Recently by Jane Remer

In an email to the bloggers, Doug posed the following question:

1. What is realistic to expect from arts organizations in arts learning? That is to say, what is the potential for arts organizations recognizing their deep interest in arts learning? Or, as the post about the National Performing Arts Convention hints, have they already? One way of putting the question is whether there is a growing realization that the lack of arts education is having a detrimental effect? (Even if as Eric Booth puts it there's not yet collective action.)

 2.Linked to this point, as Laura notes, what is at stake - that is, do folks agree there is a link between arts learning and both our cultural life and the ability of folks to take part in it?

I have worked extensively in and with both arts organizations and schools over the years. There is, of course, no simple answer to the question because there are many kinds of arts organizations. Some are dedicated to working in schools, K-12 (e.g., Young Audiences, ArtsConnection, Studio in a School, Lincoln Center Institute, etc), others are focused on one or more art forms for whom public performance or exhibitions are a primary purpose; many of the latter have education and/or outreach departments. Oddly enough, education is often the lowest priority in arts organizations just as the arts are often the lowest priority in public schools.

With some major exceptions across the country, most arts organizations provide arts experiences; these experiences may or may not connect to their repertory or collections. They tend to rely on artists (some trained, some not) to conduct these experiences, in visits or "residencies"  both in schools and other venues. Very few of these organizations think about or provide the arts as learning (scope and sequence, developed over time, in courses of study, in which students learn arts knowledge, skills, understanding, history, aesthetics, criticism and the like.) Some of these organizations have extensive experience in arts partnerships often funded by state and local arts councils; these tend to focus more on arts learning, in projects that explore particular themes, ideas or art works.

Overall, I would venture that most of the arts work offered by arts organizations is not concerned with arts learning (as defined above.) While most arts organizations these days are probably hopeful that they are building future audiences, if they work extensively with poor or inner city populations they are keenly aware that it is unlikely a significant number of students will have easy access to the kind of money it takes to go regularly to arts events in their communities. However, whenever there are funding cuts for the arts in schools, the arts community (not the education community, alas) is usually quickest to raise a cry, help marshal resources to "restore" services, and advocate for more arts, more money and more opportunities for kids to experience the arts for a whole variety of reasons, some of which are arts learning.

I do not think boards and administrators in arts organizations think deeply about arts learning nor connect the lack thereof with a weakening of the culture which in turn would have a detrimental effect on their enterprise. Most are concerned primarily with the reputation of the organization, its financial health, and its box office appeal. And many think of their education or outreach programs as both a civic duty and a very good fundraising strategy.

Regarding the second question, I'm not sure many people stop to think about the connections or the impact of one set of circumstances on another. It would be interesting to know more about it.


It's been a chock-full five days, full of positions, perspectives, ideas, frustrations, agreements and arguments, and some beautiful poetry, passion and perseverence. It has given me a much deeper understanding of some of the differences in our "field" and some of the strands of near consensus. But the complexity, foci, and concerns expressed are so incredibly diverse, especially when it comes to constructs like  education, values, methods, strategies, not to mention purposes, goals, visions and missions, that I think our best chance is to just keep on talking to, past, around, at, with etc each other just so we can recognize, respect and honor the differences.

We each have such unique perspectives and points of view that it is probably amazing that we agreed (or at least didn't burst into rage when we didn't) as much as we did.

The future will reveal our degree of acceptance of the huge arts education pluralism that we have just uncovered as only the tiny tip of the iceberg. That, itself, is a revelation.

Thanks to everyone for the ride. I hope it continues. I suspect it will within the ever-changing "interest groups" that helped us form our conversations.

Happy Holidays and New Year! 

December 5, 2008 1:15 PM | | Comments (0) |

Moy, it is good to hear that Eric, you and your foundation are interested in carrying this conversation forward. I gather from other posts that others would be interested, too. The question is how best to do this. And of course, what is the this. Many agendas have surfaced over the last four days; we dealt fairly quickly with the Rand agenda at first, and then moved on to more general issues about arts education survival and the need for change in the status quo.

I think almost everyone blogging want to see arts education survive and thrive. The question is what are the best strategies to accomplish that end, and on that there is not much agreement among the current group.

I would hope that tomorrow folks might weigh in on what they think are good next steps. It would be a shame to see the momentum of this exchange die, without a trace.


December 4, 2008 7:42 PM | | Comments (2) |

Two short observations:

1. Laura (and Rand) recommend collaboration and serious discourse between the arts and the arts education communities. I strongly recommend including the research and the general education communities. As change in schools is about the power and who has it (as I say, it's political), neither the arts community nor the arts education community (alas) are in positions of power (which is one of the reasons we are blogging away at these issues). In some respects, the research and the education communities aren't much stronger, but if we pull together, there is a larger likelihood that "they" will pay attention to us and our concerns, a larger chance of action,

2. For your reading pleasure: I attach a connection to a guest editor piece for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer by John Goodlad that brilliantly summarizes the context and the background for this blog. While it doesn't mention the arts, the implications are "powerful" and worth your attention..

