December 5, 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.