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Guest Blog, Jane Remer’s CliffNotes: Counting the Arts as An Act of Faith

Here’s a big welcome back to Dewey21C’s regular guest blogger, my dear friend Jane Remer. What Jane has on her mind is very well thrown dart landing right smack dead center in the bull’s eye of what is on everyone’s mind as they read about ESEA, Race to the Top, the Common Core standards project, and dare I even say the very existence of arts education as education budgets tumble all around us, namely how do we count the arts and to what end. RK

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Jane Remer’s CliffNotes: Counting the Arts as An Act of Faith

Some years ago I wrote several versions of a chapter titled Counting the Arts in a still-forthcoming book. The driving question was – as it has been for decades – how do we succeed in counting the arts so that they are taught and counted as core subjects, K-12, for every child? In other words, what theories, methods and measures do we use to demonstrate that when students are carefully and thoroughly taught and trained in the arts (according to national, state and/or local “standards”), we can provide valid and reliable evidence of their learning in and about the arts?

But that is just half the question we need to ask because over the last decade, there have been a number of studies, inquiries and collections of evidence of arts learning, and despite this correlative (not causal) wealth of information, when the socioeconomic climate hits a downturn, the arts gradually disappear from many of our lives and schools.

The other half of the question is where we get all tangled up. Whose arts, taught by whom, when, how often, where, by whose standards, using whose criteria for quality and excellence? Who designs and implements the curriculum and decides on the content of what gets taught and learned? The arts have traveled many roads, taken many forks and jumped on many bandwagons over the last half century.

There are many different brands or genres of arts education and arts educators (classroom teachers, certified arts educators, community artists, etc.) and no consensus on which of them, alone or in combination, if any, are successful in developing boys and girls who can recognize, appreciate, engage in, create, critique and make sense of the process and products of the four art forms of dance, music, theater and visual arts. The plot always thickens and gets even murkier when the arts are claimed as agents for school reform, improved literacy and numeracy, and whatever else is ailing a school system at the moment.

This description covers the arts in the last fifty years or more in American schools. Times change but the fundamental problems with counting the arts as education remain, usually with different names or labels. Foundation support, federal “model” programs, national, state and local arts agencies ebb and flow in their promotion and funding of arts education. I find myself revisiting the same questions we had in the late fifties and early sixties, with still no answers.

The lesson learned here is, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose…with a few variations on the themes. I am more and more convinced it is about time to drop all the wild claims for the arts as agents of reform, massive social change, raising metrical scores and gains in literacy and numeracy, and all the other unproven assertions. We need instead to accept the state, status and repetitious tribulations of the arts as education and start a grass roots and ultimately nationally coordinated campaign for acceptance that the arts do count for the intellectual, social, emotional and physical education of every child, that both hard/quantitative and soft/qualitative evidence rigorously gathered according to explicit criteria and vigorously interpreted is acceptable as “proof” of impact on teaching and learning generally, especially in and about the arts.

In a nutshell, I think our campaign ought to shout out and flout the idea that all Americans be willing to take a tiny or huge leap of faith that, as John D. Rockefeller 3rd used to repeat to us in his JDR 3rd Fund Arts in Education Program days of the 60s and 70s, the arts are essential to our community and the quality of life, and our children deserve them. Period.

I know, I know, we still need to define “arts,” “essential” “community” and quality of life, but I am hoping we can come together on the “children deserve them” — all children, all ages, fine, folk and popular arts….

Go ahead, you finish the list and then perhaps start a local campaign.

Jane Remer April 2, 2010

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JANE REMER’S CLIFFNOTES We are at another rocky precipice in our history that threatens the survival of the arts in our social fabric and our school systems. The timing and magnitude of the challenges have prompted me to speak out about some of the most persistent issues in the arts education field during the last forty-plus years. My credo is simple: The arts are a moral imperative. They are fundamental to the cognitive, affective, physical, and intellectual development of all our children and youth. They belong on a par with the 3 R’s, science, and social studies in all of our elementary and secondary schools. These schools will grow to treasure good quality instruction that develops curious, informed, resilient young citizens to participate fully in a democratic society that is in constant flux. I have chosen the title Cliff Notes for this forum. It serves as metaphor and double entendre: first, as short takes on long-standing and complicated issues, and second, as a verbal image of the perpetually perilous state of the arts as an essential part of general public education. I plan to focus on possible solutions and hope to stimulate thoughtful dialogue on-line or locally.
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Jane Remer.jpgJane Remer has worked nationally for over forty years as an author, educator, researcher, foundation director and consultant. She was an Associate Director of the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund’s Arts in Education Program and has taught at Teachers College, Columbia University and New York University. Ms. Remer works directly in and with the public schools and cultural organizations, spending significant time on curriculum, instruction and collaborative action research with administrators, teachers , students and artists. She directs the Capezio/Ballet Makers Dance Foundation, and her publications include Changing Schools Through the Arts and Beyond Enrichment: Building Arts Partnerships with Schools and Your Community. She is currently writing Beyond Survival: Reflections On The Challenge to the Arts As General Education. A graduate of Oberlin College, she attended Yale Law School and earned a masters in education from Yale Graduate School.
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Comments

  1. “I know, I know, we still need to define ‘arts,’” you say—or to define “art,” I would suggest, as that term covers them all. I know of a book that does just that, but modesty prevents my naming it here.
    You aptly note that “it is about time to drop all the wild claims for the arts as agents of reform [and] massive social change.” On that point, see “Rescuing Art from ‘Visual Culture Studies’” [ http://www.aristos.org/aris-04/rescuing.htm ], by my colleague Michelle Marder Kamhi; and her forthcoming article “The Hijacking of Art Education” (to be posted in Aristos by Friday) regarding the recent “social justice” movement. The theme of this year’s National Art Education Association convention, to be held later this month, is “Art Education and Social Justice” [ http://tiny.cc/NAEA-SocialJustice ].
    Louis Torres, Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts) — http://www.aristos.org

  2. God post – insightful and educational.

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