Learning and participation in music, dance, theater, and the visual arts are vital to the development of our children and our communities. Through advocacy, research, partnerships, and professional development, Americans for the Arts strives to provide and secure more resources and support for arts education. Visit AmericansForTheArts.org for more information on the Arts Education Network.
Depending on where you sit, a host of different words may have popped into your head to fill the blank in the title of this post—ranging from “exciting” to “difficult” to plain “weird.”
Based on my experience working with school district leaders in Los Angeles County, I fill in the blank with a simple “engaging.” If allowed to break my own rule and add a few more words, I would say, “necessary if we are serious about engaging new partners.”
During the 2009–10 school year, I worked on Arts for All’s Leadership Fellows Program, a professional development series meant to help school district leaders (namely superintendents, assistant superintendents, and district-level visual and performing arts leads) better advance arts education across their school districts.
Over the course of a school year, leadership teams from five districts in Los Angeles County met monthly to explore topics related to arts education. At the end, when asked to reflect on the elements of the series they found particularly useful, they kept bringing up a particular topic: quality.
Specifically, they enjoyed the session that focused on the four lenses of quality arts education as defined in Harvard Project Zero’s The Qualities of Quality. That session also delved into using the lenses as a tool to observe, assess, and discuss what was happening within their classrooms. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the last several months I’ve been hearing a lot about “collective impact.” This is the idea that social change can be more deeply rooted and successful if there is a coordinated effort to bring together dozens of organizations through a broad cross-sector approach around a shared agenda. Simply stated, by working collectively we can make a greater impact.
The Winter 2011 issue of the Stanford Social Innovation Review, written by Mark Kramer and John Kania, is aptly titled Collective Impact and it provides the best overview of how this movement is helping communities create meaningful reform around education, health, and welfare issues.
The assumption is that large-scale efforts require multiple stakeholders. What sets collective impact apart from other collaboratives is that the collective impact effort builds a central infrastructure, has a dedicated staff, and holds a shared agenda as well as a system of measuring outcomes. The “collective” is about many and diverse entities working together with a common goal.
A quick Google search brings up dozens of references to articles and websites that describe how collective impact efforts have supported social change.
Locally we’ve talked in some arts education circles about how we might use a collective impact approach to create a better system for educating our children. I’m always interested in arts education being at the table when discussions about education reform take place but so often, it’s not on anyone’s radar except the arts organizations that are dancing as fast as they can to provide programs in schools to fill in gaps or enhance district efforts. Read the rest of this entry »
Okay class, please open your civics book to learn about the United States and its government. Now turn the page and we’ll learn about state and local government. And turn the page to find out about elections, parties, vetoes—Hey! Wake up! This stuff is important.
How does one engage a class of 22 seventh-grade students in a discussion of civics?
For the past two years, Roosevelt Middle School in Palm Beach County (FL) has been involved in an arts integration pilot. Resource Depot, a cultural organization that collects reusable materials from local businesses and donates those items to educators, teamed up with teaching artist Jennifer O’Brien, and social studies teacher Cierra Kauffman to teach civics through the arts.
Challenged with making the House and Senate relevant to her students and still required to teach the vocabulary and concepts of government, Kauffman had to find a way to reach the kids and get them engaged.
O’Brien needed to find the art form that would work with the subject matter and the pace of the students.
The composer Morton Feldman wrote in his essay The Anxiety of Art that being creative means living with uncertainty and tolerating the uneasiness of not knowing the outcome.
In Feldman’s view, the only way to ensure success is to copy a proven model—thus his observation, “That’s why Ives, Partch and Cage are dismissed as iconoclastic—another word for unprofessional. If you’re original, you’re an amateur; it’s your imitators, those are the professionals.”
Right now, in a culture in which assessments and metrics often play an outsize role in curricular decisions, the arts in schools are often forced to reduce risk to ensure acceptable outcomes. We’re constantly measuring student performance—both individually and collectively—in tests, competitions, and more.
It is very important to be able to answer one right answer questions and to perform to measurably high standards. But that should not be the only way we teach the arts. Creativity most fully flourishes when the goal is to constantly find new solutions, to treat questions as open-ended—to not know the outcome. That requires a culture of risk.
Taking risks can be chaotic and scary: For the student, who may be surprised and shocked where his or her imagination may lead; for the teacher, who may not be able to anticipate what a classroom full of risk-takers may come up with. But the rewards can be extraordinary—in student motivation, self-expression, and self-discovery. Read the rest of this entry »
First, let me confess that I’m trapped on a plane and hungry. I’m dreaming of a great dinner and hoping I can get a recommendation when my plane touches down.
What does this have to do with quality arts education? Well, I’m hoping for a quality dining experience and here is how I imagine I’ll find it.
