The Grass Tops and Grass Roots

By Richard Kessler
Laura Zakaras: It will take a powerful coalition of cultural leaders--including directors of arts organizations and the business leaders that sit on their Boards, the arts policy community, artists, and the professional organizations that represent thousands of arts educators--to change state education policy. Only by working together can they persuade the general education community (and the American public) that the arts should be part of the basic curriculum of the public schools.

No doubt. That beings said, there are more and more studies pointing towards school reform and policy change coming about through grass roots movements. If I were to show the list above to someone at the AFT or NEA (not arts endowment), they would point out that we are missing the larger cohort of teachers and parents, the center of what would make such a coalition potent. Policy is ultimately politics, and elected officials respond to voters. Thus, you're going to have to have parents and an army of teachers to make change on the local level. What is more, there are capacities in "community organizing" (see Rudy Guiliani), research, policy analysis, and more, that remain relatively nascent across the field.

For my entire career in arts education, I have seen arts education as an outlier in the field of education. While programs can make change, most likely temporal, in a school or group of schools, scale, will require the building of coalitions that embrace people beyond what  might be called the "special interest groups."
December 2, 2008 4:57 AM | | Comments (2) |


Nicely put...let's get started

Laura states the obvious when she asserts that the alliance behind arts education must broaden if it hopes to succeed. Schools and education operate on a scarcity dynamic -- they are always dollars and minutes short. The arts must compete with all the other subjects for time and for resources. As subjects that are suspect in an academic environment anyway (the arts are broadly misunderstood as expressive and affective, but not cognitive), is it any wonder that principals and boards of ed give them the short end of the proverbial stick? Ultimately the arts won't succeed unless and until that dynamic changes. I would suggest that the potential for that change is higher now than it has been at any time in the last decades. The pedogogies and limits of NCLB are coming under increasing criticism. There is growing awareness that students will need far more than "the basics" in the new economy and a globe in crisis. Serious educators across the curriculum are concluding that the paradigms of schooling itself need to be rethought. To my mind, they are likely to be our most significant allies.

Leave a comment


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

Our Bloggers

Sam Hope, executive director, The National Office for Arts Accreditation (NOAA);
Jack Lew, Global University Relations Manager for Art Talent at EA;
Laura Zakaras, RAND;
James Cuno, Director, Art Institute of Chicago;
Richard Kessler, Executive Director, Center for Arts Education;
Eric Booth, Actor;
Midori, Violinist;
Bau Graves, Executive director, Old Town School of Folk Music;
Kiff Gallagher 
Bennett Reimer, Founder of the Center for the Study of Education and the Musical Experience, author of A Philosophy of Music Education;
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation;
Moy Eng, Program Director of the Performing Arts Program at The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation;
John Rockwell, critic;
Susan Sclafani, Managing Director, Chartwell Education Group;
Jane Remer, Author, Educator, Researcher
Michael Hinojosa, General Superintendent, Dallas Independent School District 
Peter Sellars, director


Contact us Click here to send us an email... more

Peter Sellars on Creativity & the Voice more

Archives: 39 entries and counting


Blog Sponsor


Recent Comments

Jane Remer commented on The Grass Tops and Grass Roots: Nicely put...let's get started...

Nick Rabkin commented on The Grass Tops and Grass Roots: Laura states the obvious when she asserts that the alliance behind arts edu...