One Reason Why "Eyes Glaze Over"

By Samuel Hope

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.

December 3, 2008 9:03 AM | | Comments (2) |


Thanks for the thoughts Sam!

I am posting your comments to our statewide team working on this issue for the Department of Education and State Board of Ed. The time/place vs skills/knowledge discussion is very real right now. The challenge we are wrestling with is what this means for equity (i.e. all students) as well as avoiding what Jane aptly points out about the speed in which people what to scale an idea regardless of whether or not thee idea is baked enough to be scaled.

If you think that creativity and arts are cause for glazed donuts, try some of this brew: principal empowerment, annual yearly progress, no child left behind, vouchers, charter schools, standards, accountability, in-service, pre-service, professional development, english language learners, school reform, absentee teacher reserve, rubber rooms, portfolio, out of school time education...

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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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Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
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Midori, Violinist;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
Kiff Gallagher, Founder & CEO of the Music National Service Initiative and MusicianCorps
Bennett Reimer, Founder of the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience, author of A Philosophy of Music Education;
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at The Wallace Foundation;
Moy Eng, Program Director of the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
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Bob Morrison commented on One Reason Why "Eyes Glaze Over": Thanks for the thoughts Sam! I am posting your comments to our statewide t...

Richard Kessler commented on One Reason Why "Eyes Glaze Over": If you think that creativity and arts are cause for glazed donuts, try some...