking about "demand," which we normally associate with commodities and marketing, in the context of the arts. Let me clarify what we mean by the term in our report and why we find it useful.
The demand side of the cultural system consists of individuals who seek encounters with works of art. They do so because they have an interest in the arts and the capacity to find value in the arts experience. How do people develop such interest and capacity? It can happen in a multitude of ways, but the most effective way is to reach young people with strong arts education in the schools that teaches both performance and appreciation skills.
The purpose of such education is not to sustain a market for the arts but to draw more Americans into long-term involvement in the arts that enriches their lives and contributes to the public sphere. But it is important that we recognize that arts learning also fuels the entire cultural system. This role of arts education has not been sufficiently understood, even by arts educators, as a number of you have pointed out. If we are to work together to change the status quo, we need to understand why investments in arts education are necessary to sustain a vibrant culture.
It will take a powerful coalition of cultural leaders--including directors of arts organizations and the business leaders that sit on their Boards, the arts policy community, artists, and the professional organizations that represent thousands of arts educators--to change state education policy. Only by working together can they persuade the general education community (and the American public) that the arts should be part of the basic curriculum of the public schools.
Good point, Jane. We can go on and on claiming in loud and eloquent voices how wonderful the arts are, and how arts ed. is the answer to our culture's arts problems. But when our programs are narrowly conceived, serving few students, ignoring many if not most of their interests and ways of accessing the arts, disparaging their arts enthusiasms, and taught by teachers who, while devoted and well meaning, have been inadequately prepared to deal with the real world of the arts as our kids are confronting it, including technologically, our claims come across as self serving. Good teachers of comprehensive, genuine programs remain the core of our strength and contribution, as you suggest.
I have decided to move a comment I just left in another corner of the "room" into the spotlight. I am troubled by what sound like dismissive remarks about schools and school people and their willingness or ability to contribute to the entire enterprise we are discussing.
I am pasting in my response below:
Response to Bob Morrison's comment: "The formula is simple: Data informs advocacy, advocacy informs public policy, public policy creates change. The execution of the formula is a key to increased access to and participation in the arts in our schools. "
While I agree that access and equity are powerful ideas, I find your statement ingenuous; it is teacher and principal and educator proof and thus bound to failure. Most of the above addresses forces outside and beyond schools. And what makes you all think that public policy about or for the arts has made an iota of difference over the last 50 years? The challenge, I believe is to accept, respect and engage the school community in this kind of discussion and thinking; data analysis and policy wonking will not create lasting change that the people in the schools will recognize, acknowledge or implement. That is the very reason that every old and recent attempt at school reform has failed. It ignores the very actors on whom sucess depends.
Let's also look at how we deliver arts education in today's classrooms. When I was a student back in the Sixties, we worked in traditional media of that era - pencil, woodcuts, watercolor, and clay. We didn't have digital tools that today's generation grew up with. While the fundamentals of art and design can still be learned through traditional media, there is an array of possibilities with new tools such as computer graphics, the web, and handheld devices just to name a few. Understandably, there is resistance from teachers of the previous generation when they have not had the same exposure as their students, but what a shame that these teachers are not empowered with these new tools. Perhaps it begins with providing appropriate training for our teachers.
Moy, you point out the difficulty of getting education reform that benefits arts education in any meaningful way moving. A year ago, I was with Americans for the Arts National Arts Policy Roundtable, several days of inquiry about arts education with NOT the usual suspects at the table. The business leaders asserted that American education changes dramatically only when the business community feels fear --Sputnik, A Nation At Risk, etc. Coolidge was right: the business of America is business. [I agree, Jane, that we have the arts and arts education our culture wants.] I think American business is beginning to get genuinely scared that innovative capacity is heading overseas to India and China and other countries. Many biz leaders believe this is their competitive edge, at a time when they have fewer worldwide competitive edges than they have had before. Can we start to make that case, and align the players you cite, Moy, asserting that academics-hammering exacerbates the problem?
The bizfolk I have heard don't believe arts education delivers the goods they want, and they are right. We don't know how to develop creative capacity well. We are scared of assessing that capacity partly because it is hard to do, but mostly because we don't really know what we are doing. We have had several observations in this discussion about the data on arts education being inadequate. I heard one businessman say, "If you could convince me that arts education effectively and reliably develops innovative capacity, give me hard data to confirm it, I would become your biggest supporter overnight."
Okay, it's an old saw, but, you will be hard pressed to find a private school that doesn't provide an arts education to its students, both in what it offers and participation rates. Suburban schools do a much better job than urban schools, and as we know well, in urban districts, those schools with greater access to external resources, often resources raised by parents, do a better job than those without.
In 2001, ruling in favor of the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which backed a lawsuit seeking to change the state formula for funding public schools, New York State Supreme Court Justice Leland DeGrasse stated that "demography is not destiny." When it comes to arts education, demography may be just that.
That's the real debate.
