Final Thoughts

By Laura Zakaras
I am so glad this tapestry of ideas will be archived on this site. There is much to ponder here. Many good questions that were posed but not taken up. Many other questions that were examined from several angles. Many good insights about the environment we're trying to affect. And many thoughts about what might be done and what it would take to do it. I'm sure I speak for all of us, including those who have become our readers, when I say thanks to the good people at The Wallace Foundation for commissioning the RAND study, coming up with the idea of an online conversation, and supporting it; to Doug McLennan for organizing and promoting it; to all our participants for making it so substantive and provocative; and to Moy Eng and the Hewlett Foundation for offering to carry on this work in another form. I also want to acknowledge the people who have come to this site to participate as audiences, some of whom posted comments. Doug tells us that by this morning more than 10,000 people had become engaged in this conversation in one way or another--a sign of powerful interest in this issue. It is easy for us to forget how many of us are out there. There are tens of thousands of arts educators, artists, arts professionals, and researchers, many more thousands of Americans who would like to see more arts education in the schools, and innumerable efforts across this country--large and small, top-down and bottom-up, in schools and in communities--that are bringing more visibility, more resources, and more talent to arts instruction. But there is little connective tissue among the players. This blog is one of those efforts. It is a small one, but because it took place on the Internet, it was able to reach thousands within a matter of days. If our conversation leads to a broader initiative that gains clarity around goals and strategies and develops strong leadership, I hope it will find a way to engage the kinds of people who chose to listen to us this week. Perhaps we can learn some lessons from the historic political campaign we have just witnessed. Is it too audacious to envision using the technologies now at our disposal to inform and engage large numbers of Americans in a movement to make the arts a part of every child's life?
December 5, 2008 10:39 PM | | Comments (5) |


Without some form of artistic expression taught in mainstream education, K-12, adult citizens will lack the creativity needed to solve problems working within any discipline, as well as solving personal problems.
Parents should choose their children's school carefully; observe a class, interview teachers, request to read current lesson plans.
And be an engaged parent in your child's education...go to all the PTA meetings and attend all conferences.
there is no such thing as a failing student...what does exist is a lazy parent.

Just caught this article June 10, 09...

I teach instrumental music at a junior high school in the St. Paul Public Schools. This spring the district cut 19.5 elementary band and orchestra programs. Heartbreaking. This means my junior high music program will not receive instrumental students trained in grades 4,5,6. From now on, students beginning on a wind, string, or percussion instrument will start in the 7th grade, and will need to complete 4 years of learning in one. Not easy to accomplish.
This new education model does not allow the public school band and orchestra programs to maintain the National Standards in performance at grade level. In turn, our inner-city high schools will not be able to serve the gifted music students, in hopes of receiving music scholorships to colleges and universities.

When these programs begin, you will need teachers with experience in teaching hands-on illustration, graphic design, composition, figure-drawing, type design, and simplicity of messgae to students in community centers and churches. Healthy creativity to make statements, away from the isolation of computers, can invigorate a new generation and make artistic memories and friendships/job connections for young artists. Contact me when you need a teacher (credentialled) in the Sacramento, CA area for any of Obama's new programs. I am ready...and yes, I can.

This is the moment to seize the art ed lasso and rope 'em in. Creativity and innovation are (again and finally) being described as key drivers to a healthy economy (they leave out the healthy civilization part but that is a longer, more tough issue to argue about).

One way to QUICKLY assist in increasing and improving art education (and not increase costs to districts) is to start requiring art education components in ALL undergrad college teacher education programs and in some masters' teacher education programs AND in ALL school districts' PD programs - pull off an inside job, so to speak. Also change from within is often more popular than being forced to change by "outside" requirements.

Again, this is the moment, we are finally past justifying the truth in D. Golman's multiple intelligences theories. Differentiated learning styles, multi modal learning, are concepts the teacher ed programs teach but still the arts are usually left out of the picture (let's call it a painting).

