The Art of Being Concrete

By Jane Remer

Eric has asked us whether the four ideas suggested by Richard are the key ones to advance the cause of arts education. My response is I don't think so. Here's why:

Sam Hope has just written for us one of the most eloquent and poetic statements about the critical importance of being concrete, of not resorting to generalities or buzzwords when seeking to inspire others to join an effort toward change. Richard's four points are  abstractions,or constructs that don't tell me what he's after. Let me share the lessons I learned when I was working with the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund in six different cities (Seattle, Hartford, LIttle Rock, Winston-Salem, New York, Minneapolis):

If you want to change schools/the status quo, you must set about changing teaching and learning; if you want to change teaching and learning in the arts, you must address the fundamentals of curriculum and instruction, existing standards and policies, and design how you will ingeniously provide arts instruction from say PreK to 12 in every school in your community or district. You must ask yourself what resources you need to do that, find what you don't already have, and working with a bewildering multitude of stakeholders including all the movers and shakers in the community, and with them invent structures that will provide time in the day and the school year to teach in, through and about the arts to every child. (Good luck).

You do all this mind-bending, highly political (but not policy drivern) work with teachers, supervisors, administrators, parents, state and local decision-makers, etc. Only when you have a sketch of this design, a rationale for it's significance to this community, and the backing of a few local champions, can you start to think about the infrastructure, the policy, the quality and accountability issues, the data collection and analysis to keep everyone honest, and the advocacy based on concrete programs in action. Only then can you begin to convince folks that this is valuable, good stuff and must be paid for, sustained and grown....across the system (and if you have a government grant, beyond.)

 And then the really hard work of sustaining and surviving begins. It is a challenge, but I believe it can be done.


December 3, 2008 6:46 PM | | Comments (3) |


I'm late finding this debate, but I have the excuse that I have been working hard to actually do what you are talking about. I find the discussion overwhelming. Makes me doubt whether I should be involved at all.
This post is right. Making it happen for actual students is incredibly difficult on so many levels. I have no special skills. I am just a mom who saw the impact of music education on her own child and wants to provide that for children who can't afford to pay for it. The most distressing aspect is the politics: people in music ed fighting over turf rather than working together.
You all are speaking from an overview position while I'm worried about getting an instrument in Donovan's hands and how to get Claudia to rehearsal. The actions you propose wouldn't filter down to my level until Claudia's a grandmother. I want to help the children that need it right now.

In my experience this post is right on. It is when we work on behalf of an actual set of children, in a real district, with a specific "bewildering multitude of stakeholders", that we can hope to build relevant scalable programs that can be sustained.

I think there is something about the specificity of place and time that should be taken into account when we formulate an action agenda that is likely to work across the field and on the ground.

Communities can build a local frame for action by building consensus around a few key questions like: What do we value in arts education? What do we want to make happen for our children and to what end? What kind of approach do we believe will accomplish this best and why? What is possible to do now? What might we make possible in the future? What are the outcomes we want for our children?

The framing conversation a community of stakeholders has before they start to take action can inform what action they take, when and why.

I do want to clarify that I wasn't necessarily offering these bullets as my own prescription of the specifics we should be employing, but as trends or buckets of work that I observe the field working on/talking about.

I do think that in a general, certainly less than concrete way, you're seeing a number of ingredients necessary to pursue what has described. That being said, it's pretty complicated in terms on the details and whether or not there should or could be coordination beyond local work, as Eric has been asking about, and how well the work can be done in a large scale.

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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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