Indeed, the current public arts infrastructure, despite endless rhetoric about "diversity," remains overwhelmingly devoted to those dead European males that John Rockwell mentions. Last year, the NEA's expenditures in support of traditional, ethnic culture totaled 7/10th of 1% of the agency's budget. Take a look at the course catalog of any music conservatory -- even at those places with the most esteemed ethnomusicology programs, the European canon (which accounts for about 5% of the world's musical output) outnumbers the rest of the world by several orders of magnitude. This is akin to offering a science curriculum that ends with Copernicus.
Changing this cultural myopia, in education and in the public arts arena, would require a commitment that we have never seen from educators, governments or from philanthropists. But the alternative is more of the long cultural gray-out that Alan Lomax predicted back in 1977 and which provides a stark context for our discussion today.
The basic question: "How can demand for the arts be increased?" My goodness, what a complex topic...
For starters, I would like to lay out some questions that I have concerning the subject. Most certainly, there won't be a definitive solution or a conclusion by the end of the week; however, I propose these questions to help focus my own mind and as beginning elements from which I correspond and respond to the blog.
Most importantly, how should we define "demand"? What is the method of assessment and evaluation for this "demand"? In music, is this about concert attendance? In the visual arts, is this about the number of visitors to special exhibits?
Are we somehow under the impression that the appreciation for the arts was greater in the past? On what basis do we make this assumption? If we are looking at the number of sold seats at a concert, for example, is this really an indication of the societal interest in music? Or does this tell us more about the societal changes that we face or the face of society-at-large? In other words, is the change between past and present about art or about everything else?
In the past, the arts were supported in different ways. Mozart's patrons (the "policy makers" of his day) weren't always thinking about increasing "demand" and the triangular "appreciation/availability/accessibility" status of music. But in the long run, how did their "policies" affect us? What great things they did for the world of music! The benefits their largesse brought forth were much farther reaching than their mortal selves.
What are the differences between "demand," "appreciation," and "engagement" for the arts? In engagement, I see a healthy and productive room for discussion, agreement, experimentation, and argument. These are all necessary for a true appreciation and for continuously-increasing understanding. For me, demand signifies a simpler, and therefore less effective and impacting, consumer mentality. Prioritizing simply in terms of increasing "demand," has much more to do with marketing and crowd pleasing. This is neither a very artistic nor intellectual pursuit.
Finally, I note in the opening blog by Laura Zackaras that "We argue that arts education needs to be understood in terms of its contribution to the cultural life of our country." I'd like to add that "education" alone - and, much less so that which exists within the compulsory educational system - cannot make a dent in that cause. Rather, all educational efforts must be appreciated and supported in various, comprehensive, and complementing ways. Is the purpose of arts education in the public school systems, for example, solely about increasing demand and appreciation for the arts? Art for art's sake??? Or could it also have the potential to increase understanding and motivation for a changing/changeable world? In that case, arts education could be comprehended in terms of the wealth and the health of our country-at-large, reaching well beyond our cultural life.
WHAT: Arts programs in the schools are neglected, especially when societal concerns are focused on the "basics," as occurs regularly and expextedly (and ferociously as in No Child Left Behind). We professional arts educators want more time, money, importance, respect, as part of basic education.
WHERE: Is our problem inside arts education or outside? Outside, the arts are flourishing, at least reasonably if not remarkably. Certainly we don't lack art-making talent. We have so much of it, at such high levels, that it is societally unlikely, perhaps impossible, to support all who aspire to be professional artists.
Inside, music education, and, I am sure, the other arts ed. fields, exist largely on art-making (performance in the case of music ed.). Some 9 to 15 % of kids in schools elect participation. Is that likely to be considered "basic" education? Hardly. Until our offerings engage all students in more broadly-based arts instruction in the general ed. aspect of schooling, K-12, and offer electives attractive to more than a small minority, we will continue to exert minimal influence on our culture's art life. The major problem we face is found by looking inward to our own deficencies.
I was struck by Ed Pauly's keen observation about the arts "as another special interest group." It has been abundantly clear to me that if we continue to do (even twice as hard) what we've done before, we'll keep getting the same results. Translation: Deaf ears and impatience with more arts advocacy, more rationales for the arts, more attempts to portray the arts as miracle workers that claim, as former AERA president Eva Baker has said (I paraphrase): ...can do everything except wash my windows and clean my floors. As I have often said, the Arts Emperor has no clothes when desperate and far-fetched arguments are advanced to include them as instrumental to school reform, higher test scores, and global competition.
I think Ed put his finger on a very important and sensitive issue: Why, after all these years of advocacy, campaigning, claiming, and research are we still stuck in the rut of complaining about our relatively low status in the schools?
Why have there been no serious and sustained efforts to create a constitutency in the public schools who would champion the arts as part of basic education for every child?
Why have we settled for "pockets of excellence" as demonstrations of the learning power of the arts when what we have always needed to aim for was a critical mass of teachers, principals, parents, schools, administrators and students who, through their own school or community-based experience understood the value of the arts to cognitive, social, emotional and physical human growth and development in that artificial environment called "school?"