We will improve arts ed by bringing it into the "regular" classroom. If we train classroom teachers well this will work. The Writing Project has proven this. If educators think they "cannot write" , they do not teach it well or at all. Once educators attend a very few writing workshops, they identify themselves as writers and then report great success (and satisfaction) and renewed interest in teaching writing.

Part of "what happened" to arts ed (the question and the statement) predates 1/urban districts' budget's contracting and their needs growing (AKA the rise of the property tax rate (burden) as a key indicator of "good schools"), 2/Our downward slide in the global smart kid rankings, 3/NCLB's focus on testing competencies for the three R's, and finally,4/ the fuzzy but really logic behind the often strong public/private sentiment that "the arts" are not primary to education or worse are a luxury or add on to a child's education.

What triggered a lot of the problem is bound up in this: in the 1960's - 1990's women left teaching in droves (the numbers are staggering) for the bigger pay check/status jobs that were finally available to them. The days of the classroom teacher as a smart girl in her HS class who went on to a BA in English or History are over. (Potentially Inflammatory Side note: TFA, KIPP etc etc, should be credited with putting this career back on the horizon for non-education track college kids. Whether this new interest is for the right or wrong reasons is another topic entirely.) With the fast and furious flight of these woman from teaching - the quality of teaching suffered and school culture changed. At the same time, the teacher ed programs become required for certification in most districts and the BA/BS track to teaching became obsolete and then downright impossible as per the certification requirements.

Not to say it is simply about a bunch of dopes then flooding education, in fact the teaching cohort got much more diverse and dynamic BUT the simultaneous move of teaching programs away from a broad liberal arts education (where the arts are imbedded into a lot of the subject matter) and to a professional school model (which left out the arts unless one is an art teacher) robbed the students of experiences that would increase their appreciation, understanding, education and interest in art forms.

Fingers crossed for a new day in the secondary teacher ed programs and also for the professional development programs districts and unions offer.

I hope teacher ed groups and the unions grab this opportunity and have some fun innovating thier ranks so that we can innovate public education.

A final hopeful note is the recent study about Particpation in the Arts by Inland California Residents. It found that people did feel that arts were in their lives and that they experienced them, but what suprised many was that those surveyed thought of the interactions as informal (family sing alongs, art projects at school, holiday based art making) and not formal (i.e. not pay money for a seat, or a specialized class, or an admission fee).

This finding helps the earlier argument about integrating arts into teacher ed programs becasue it removes the pressure to teach to the "old school/academy" norm of classic/high arts and allows for a more diverse and dynamic set of art offerings. We must shift the focus from audience development to public participation, from focus only on the professional artist and see the amateur artist as of equal interest and value.

A long and winding road.


To all of the bloggers and commenters who have made this dialog so enriching.

As has been pointed out... more needs to be done. But how?

I and many of my colleagues are interested in the last statement. We fight the battle to embed the arts into our schools every day. We do it in our own ways that we each found has led to real meaningful systemic change. Others do as well. Often within our own vacuum... largely because we like to focus on creating change and this takes a lot of time and energy leaving little time or support for us to work on the broader agenda.

That said, I for one would support a broader effort and look forward to hearing how this may evolve and how we can help.

Thank you all again... I look forward to "what's next"

Bob Morrison
Chairman Emeritus
Music for All

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This Conversation For decades, as teaching of the arts has been cut back in our public schools, alarms have been raised about the dire consequences for American culture. Artists and arts organizations stepped in to try to... more

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Recent Comments

Vicci Una Johnson commented on Final Thoughts: Without some form of artistic expression taught in mainstream education, K...

Vicci Johnson commented on Final Thoughts: Just caught this article June 10, 09... I teach instrumental music at ...

Diane Bogush commented on Final Thoughts: When these programs begin, you will need teachers with experience in teachi...

lisa robb commented on Final Thoughts: This is the moment to seize the art ed lasso and rope 'em in. Creativity an...

Bob Morrison commented on Final Thoughts: THANK YOU... To all of the bloggers and commenters who have made this dial...