In short, the answer to what is to be done is, we're doing it...but the larger answer is that we and others must keep on keeping on....enlarging the circle of respondents and audiences...I hope we attract both the powerful and the thoughtful


December 4, 2008 10:19 AM | | Comments (0) |

Richard sent in a comment which should show up on the blog soon (I just got it for "approval"), but I wanted to "publish" it to make sure to share it with everyone.  Here is what Richard wrote:

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.


Thanks, Richard, for the clarification. Here's the rub: The holy grail of reform/change is elusive. Once it appears to be "in motion" (note I did not say "working") everyone is in a huge hurry to "replicate" it, that is, in USDOE parlance "bring it to scale."....and that haste and optimism is always the undoing of any promising strategy, approach, experiment etc....especially in education, and especially American education.

To summarize (and if you want a list of books beside my own that reinforce what I'm about to say, let me know -- the authors include researchers/practitioners/professors Richard Elmore, John Goodlad, Seymour Sarason, David Tyack and Larry Cuban, - for starters):

To state what would seem obvious (but what is consistently ignored by the policy police, both public and private, who want to make sure their "investment" in change pays off by generalizing to everyone else on the planet), every classroom, every school, every district has it's own "culture", politics, (and education is always political), values, and ways of doing business. To assume that the ways your school figured out how to solve a problem, let's say providing arts education to every child in the school in a course of study that has scope and sequence throughout all the grades, to assume that your choices, solutions and experience will "transfer" (apply) to anyone else without a huge amount of adjustment, adaptation and revision (if not overhauling), is simply vain. My experience with the six school district members of the League of Cities for the Arts in Education (JDR 3rd Fund enterprise) taught me and everyone else engaged some rich lessons.

All you can reasonably expect is that, with enough instances of "success" (and that's another challenge - by whose definition?), you can in fact generalize some of the fundamental beliefs, strategies, and criteria for constructing your own version of a solution to say, the arts education problem I just described above. You cannot prescribe uniform change in our idiosyncratic school systems with wildly different socio-economic characteristics and understandings of the arts as education. 

So, bringing invention to scale works in factories, engineering  and to some degree in those countries that have a national curriculum (though the implementation of that curriculum is always influenced by those who teach).

We're back to one school at a time, I'm afraid, and the point is to accept that and then try to figure out what the essential characteristics and strategies  for change are required to allow us to make some suggestions about creating a good process for making top notch arts education accessible to all kids.

We have a lot of work to do, not the least of which is coming to some kind of consensus on what is meant by quality teaching and learning in, through and about the arts. But, of course, that's where the rubber hits the road because there are so many variations of arts education, so many different sources of instruction, and so far, other than the NAEP assessment several years ago, no consensus on how to assess excellence.

I suspect that if we could get Bill Clinton and a bunch of his wonks together to address the challenge and come up with the money to do some long-range (5 to 10 years) research and development in strategic spots across the country, we might make some progress with this tantalizing question. 



December 4, 2008 7:43 AM | | Comments (3) |

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 have a full day tomorrow (Wednesday) in schools and at arts policy meetings, so I thought I'd jot down a few thoughts before retiring  -- this blogging can be captivating and time-consuming.

Throughout our discussions I keep thinking of John Goodlad's little book that was published, yet again, last year by the Phi Beta Kappa International Society. I had the great good fortune to meet and work extensively with John in the 70s when he was researching and writing his impressive study of schooling. We have remained friends over all these years, and I credit him, Edythe Gaines and Kathy Bloom (along with the rest of the gang of arts in education pioneers in those days) with the framework I have developed over the years to try to understand and address the challenges of bringing all the arts to all the children. If you have not read it, I urge you to get hold of a copy; it clears the palate and provides a larger view about the intersections among education, culture, change and democracy.

This is not the place or time to go into the history of arts "in" education (starting in the mid 60s in the halcyon Johnson days) and trace the lessons learned as we faced challenge after challenge, assaults from within and outside  the "field" and the eternal problems of never enough time, money or stable leadership to make progress in any organized let alone systematic way. About the only thing the "field" agreed on in those days was that we wanted to change the status quo; the problem was that we could never fully agree on what that was in what turned out to be a very complex and confusing mixture of approaches, methods and phlosophies about arts education.

As a member of PDK, I get its monthly Kappan journal, and December has a honey of a piece by Larry Cuban (who with David Tyack wrote the landmark book, "Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform").  Larry writes about the problems of fixing school time, the most precious coin of the instructional realm, and in the process touches on so many of the issues we've been raising in our conversations.