Let's take another look at Doug McLennan's phrasing of the question:
New research by RAND and sponsored by The Wallace Foundation suggests that a generation of Americans has not developed the knowledge or skills to engage with our cultural heritage. Without that engagement, the arts as we know them are unsustainable over the long run. Can anything be done?
First: It's not just "a generation" that has been skipped; the arts have almost never been part of the preparation of most teachers and their principals. Second: Do we really have a "cultural heritage" that is arts friendly? Isn't that part of what we've been trying to develop over all these years? Third: The arts as we know them are unsustainable over the long run: Perhaps they are, perhaps they should be, perhaps not, but it sounds like we're prematurely lamenting the death of a civilization.
It's probably time that we faced the fact that Americans have not, as a whole, been "high arts" friendly for a lot of social, economic and historical reasons. Our fortunes generally rise in good economic times and falter or even fall out when money is scarce.
Perhaps it is time to accept the arts' position on the margins and to gather together with all our colleagues in the schools to talk about ways to systematically and intelligently incorporate them in the daily teaching and learning of our public schools. As I believe that change takes place one person, class, school, district at a time, we need to develop strategies for conversations with the only people, in the final analysis, whose championship and support will make a difference in the long run.
A number of well-articulated reasons to make arts part of every child's education from the competitive edge for America's 21st century global workforce to preservation and advocacy of selected art forms to a deeper value and commitment to make cultural literacy part of a child's education. Although meaningful, none have been powerful enough to catalyze influential leaders to create policy incentives, systemize the key solid education practices and incentives for educators to make arts part of the school week and commit to sustained and adequate funding to do so.
California has a number of foundational elements for this to happen: policy, legislative leadership, acclaimed model programs in Los Angeles, Alameda and Santa Clara, among others, and the recent landmark allocation in 2006 and subsequent funding at approximately $17 per capita. Yet the challenge to get the state's 6 million plus schoolchildren reading and writing in a state is profound with a more than 30% dropout rate, disinvested public school system (once among the top in the US) and one of the shortest school days in the country, much less to reinstitute the arts! And, that is even with some excellent policy and practices already in place.
As Richard Kessler infers, given the achievement gap, it is unlikely for schoolchildren in underresourced schools to experience arts learning in this setting.
To make arts part of a child's school week in the country will require a coordinated broad scale effort with educators, artists and business leaders. This would encompass 1) creating or strengthen policy incentives to include arts (for instance 2 hours per week throughout the school year), 2) making the instructional time in the school day/week; 3) providing sustained funds, optimally from the general fund monies; 4) having excellent professional development (pre and in service), curriculum (web-based) and formative and summative assessment for students and teachers and 5) building a multi-constituency advocacy effort with powerful messaging.
The interesting thing about the debate on arts education is its conspicuous absence from the decade-long debate on American education.
The education debate has been about enabling every child to learn; about reading and math test scores; about qualified teachers; about charter schools; about after-school programs - all very important things.
Yet the education debate has been silent on the topic of arts education.
Why? There are many reasons.
A generation of educators missed out on their own arts learning experiences when budget cuts in the 1970s and 1980s stretched into an arts education drought.
Thoughtful efforts to place a high priority on reading and math morphed into the mistaken view that other priorities are dispensable.
And the arts have been tagged as another special interest group instead of a part of everyday life.
But when we all step back from the education debate and its budget battles, there is actually widespread agreement on two big reasons arts education should be part of our education debate:
Arts learning - both in and out of school - opens the door to a lifetime of experiences that most young people will miss if they don't step through that door during their school years.
And their passage through that doorway opens up learning experiences that are deeply valued by nearly everyone - including learning about captivating and engaging creative experiences (from Scott Joplin's The Entertainer to Alvin Ailey's Revelations);
sharing meaning with and from the many communities to which Americans belong (from
the jazz greats to Maya Lin's Vietnam Memorial); and empathy with people we have not met (as in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman).
Ample reasons for putting arts education back into our national debate about education.
Yes, Richard. I keep scrabbling around at the granular level of arts experiences for the huiman essentials we purport they provide. I find things like developing a healthy curiosity about differentness (a cultural necessity with our changing demographics), a capacity to make strong connections between literal and abstract realities (in a culture that is belligerently literal and commercial), the ability to reflect and play well, etc.. At the first UNESCO worldwide arts education conference (Lisbon 2006), the clear message of need and demand from around the world was "creativity"--with heads of state asking that of arts educators and saying their nation's future depended on it and us.
In his keynote at the National Performing Arts Conference this summer, bestselling business guru Jim Collins remarked that to succeed in turbulent times, an organization (business or arts nonprofit) must deepen its commitment to core values/beliefs and experiment boldly in ways to fulfill them. He then said that people in the arts think the traditional arts canon of artworks is our core value/belief, and we are wrong. Our core is the perhaps inarticulable but strong and abiding reasosn humans have engaged in "art" since day 2 of human history; the attachment to the canon of artworks is a traditional means of achieving such goals, and is exactly what we must experiment boldly away from to rediscover relevant and valuable reasons for art to be in our culture.