December 2, 2008 Archives
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."