The Chords Behind our Riffs
What's the problem? This is one of our most recurrent motifs. We all seem to agree that too few children and young adults are getting any meaningful education in the arts. But there are other problems to address. Bennett adds that what they are getting is too narrowly focused on performance. Eric says that we do not prioritize the individual's artistic experience; I emphasize that we are not developing the individual's aesthetic capacity; Bau and John point out that arts education ignores ethnic culture. Richard describes "the arts education gap"--children in higher-income schools get more arts education than those in low-performing urban schools.
What's at stake? This is a largely submerged chord that I think needs more attention. Jane touches on the importance of the arts in the cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development of the individual; Richard also comes back to the fundamental well-being of our children. Eric emphasizes that the arts release the creative potential of the individual. Kiff mentions that she rarely has time to talk about the value of the arts--it's all about the arts as a strategy to promote other goals that government supports, such as student achievement and socialization. But notice that's not what we're worried about losing. We keep coming back to intrinsic benefits.
In our recent report and a previous report, Gifts of the Muse, we argue that the main benefit of the arts is the cultivation of our humanity. Besides providing sheer pleasure, arts experiences develop in us the capacity to move imaginatively and emotionally into different worlds (as James Cuno has so aptly described), to broaden our field of reference beyond the confines of our immediate experience; to exercise our capacity for empathy; to develop our faculties of perception, interpretation, and judgment; and to form common bonds of humanity through some works of art that manage to convey what whole communities have experienced. The reason we bemoan the decline in arts participation among the young is that it narrows opportunities for individual and civic development and spells the deepening of cultural inequities.
What's the goal? Several of us have argued that we should make the arts a part of the basic education of every child. Jane emphasizes that our objectives should be access, equity, and quality in arts education. Midori reminds us that the music education requires a myriad of programs both inside and outside the schools and its objectives are reconsidered and redefined by every generation. John, Eric, and Bau want to see the field move beyond the canon and embrace many diverse art forms and cultures. Bennett and Sam point to models of strong education programs--good teachers of genuine comprehensive programs who are the core of our strength--and argue that these are the foundation we should build on.
What are the barriers to achieving that goal? Another strong chord. Moy describes California's disinvested public school systems, high dropout rates, and short school day; Jane refers to some good books that describe why it is so hard to change anything in our schools; Ed points out that advocates for the arts have been tagged as a special interest group; Sam elaborates on how difficult it is to make progress in a policy environment that is dominated by advocacy that has no specificity or substantive focus (several picked up on the eyes-glaze-over riff); Jane says that arts educators will not gain respect and acceptance until the field figures out how to assess arts learning. And many point to fissures in the field over the purpose and methods of arts education that make consensus elusive.
What's to be done? Nearly everyone has picked up on this motif in one way or another. Eric worries that the arts community will never be able to gather any force through coordinated action. Others strike more hopeful notes, and they are all about developing collaboration. Ed and Michael emphasize that you build movements locally, pointing to the success of vast collaborative networks formed in Dallas, L.A., and Alameda County. Bob Morrison describes what collaborations at the state level have done and are doing now to improve arts education. And despite the problems facing California, Moy spells out the kind of broad-based coordinated effort that could make the arts a part of every child's school day. Eric, in the same post where he despairs of change, tells us that the National Performing Arts Conference, the largest gathering of arts leaders ever, identified arts education as one of its three highest priorities. Could this be the beginning of the kind of collaboration between the arts community and the arts education community that we envision in our report?
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;
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;
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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