I’ll ask someone for a recommendation, and she’ll say, “Oh you should try (insert name of restaurant).” This begins a conversation that will teach me why this particular restaurant is being recommended. Is it because of the food, maybe even a particular menu item, or did my friend/cabbie also factor in service, ambiance, speed, cost, etc.?
A quality dining experience means different things to different people. Why should it be any different when we discuss quality arts education?
As I mentioned, and you’ve no doubt experienced, the question, “Can you recommend a restaurant?” is the beginning of a conversation. By listening and asking questions about what is being recommended and why it is better than some other restaurant, I get to know the person offering the suggestion and what she values.
Often (though not always) I feel that we, as arts educators, shy away from similar conversations about quality within our field. If you came to Dallas and asked me to recommend a restaurant, I’d definitely share some of my favorite places. And, it wouldn’t scar me for life if you disagreed with or didn’t visit any of my offerings. I know not everyone has the same tastes. Read the rest of this entry »
All week, we will be sharing (numbered) points from Seth Godin’s new education manifesto, Stop Stealing Dreams (what is school for?). You can download a free copy of the full 100-page manifesto at Squidoo.com.
3. Back to (the wrong) school
A hundred and fifty years ago, adults were incensed about child labor. Low-wage kids were taking jobs away from hard-working adults.
Sure, there was some moral outrage about seven-year-olds losing fingers and being abused at work, but the economic rationale was paramount. Factory owners insisted that losing child workers would be catastrophic to their industries and fought hard to keep the kids at work—they said they couldn’t afford to hire adults. It wasn’t until 1918 that nationwide compulsory education was in place.
Part of the rationale used to sell this major transformation to industrialists was the idea that educated kids would actually become more compliant and productive workers. Our current system of teaching kids to sit in straight rows and obey instructions isn’t a coincidence—it was an investment in our economic future. The plan: trade short-term child-labor wages for longer term productivity by giving kids a head start in doing what they’re told.
Large-scale education was not developed to motivate kids or to create scholars. It was invented to churn out adults who worked well within the system. Scale was more important than quality, just as it was for most industrialists. Read the rest of this entry »
It is always useful for me when starting a discussion about the arts as education to search for definitions that may help to bring participants closer together with the language we chose in our dialogues. In this case, I have asked myself: What do the words quality, engagement and partnership mean to each of us who work in different aspects of the field in different areas of the country?
In our field where there is so much diversity of philosophy, pedagogy, goals and objectives, and policy, I for one would welcome a starting point that serves as a “meet and greet” or “getting to know you” opportunity. I am game for sharing my own thoughts, and would be interested to hear others’.
Over the years, I have designed, implemented, researched, evaluated, and celebrated the idea of partnership as a critical strategy for uniting the arts and education worlds. One of my books (Beyond Enrichment: Building Effective Arts Partnerships with Schools and Your Community) deals with the value and challenges of collaboration in complex examples taken from schools, districts, and arts organizations across the country.
For me, arts education partnerships have flourished at the national, state, district, and local levels beginning in the 1960s, peaking nationally in the 70s and 80s, and then continuing sporadically in what I call “pockets of excellence.” The challenges for partnerships from the start have included their fragile sustainability. We are always faced with the difficulty of finding public, private and other resources to grow promising programs and practices, especially when politics, policy and availability of money have been unsteady or unreliable. Read the rest of this entry »
Happy Arts Education Month, and welcome to our bi-annual blog salon. To celebrate Arts Education Month, I’ve invited authors from around the country to tackle a big issue in arts education—quality. Participants will be discussing what that means in terms of engaging our students and what partnerships are required of our organizations in order to deliver quality arts education.
This topic was inspired by a recent trip to Dallas with the arts education council members from Americans for the Arts. One of the board members at Americans for the Arts, Margie Reese, graciously agreed to host us so that we could learn more about some of the programs at her organization, Big Thought.
During our 2 days visiting Big Thought, we learned about the driving philosophy behind their programming, which was this simple equation: relevance + excitement = engagement.
There is, of course, a lot of substance behind this equation, including numerous partnerships across the city with teachers, libraries, scientists, and artists, which truly embodies the idea that “it takes a village” to educate a child.
And in order to ensure the quality of their programs, Big Thought has developed a process to document, evaluate, and improve their programs, which they share on a new website called Creating Quality. Read the rest of this entry »
We thought we’d celebrate the start of Arts Education Month (also known as Youth Art Month, Music in Our Schools Month, and Theatre in Our Schools Month) by bringing back our “Raisin Brahms” public service announcement from our last “The Arts. Ask for More.” campaign for an encore performance:
How will you celebrate the month? Tell us in the comments below!