I urge you all to read it, if they've posted it on or if you can pick it up in the library. Larry skewers the policy and business elites, summarizes many lessons of school change and the failure of reform, and makes some trenchant observations of why changing anything in our schools is hard to do because of the stubborn resistance by the larger (vocal and voting) public to give up their "conservative" values and high expectations of their own schools to socialize, protect, discipline and shape their young for a productive life in their own communities.  Of course, there's nothing about the arts  - there rarely is in the literature on educational change and school reform - but it is easy to play a "mind game" (thank you Sam) and introduce the arts into the picture to get a vivid view of why it's so hard to find time for the arts in our schools.



December 2, 2008 6:25 PM | | Comments (2) |

Returning to the first question Laura posed a few days ago, I will explore the territory that has, with a few exceptions, been pretty much sidestepped. Whether one agrees or not with her report's definitions or arguments about the implied relationships between the arts, the schools and American Culture, and whether or not we are talking about policy, practice or preferences, the gorilla in the room is "the public schools."

Bascially, Laura argues that there is a relationship between teaching the arts (in Rand's case, the "high" arts) and the quality of our culture, and therefore, the American public schools have a role and responsibility for making the arts "accessible" (offered in scope and sequence, Kindergarten through High School), equitably distributed (to all children in every grade in every school in the country). What she does not address is the pervasive issue of highly variable quality.It is my position that access, equity and quality are what we should expect of public education when it comes to the arts (and any other subject).

I hope you will accept, for a moment, that my background, training and experience as an artist (dance, theater, music, poetry, expository writing, etc), educator and researcher qualify me as one of Elliot Eisner's "connoisseurs." Borrowing that mantle for a minute, I will state my reasons for the trinity of access, equity and quality:

  • As critical and elusive as it is to find the ideal access and equity in most school systems, quality is even more of a challenge. What good is it to claim that all schools and all children have full and inimpeded access to the arts throughout their elementary and secondary education if the teaching of those disciplines ranges anywhere from inadequate to sterling?
  • Without both pre-service and inservice professional development for teachers, their supervisors, and yes, administrators, there is little chance of sustained quality instruction by eager and willing teachers in the classrooms. Frameworks, blueprints and other resource materials help enormously, but more is needed to encourage and support teachers who try to authentically incorporate the arts into their classrooms without benefit of expert coaching and guidance. 
  • As much as I champion the promise of carefully built cultural and community arts partnerships and the potentially illuminating roles of artists as trained and professionally developed resources to the schools in their locales, there will never be enough money to provide each and every school with these "credentialled"  artists at every grade level, K-12. And artists, much like arts educators, can run the gamut of quality.
  • Until and unless the school, arts and research communities sit down together to discuss, design, field test and carry out a multi-dimensional framework for assessing arts learning, instruction and curriculum design, respect for and acceptance of arts education will remain elusive. We must design a fair and equitable system to assess the effectiveness of services and programs that claim to result in arts skills, knowledge, understanding, performance, and authentic connections to students' lives and their communities.
  • Our goal should be to demonstrate convincingly how access, equity and quality in our public schools can produce enviable cognitive, social, emotional and physical growth in all our public school youngsters.

I see this not as a national or federal task (education is still a state responsibility) but as a state and local challenge, and certainly an individual school community necessity. From the bullet points above, and others that should be added, it could be relatively easy to design a research and development study that would operationalize the multiple implications embedded in the "design.".

This is the kind of work that fares best when it brings together public and private (foundation and other) resources, operates both from the grass to the top roots and down again, and brings together all the central and "outlier" players. As an old hand at program design, research and evaluation, I am just itching for the chance for a group of people like us to  to take a stab at it. 

Any takers?

December 2, 2008 9:49 AM | | Comments (0) |

I have decided to move a comment I just left in another corner of the "room" into the spotlight. I am troubled by what sound like dismissive remarks about schools and school people and their willingness or ability to contribute to the entire enterprise we are discussing.

I am pasting in my response below:

Response to Bob Morrison's comment: "The formula is simple: Data informs advocacy, advocacy informs public policy, public policy creates change. The execution of the formula is a key to increased access to and participation in the arts in our schools. "
While I agree that access and equity are powerful ideas, I find your statement ingenuous; it is teacher and principal and educator proof and thus bound to failure. Most of the above addresses forces outside and beyond schools. And what makes you all think that public policy about or for the arts has made an iota of difference over the last 50 years? The challenge, I believe is to accept, respect and engage the school community in this kind of discussion and thinking; data analysis and policy wonking will not create lasting change that the people in the schools will recognize, acknowledge or implement. That is the very reason that every old and recent attempt at school reform has failed. It ignores the very actors on whom sucess depends.

