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Guest Blog: Jane Remer’s CliffNotes–Scorched Earth: How Will Arts Education Survive The Current Climate?

It’s been a little while since the resident guest blogger on Dewey21C has given us an entry. A big snow day in New York provided the impetus for Jane to get some things off her chest. In a no-holds-barred entry, Jane speaks volumes about the things that trouble so many of us.–RK

As I watch the blizzard obliterate the view from my home office window, I can’t help thinking metaphorically about what’s going on in our country. I urge you to read Kurt Andersen’s powerful article in the Feb. 5, 2010 New York Magazine, to set the stage and the “given

Then read Diane Ravitch’s stunning posts on Bridging Differences, Closing Schools Solves Nothing and after that, her Two Types of Superintendent for a crystal clear picture of some of what’s going on in American education under the nefarious name of “reform.”

Question: What kind of a chance does arts education have in the current political, social and yes, aesthetic environment?

scorched-earth.jpgAnswer: In this atmosphere, the arts don’t stand a chance to survive, let alone flourish.
We have always had to fight for the arts in America and arts education in our schools. It seems to me that the odds of attracting and sustaining attention, attracting and sustaining support within the schools and their communities, and with those few funders who still think about arts education, are slim if not non-existent.
There is so much noise, in the education “sector” alone, about test scores, competition for funds, turning schools around while racing “to the top,” that there is no air left for thoughtful inquiry and study of what’s actually going on in most of our schools in the arts or any other subject for that matter.

Under the current circumstances, with our brand of democracy struggling in an economy still on the brink of collapse, our narrow-minded obsession with data as a stand in for careful observation of human interaction, and the determination of our elected representatives to reduce complex and nuanced social and intellectual challenges and decisions into numerical certainties, we who fight for the arts as education have been effectively ambushed.

In a culture that appears to have lost its balance and keel, where there as yet is no counter-voice or movement to the Tea Party mania, nor to the unproved “logic,” “fairness” or ruthlessness that take down, for example, 19 New York City public schools in one fell swoop, (the majority of which were comprehensive schools). The general public appears to ignore or shrug off our putting lawyers and businessmen (it was generals for a while) in charge of educational decisions and strategies that threaten to destroy an entire public school system. Our democracy needs rethinking and remaking, not a blitzkrieg.

Every day it seems to get worse, because hiding behind data, which is oh-so-malleable and easy-to-fix, are lies that cover-up the failure of the “new” and never-ending school “reform” policies. All the while our school districts burn through the stimulus monies, scorching the earth and desperately grasping at new handouts which by themselves, are way too small to serve all the states and all their districts and all their children. Tell me, when they run dry, (soon), where will this leave the states and districts and our children, and oh yes, the arts as education?

I’ve been through tough times over the years in my pursuit of all the arts for all the children in our schools, pre-K through 16. This is about the worst I’ve seen it because our democratic principles are wobbly and our current throwaway culture has warped our value system. The infrastructure and the American sense of brother and sisterhood is slowly disappearing behind a powerful blizzard that conceals a congress either timid or wallowing in the deceptive ability to just say “no” to everything and anything, and flaunt that nihilism as power.

Nobody seems to know what to do about all this, including our president. I certainly don’t have answers other than to vote or regulate the current robber barons out of power, but when they are so rich they can buy their future, what is to be done? Be sure to read the articles, above…and see what you think.

Jane Remer
February 10, 2010

We are at another rocky precipice in our history that threatens the
survival of the arts in our social fabric and our school systems. The
timing and magnitude of the challenges have prompted me to speak out
about some of the most persistent issues in the arts education field
during the last forty-plus years.
My credo is simple: The arts are a moral imperative. They are
fundamental to the cognitive, affective, physical, and intellectual
development of all our children and youth. They belong on a par with
the 3 R’s, science, and social studies in all of our elementary and
secondary schools. These schools will grow to treasure good quality
instruction that develops curious, informed, resilient young citizens
to participate fully in a democratic society that is in constant flux.
I have chosen the title Cliff Notes for this forum. It serves as
metaphor and double entendre: first, as short takes on long-standing
and complicated issues, and second, as a verbal image of the
perpetually perilous state of the arts as an essential part of general
public education. I plan to focus on possible solutions and hope to
stimulate thoughtful dialogue on-line or locally.

Jane Remer.jpgJane
Remer has worked nationally for over forty years as an author,
educator, researcher, foundation director and consultant. She was an
Associate Director of the John D. Rockefeller 3rd Fund’s Arts in
Education Program and has taught at Teachers College, Columbia
University and New York University. Ms. Remer works directly in and
with the public schools and cultural organizations, spending
significant time on curriculum, instruction and collaborative action
research with administrators, teachers , students and artists. She
directs the Capezio/Ballet Makers Dance Foundation, and her
publications include Changing Schools Through the Arts and Beyond
Enrichment: Building Arts Partnerships with Schools and Your Community.
She is currently writing Beyond Survival: Reflections On The Challenge
to the Arts As General Education. A graduate of Oberlin College, she
attended Yale Law School and earned a masters in education from Yale
Graduate School.

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