The One Child and The Many

By Richard Kessler
Eric and Jane's desire to continue this conversation is something I share. At the same time, I recognize that this conversation is taking place, right now,  on a regional basis, on a discipline-basis, individual organization basis, and in many, many individual schools. I could go on, but you get the point.

It's a very good idea that this forum be extended into an American Assembly or Aspen Institute-like container (Go Hewlett!). The last arts-oriented American Assembly was convened by Sandra Gibson, it might be a good idea to bring her into the conversation on next steps. Alberta Arthurs also has great experience in such convenings.

I have had the feeling that this blog has failed to recognize the ever changing nature of the larger education landscape. One might interpret, based on the posts, as if our tiny little part of this landscape, for which we fight to expand, is static. It's anything but static.

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.

And, more than ever, we're seeing an education industrial complex based upon reading and math. It's not unlike the military industrial complex, and you can thank NCLB for that.

I know I've tried this before, but here's another shot: imagine you're trying to jump on a merry-go-round, but it's going very, very fast, and what you want to jump onto, the animals, keep changing shape, and the speed of the merry-go-round changes at random, the change coming at intervals that might be a matter of months, moments, or years. That's what it feels like to me! One might get a good grip at the moment, but the next moment that merry go round is different.

The school system of today, particularly the urban system, will look very, very different tomorrow.

I think that everyone should give a good read to Dennie Wolf's comments on who we should be talking with. For the more we interact with the larger arena, the better chance we have of understanding the larger context in which we exist. With all the changes going on in education, changes that are happening faster and more profoundly than ever, I spend more of my time and effort talking with those outside of arts education. It's why I joined the board of Common Core. It's why I am a working with the teachers and administrators unions. It's why the organization I work for is building coalitions and bridges with parents, child advocacy organizations, fiscal equity organizations, immigration organizations, and more. We're taking the concept of arts integrated across the curriculum, and expanding into arts integrated across a city-wide fabric, including elected officials, media, and voters. And, while quiet diplomacy has its place, after many years of it, I think some tougher, more politically savvy work needs to be done in the advocacy arena.

It's why we have shifted to a call for each child to receive a well-rounded education, including the arts.

I want to offer another frame to the blog as a whole; I hope it will be helpful. I have always believed that you have to base your organziational work on two distinct poles: that of one child and that of many children. You have to be both on the ground and in the air.

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.

December 5, 2008 7:32 AM | | Comments (1) |


Thanks for this discussion.

Maybe I'm stating the obvious, or this is severely off-topic, but it seems to me a major impediment in getting arts education accepted as a upgraded is the long-standing prejudice against American vernacular art as "entertainment," and this discussion has put the ultimate responsibility for arts education on children (requests/demands on legislators and educators notwithstanding) to the exclusion of the general American populace.

The first point -- the prejudice -- is connected to the commercial/non-commercial dichotomy/conundrum that "successful" arts entrepreneurs have navigated in the US for more than a century (c.f. P.T. Barnum), which today leads to reviews of video games in the arts pages of the NYT but not usually to consideration in classrooms of what recent and/or contemporary American culture means to students and citizens overall in the here and now.

Kids might be thrilled to discuss "art" in the context of the latest pop music, hit movies, tv shows, etc. This kind of discussion routinely takes place not in schools but on the web, in newspapers and magazines, sometimes on radio. Commercial journalism (to the extent it survives) is an unacknowledged theater for "arts education," as arts journalism is addressed to everyone who might join in or simply stumble on it.

So, it seems to me, one of the missions of arts journalists is to press the discussion-- culture is now, and useful questions include what do we get from it, what are we putting into it, who else is contributing? -- in all our outlets, especially the widely accessible media that reach beyond schools to disseminate information and critical thinking across generations. Arts "education" shouldn't be for the young only; we'd be a more productive society if the general populace held as steady a regard for cultural events and policies and their implications as it does for economic matters (and way more than sports); the young would then join -- or take over -- the discussion they hear their elders having. I doubt there is any likelihood of arts education taking root in the schools if it isn't rooted in our common, everyday, everywhere culture.

This would mean arts journalists would be taken seriously, too -- and be responsible themselves for high standards of clarity and analysis. May I suggest that it could lead to the financially successful purveyors of the arts - music purveyors, movie studios, Amazon, tv and cable networks, the games industry -- contributing beyond their typical tax responsibilities specifically to projects boosting discussion and participation in the arts, so as to excite/enlarge/educate the audiences they can currently claim?

Probably much of what I've written here belongs in another, related blog, but this is the discussion that's been going on, so . . .

best, Howard Mandel

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Howard Mandel commented on The One Child and The Many: Thanks for this discussion. Maybe I'm stating the obvious, or this is sev...