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The First Roadblock to Arts Education Policy Improvement

“If we did it for the arts, we would have to do it for every subject.”

That’s it. There you have it. That’s the first roadblock pulled out of a hat to rationalize “why not.”

road_block.jpgI have heard this particular roadblock deployed many times, including in response to the advocacy for a special form of assistance to help schools without any certified arts teachers locate and hire these teachers. We were we told: “if we did that, we would have to do it for every subject.”

I have even heard this presented in regards to calls for restoration of previously existing funding lines.

It presents a great challenge for any advocate, and in some respects it’s the sort of thing that must be dealt with successfully in order for arts education to advance. In other words, how does one advocate successfully with the policy makers, when they tell you something you know is not quite true.

So, you may wonder how I could take issue with that particular roadblock? What’s false about it?  Well, I would propose that based upon experience and observation, that this particular argument is sophistry. It’s the presentation of a specious argument in order to deflect or deter.

Let’s look at the STEM initiatives as a frame of reference. Something special for Science, Technlogy, Engineering, and Math, don’t you think? Were those proposing  STEM initiatives told it couldn’t be done, for it would have to be done for all the other subjects? Let’s face it, STEM is deeply embedded with Race to the Top. It was an engine within Race to the Top. Did anyone tell the USDOE or the state applicants you can’t do that?

And as an aside, there’s a lesson here too, about STEM, the arts, and the desire to create STEAM. Many people feel that there is promise in adding the arts to STEM. It’s a good idea, and I support it. You read editorials, you hear about some initiatives. My take as to likelihood: the STEM express has very likely left the Race to the Top station and the arts didn’t have a ticket. STEM didn’t just happen overnight. We were very late to the table, and late to join forces with the successful advocates such as The STEM Education Coalition.

Okay, I digress.

How about the Common Core standards? Did anyone mention to the National Governor’s Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers that you couldn’t do this for ELA and Math, if you didn’t for all the other subjects? And wait, it’s more than simply the standards. It’s a also a giant national initiative as part of Race to the Top, to develop the next generation performance-based assessment for the standards. It’s all a web of policy and eventual practice, that many see is the entire web of education policy and practice, and it is based upon two subjects: ELA and math.

Okay, let’s look at another example: providing incentives for the hiring of teachers in high need areas. If you can do it for math, shouldn’t you be able to do it for the arts?

I could go on, and on, and on, but the point should be well taken by now.

Is there a teachable moment for this field, in light of what I am blathering about?

Personally, the issue exists as a microcosm for what holds our work back. The strategies, tactics, and identity that will enable us to successfully overcome this particular roadblock are key to the success in advocacy within the field of arts education, and possibly the arts overall.

Are we there yet? No. But spending time thinking through how to break through is a good part of what we need to be working on.



  1. Beck McLaughlin says

    Thank you for articulating something I knew intuitively but hadn’t been able to put in words. This is a conversation that needs to continue.

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