Fear and education reform

By Eric Booth

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."

December 1, 2008 9:30 AM | | Comments (5) |


Great post especially for those starting out.

Arts education allows children to develop critical thinking, creative expression and basic learning skills through the arts. In the 21st century, arts education can and should be used to inspire the innovation and creativity needed to propel the American business community forward as well as educate and inspire our children. The Performing Arts Workshop, a non-profit out of Northern California, provides arts education workshops to local schools and communities allowing children the access to arts education they need and deserve. Visit www.performingartsworkshop.org and learn more about the programs offered as well as arts education.

Michigan just put in place a 1-credit minimum graduation requirement in the arts with the iterative artistic/creative process at the center of the requirement. Can we teach creativity? Well, we know that we can kill creativity so why not try emphasizing the complete artistic/creative process so that the "one right answer" approach of much traditional education across all disciplnes can be countered?

Our work was influenced by the research of Robert and Michelle Root-Bernstein, authors of Sparks of Genius. In addition to their study of the thinking tools used by great innovators across time, the Root-Bernsteins have also tracked the involvement of National Scholars with the arts. There is a significant relationship between the two. Is it causal? If you read their work it has more to do with habits of thinking which the arts specifically develop but are not owned solely by the arts.

We've met some resistance in shifting from a performance and trophy mentality to one which encourages students to address important questions, problems, and needs with the tools of the arts whether those be paint, brush, computer, or metal.

The economy is working in our favor right now. One year after this new requirement was put in place, we don't have as many orchestra teachers asking if they need to learn GarageBand, or wondering why they might want to talk to the video production teachers in the Career and Technical Education end of their high school.

The arts are needed in schools to be a persistent voice for creativity and out of the box thinking. To be that, we need to walk the talk and open our own minds in the process.

Let me respond from the biz side. I’ve worked in the entertainment industry for over 10 years and I have seen a continuing increase in outsourcing, especially to Eastern Europe, India, China, and now Viet Nam. The art that we outsource is primarily the more mundane repetitive work because we still believe that our artists have the creative edge but I have a feeling that this is shifting. I just returned from judging a student competition in Korea and the work I reviewed was surprisingly creative and innovative. Our competition isn’t just in Asia but some of the best work in animation and digital art come from university students in the UK, France, and Germany. There are some top level schools here in the US but the competition overseas is heating up.

Eric, I think this idea of advocating for the arts in the schools based on their capacity to foster creativity and innovation is a non-starter, for the reasons you cite. What evidence could we amass that would persuade your agnostic businessman? You'd need to demonstrate "transfer" -- the elusive gold standard of all education: there's no evidence I know of that folks who have spent a lot of time in the arts (in school or in life) are "better" than others at much of anything -- other than the work they do in their art form. As a group, they're not happier or better at managing their personal affairs or at coming up with good new ideas or with regard to any other criteria you name than people I know with little arts background. I can't envision any way to prove the claim of transfer from studying the arts to any of the skills that the business community and politicians claim they're seeking.

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This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

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Tia commented on Fear and education reform: Arts education allows children to develop critical thinking, creative expre...

Ana Luisa Cardona commented on Fear and education reform: Michigan just put in place a 1-credit minimum graduation requirement in the...

Jack Lew commented on Fear and education reform: Eric, Let me respond from the biz side. I’ve worked in the entertainment in...

David Shookhoff commented on Fear and education reform: Eric, I think this idea of advocating for the arts in the schools based on ...