December 1, 2008 2:16 PM | | Comments (4) |

I was struck by Ed Pauly's keen observation about the arts "as another special interest group." It has been abundantly clear to me that if we continue to do (even twice as hard) what we've done before, we'll keep getting the same results. Translation: Deaf ears and impatience with more arts advocacy, more rationales for the arts, more attempts to portray the arts as miracle workers that claim, as former AERA president Eva Baker has said (I paraphrase): ...can do everything except wash my windows and clean my floors. As I have often said, the Arts Emperor has no clothes when desperate and far-fetched arguments are advanced to include them as instrumental to school reform, higher test scores, and global competition.

I think Ed put his finger on a very important and sensitive issue: Why, after all these years of advocacy, campaigning, claiming, and research are we still stuck in the rut of complaining about our relatively low status in the schools?

Why have there been no serious and sustained efforts to create a constitutency in the public schools who would champion the arts as part of basic education for every child?

Why have we settled for "pockets of excellence" as demonstrations of the learning power of the arts when what we have always needed to aim for was a critical mass of teachers, principals, parents, schools, administrators and students who, through their own school or community-based experience understood the value of the arts to cognitive, social, emotional and physical human growth and development in that artificial environment called "school?"

Let's take another look at Doug McLennan's phrasing of the question:

New research by RAND and sponsored by The Wallace Foundation suggests that a generation of Americans has not developed the knowledge or skills to engage with our cultural heritage. Without that engagement, the arts as we know them are unsustainable over the long run. Can anything be done?

First: It's not just "a generation" that has been skipped; the arts have almost never been part of the preparation of most teachers and their principals. Second: Do we really have a "cultural heritage" that is arts friendly? Isn't that part of what we've been trying to develop over all these years? Third: The arts as we know them are unsustainable over the long run: Perhaps they are,  perhaps they should be, perhaps not, but it sounds like we're prematurely lamenting the death of a civilization.

It's probably time that we faced the fact that Americans have not, as a whole, been "high arts" friendly for a lot of social, economic and historical reasons. Our fortunes generally rise in good economic times and falter or even fall out when money is scarce.

Perhaps it is time to accept the arts' position on the margins and to gather together with all our colleagues in the schools to talk about ways to systematically and intelligently incorporate them in the daily teaching and learning of our public schools. As I believe that change takes place one person, class, school, district at a time, we need to develop strategies for conversations with the only people, in the final analysis, whose championship and support will make a difference in the long run.

December 1, 2008 8:14 AM | | Comments (0) |

Questioning Assumptions, Searching for Definitions and Finding an Entry Point

I am delighted to participate in the ArtsJournal debate on arts education this week. Laura Zakaras has launched our conversation with a number of assertions and questions. To begin, I will question some of these assumptions. Ultimately, probably in my next post, I will try to find my way into the enormously complex question of what we should expect of public education. I'll start by looking at Ms. Zakaras' assumptions, both explicit and implicit.

"Will our culture suffer if we don't do more to teach the arts [to public school children]?" Well, what do we mean by culture? Whose culture? What do we mean by "more" -- than what? How? When? How well? With what infrastructure and resources?  What do we mean by "teach the arts?" Where is our sense of accountability for qualiy?

To my way of thinking, there is no single American culture, let alone cultural system. Nor am I aware of any overall arts policy (notwithstanding the voluntary national standards). "More" is a vague term and not always better (in quality.) There is no one "best" or "most effective" way to teach the arts, although some people have preferences (or biases). Not all people need to be "enabled" to enter into arts experiences, and not all profound arts experiences give pleasure or even clear meaning. 

Most important, I do not agree with the argument that public education is capable of making a serious dent in attendance at arts events...which raises the question of whether we want to  teach the arts to improve our culture (however that is defined) or whether we hope to produce more arts "engagement" and patrons (butts in seats), or whether we share John Dewey's conviction that the arts are important to everyone's quality of life in a democracy, for a whole host of reasons, most of which have been repeated over and over during the last fifty years without making a sustainable dent in the status quo.

One final question: I wonder what research supports the implied, and in the Cultivating Demand Report, explicit preference for aesthetic education as the "preferred" approach for teaching all students the arts. There are many other effective ways of providing arts education, and many of them are alive and well, albeit in those scarce"pockets of excellence" that the arts education community likes to point to with pride.

Perhaps the most important definitions, then, that we need to address are "culture,"arts education," and "status quo" -- but as these are all value laden terms, we may not have the world and time for that exercise. I think my next post will address the expectations of public education since I have spent much of my career working in and with schools and districts across the country

November 30, 2008 10:42 AM | | Comments (1) |


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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