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The Joe McCarthy of Art Education

Apologies first, to all those who love Joe McCarthy. He still has a big following in certain political circles.
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First it was an attack earlier this year on Maxine Greene and now it’s an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal: The Political Assault on Art Education, both by Michelle Marder Kamhi.

A brief excerpt: 

Ms. Desai is part of a growing movement of art education professors and
others who think that the primary aim of art education should be to
achieve what they view as “social justice.” Their influence is evident
in the NAEA, which adopted “Art Education and Social Justice” as this
year’s convention theme. To drive the message home, the logo employed
for the meeting was the raised-fist symbol commonly associated with
radical political activism–in this instance, clenching a pair of paint
brushes.

It reminds me of this quote by Joe McCarthy (February 9, 1950):

This is glaringly true in the State Department. There the bright
young men who are born with silver spoons in their mouths are the ones
who have been most traitorous. . . .

I have here in my hand a
list of 205 . . . a list of names that were made known to the Secretary
of State as being members of the Communist Party and who nevertheless
are still working and shaping policy in the State Department. . . .

As
you know, very recently the Secretary of State proclaimed his loyalty
to a man guilty of what has always been considered as the most
abominable of all crimes–being a traitor to the people who gave him a
position of great trust–high treason. . . .

When I read this stuff coming out of Ms. Kamhi, it makes me wonder whether this has the potential to become a larger issue, perhaps placing arts education into the hands of those who would like to reawaken the culture wars. Wouldn’t it be a shame if the issue of arts education became framed as one of anit-American propaganda? Wouldn’t it be a shame if the issue of arts education became one of militant teachers inculcating their young naive students to overthrow the government?

With arts teachers being laid off all across the country, is the handful of art professors teaching art and social justice in their universities something to worry about?

It’s a red herring, of course.

You don’t often see an editorial on arts education in the Wall Street Journal. What a shame it had to be this article, instead of something that pointed out the very real issue, the very real shame of how a curriculum narrowed to exclude arts learning only hurts our children.

Comments

  1. Henry Peyrebrune says:

    While I absolutely agree that the arts should be part of every child’s education and that it is a shame that the WSJ and other papers are not using their editorial pages to decry the loss of culture in many schools, I simply don’t see any connection whatsoever between McCarthyism and Ms. Kamhi’s criticism of art education that is oriented toward social justice.
    Clearly, the movement to base arts education on social justice and social reconstruction is a political view of the arts. Ms. Kamhi is making a political statement by calling them out. Why is one type of political statement permitted and the other apparently forbidden?

  2. What is the relationship between Kamhi’s quote and McCarthy’s? Kamhi simply described (and accurately so) the logo the NAEA used for its past conference.
    If anyone is placing art education in a precarious position it is the “handful” of art educators who have formed an ideological block at the highest academic levels of teacher education and research. This block had become what it professes to abhor: demagogues who do not tolerate dissension and, in their stranglehold on the field’s professional journals, squelch the voices of others. That Kamhi had to go outside the field to be heard is their own fault.

  3. The correlation is that both Kahmi and McCarthy reflect a mentality of some rightwingers that government programs should be shut down or purged if participants express views they don’t like. Similar rightwing attacks have been made against NPR and PBS. America is the only developed country where the right so consistently tries to control or silence people participating in publically funded arts and broadcasting. That is one reason America is the only devloped country in the world without a comprehensive system of public arts funding. As a result, our cultural lives are seriously curtailed. Thank you, Mr. Kessler, for your courageous stand.

  4. Mark Bauerlein says:

    A remarkable post with a bitter irony at its root: it uses a McCarthy-style smear to attack an opponent.

  5. “A McCarthy-style smear”? Hardly. The smear was on Maxine Greene, among others, and was conducted by Ms. Kamhii while attempting to whip up fears of the NAEA being taken over by radicals. That last point is laughable, if you know anything about the NAEA. A professor or two who teach art education and focus on social justice does not a field make. And labeling Maxine Greene a radical is simply sad and pathetic, although I can’t imagine Maxine would object to the term itself, only the manner in which it was used by Ms. Kamhi.

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