Putting Gratitude and Realism in the Mix
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.
Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
Laura Zakaras, RAND;
James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago;
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education;
Eric Booth, Actor;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
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;
John Rockwell, critic;
Susan Sclafani, Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group;
Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
Michael Hinojosa, General Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District
Peter Sellars, director
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