What Schools Are For

By Jane Remer

I have a full day tomorrow (Wednesday) in schools and at arts policy meetings, so I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts before retiring  -- this blogging can be captivating and time-consuming.

Throughout our discussions I keep thinking of John Goodlad's little book that was published, yet again, last year by the Phi Beta Kappa International Society. I had the great good fortune to meet and work extensively with John in the 70s when he was researching and writing his impressive study of schooling. We have remained friends over all these years, and I credit him, Edythe Gaines and Kathy Bloom (along with the rest of the gang of arts in education pioneers in those days) with the framework I have developed over the years to try to understand and address the challenges of bringing all the arts to all the children. If you have not read it, I urge you to get hold of a copy; it clears the palate and provides a larger view about the intersections among education, culture, change and democracy.

This is not the place or time to go into the history of arts "in" education (starting in the mid 60s in the halcyon Johnson days) and trace the lessons learned as we faced challenge after challenge, assaults from within and outside  the "field" and the eternal problems of never enough time, money or stable leadership to make progress in any organized let alone systematic way. About the only thing the "field" agreed on in those days was that we wanted to change the status quo; the problem was that we could never fully agree on what that was in what turned out to be a very complex and confusing mixture of approaches, methods and phlosophies about arts education.

As a member of PDK, I get its monthly Kappan journal, and December has a honey of a piece by Larry Cuban (who with David Tyack wrote the landmark book, "Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform").  Larry writes about the problems of fixing school time, the most precious coin of the instructional realm, and in the process touches on so many of the issues we've been raising in our conversations.

I urge you all to read it, if they've posted it on pdkintl.org or if you can pick it up in the library. Larry skewers the policy and business elites, summarizes many lessons of school change and the failure of reform, and makes some trenchant observations of why changing anything in our schools is hard to do because of the stubborn resistance by the larger (vocal and voting) public to give up their "conservative" values and high expectations of their own schools to socialize, protect, discipline and shape their young for a productive life in their own communities.  Of course, there's nothing about the arts  - there rarely is in the literature on educational change and school reform - but it is easy to play a "mind game" (thank you Sam) and introduce the arts into the picture to get a vivid view of why it's so hard to find time for the arts in our schools.



December 2, 2008 6:25 PM | | Comments (2) |


Thank you Jane for coming to our school today – PS 193Q. Along with the parents and classroom teacher, you viewed, queried and discussed what the students had learned in their dance sessions which incorporated rich vocabulary, history and choreography with Richard Toda from American Ballet Theater.

As the principal of the school, I believe the Arts are integral to the education of the whole child. We’ve been able to maintain our dance program with funds from our Empire State Partnership grant, City Council Cultural Arts grant, State Senate Legislative grant, and donations from our PTA. Without these funds, it would be difficult to sustain such a wonderful opportunity for our students. As a school, we are trying to build capacity by encouraging more teachers to integrate dance into the curriculum.

If everyone started their class with a song, minds would be clear and energy focused. Something as simple as that could start change.

Last night I went to hear high school bands, orchestras and choirs. It was very impressive. Those who chose music that hte kids could accomplish got beautiful results, including a regional youth orchestra that played a Russian piece with a great deal of beauty and cohesiveness. There was one mixed chorus that performed particularly well. I could not help thinking about the lessons of form and harmony that those kids took into the nervous systems and psyches.

We already know how valuable music is for everyone. More studies of its value come out all the time. It does not have to be high art, but it does have to be well done. High time we harnessed its power to create and refresh.

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