The Madonna Method of Arts Education

If you're just joining me for the first time, welcome. You've happened on a conversation already in progress, so here's the lowdown: I blogged on my former site, Philly Drama Queen, about Ann Hulbert's New York Times Magazine piece on arts education. Then, I blogged some more (please see previous entry) about the issue.  I'll wait here until you've caught up.

Ok, now catch your breath, hold my hand, and prepare to be depressed...
After poking around a bit more on the NAEP's website, one thing quickly became clear: the government definitely considers the arts to be the country cousins of math, reading and science. Next year, the NAEP plans to 

"administer the assessment to over 1,000,000 students in more than 19,000 public and private schools in each state and the nation."

This testing, whatever you think of it, has been and will be conducted in fourth and eighth grades annually, and in 12th grade for reading and math (this last on a volunteer basis). 

In comparison, the arts were last assessed in 1997, with a sample of roughly 7,000 eighth graders, and covered music, theater and visual arts. Though a dance test was developed, it was dropped due to "the lack of a suitable national sample," a statement which speaks volumes.
The test was somehow revived this year, but seems to have lost its theater component in the intervening decade. Judging by the 1997 results of schools' own reporting--74% of students received no theater instruction--one can only assume that under No Child Left Behind, with its emphasis on funding the three R's at the expense of everything else, the situation has only worsened.

So though schools were tested on their ability to nurture creative thought about visual art and music, the NAEP only processes these results as national scores, leaving states to shrug off responsibility and continue allowing their arts programs to disappear. Remember in Truth or Dare, that Madonna documentary, where Warren Beatty asks her, "Why do anything if it's off-camera?" 
madonna9_180_240.jpgWell it's sort of like that. Why bother teaching something if no one's testing it? It doesn't get you any more money even if your students enjoy it, and in fact, if they enjoy it too much, that might reduce their math and English scores, which will, in turn, reduce funding. 

Wanna know the next time NAEP will test the arts? 2016. Maybe by then they can get rid of music, too.

May 11, 2008 2:06 PM | | Comments (4)


That's the great thing about theatre, which administrators don't understand. It can't be killed. All you need is a space and some bodies. Theatre happens every day everywhere.

The sad thing is that administrators also do not understand is how necessary the arts are. A test score does not teach communication skills, or build self confidence, or team-building. All real world skills, all found in the drama class...

Show me the child who did not aspire to a part in an elementary school play, be it religious, classical or nonsensical and I'll whistle the Mikado for you.

'Childhood's memories are the truths which shape our futures. Shame on the false Etruscan who would cast such aspirations asunder, or blanket them with guilt. For one day, like all old men he must answer to himself and that is his terrible legacy'

And, in my favorite bit of this very healthy and motivating situation, if you're not getting tested for it and you have to make staffing cuts because of reductions in state and federal school funding (yes...I know that the budget numbers as issued by many government agencies show an increase but it's because most of those percentage increases don't reflect the costs incurred in having to do such useful things as testing kindergarten students...use of big crayons is not included from what I understand) guess which departments you're going to look at first?

I'm not buyin' what they're sellin'. I have administered a regional youth orchestra for the last four years. Of the nine-towns that are in our region, three have school orchestras.

The kids who come to my orchestra are getting a fantastic Classical Orchestral education experience, and every one of them is getting a good dose of self-advocacy, civics and learning how to advocate for more and better Arts programming and Arts Education in their public schools, and so are their parents. We are not sitting back waiting anymore for 'the educational system' to dole out or take away the bucks that make the Arts happen/not happen in public schools. We are showing them how it is done. Our public school system in my town is so strapped it can't breathe. I gave up waiting for Godot. Let the people who don't want literate Americans play their cynical games. Let them feed us Bread and give us Circus. Our young people are beyond that and the bad guys don't scare me any more. Go out and start an Arts program for young people, you'll sleep better at night, I can assure you.

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