The 84th year of the Academy Awards has been an awesome year for the Oscars! There were representatives and entries from almost every continent and profession.
In the many acceptance speeches, appreciation and awe poured from the mouths of the Oscar recipients in English, French—and occasional profanity. Although they were gracefully cut off by fade away music, recipients (aka winners) were given the opportunity to extend their “thank you’s” off-stage while other nominees were recognized.
And who did they thank?
They thanked critical thinkers and problem solvers, communicators, collaborators, creators, and innovators…Actually, who did they not thank?
French connection: The Artist took Best Picture, Actor in a Leading Role, Costume Design, Directing, and Music Original Score. The recipients stumbled through English and soon slipped into hyper-fluent French to thank producers, art directors, and crews for lighting, animation, sound, casting, etc.
Where are these expert talents cultivated? And how do they reach a level of super proficiency, as Malcolm Gladwell describes in Blink?
One of the goals of arts education is to produce the next generation of articulate, scholarly entrepreneurs who dare to have a vision and see it through. And only through practice, internship, shadowing, and real-world experience does one reach proficiency. Read the rest of this entry »
Many of you have seen the headlines about the proposed total elimination of the elementary arts program in our country’s second largest school district—Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). And many of you probably saw the star-studded headlines about the postponement of that decision during the February 14 school board meeting.
Well, here is the rest of that story that you might not know…
At the meeting, all seven board members and Superintendent John Deasy expressed their commitment to LAUSD’s nationally recognized arts education program. The postponement allows advocates and district leaders to develop alternative strategies in the face of the district’s $550 million budget shortfall.
Arts for LA, the regional arts and arts education advocacy group for Los Angeles County, is leading the campaign to oppose the elimination, and has mobilized over 2,400 stakeholders to voice support for arts education to the LAUSD School Board.
Arts education was not alone on the chopping block. Several other essential programs, including adult and early childhood education, were also slated for elimination under one of three potential budget scenarios for 2012/2013. Read the rest of this entry »
Americans for the Arts now has excellent webinars on understanding the roles of seven different constituencies that influence arts education policy: federal, state-level, school boards, superintendents, business partnerships, principals, and parents.
Perhaps I suffer from a perspective biased because of my own professional experience, but there is one glaring absence from the series: higher education.
One reason why higher education has been overlooked is that academics, as well as the general public, tend to think that the mission—the only mission—of our colleges and universities is to train artists; to prepare college students for careers as artists, teachers, and scholars. While this is an obvious and honorable mission for arts education at the collegiate level, we are missing a real opportunity if we do not subscribe another major role to our colleges and universities: the development of future participants in the arts.
Post-Secondary arts education has an obligation to re-think how it functions and what its obligations are to the academy’s dream. Many, if not most, higher education institutions train arts majors. Most, if we are convinced by our own self-assessment, do a great job of that. But, is that all higher education in the arts can and should be doing? Can we not make a greater contribution to society than just focusing on careers?
We must have audiences. We must have donors. We must have supportive civic and corporate leaders. Therefore, we must give equal—if not priority—attention to the challenge of audience creation, development, and retention on the college and university campus. Read the rest of this entry »
I judged a poetry slam this weekend—Louder Than A Bomb–Tulsa!
It’s amazing to hear young people sharing about their lives and ideas through poetry. This was the second year for the event. The excitement and enthusiasm expressed by these students was palpable:
Listening to their poetry really made me start thinking anew about just how important the arts are to shaping young minds—helping build self-confidence, fostering creativity, and excelling in school. We as artists, art professionals, and art educators are very often a major factor in a student’s success.
Ten states, including Oklahoma, recently received a reprieve from complying with certain aspects of No Child Left Behind. It seems like we keep lowering our standards rather than lifting up our youth to meet and exceed the challenges put before them.
How are we going to have a capable workforce replete with skills for the 21st century if we keep lowering our requirements for graduation? Companies are spending millions of dollars every year providing remedial training. Universities are spending millions of dollars every year on remedial classes.
We cannot solve our current economic woes by burying our heads in the sand and hoping by some miracle that our youth will figure it out and be successful when we haven’t provided the proper foundation or the means to foster success. Read the rest of this entry »
“In 1971, Marvin Gaye captured and commented on the spiritual and cultural chaos of the nation with his album, What’s Going On. It’s been 40 years. What’s changed? What’s Going On…Now? You Tell Us.”
That quote is from the homepage of the What’s Going On…Now website, the product of a collaboration between the Kennedy Center, Digital Youth Network, Universal Music Enterprises, and Grammy Award winning musician John Legend.
Together, they hope that Marvin Gaye’s still relevant question will spark youth to use digital media as a lens to understand the world around them and empower those youth to change the world around them.
Here are the details of the initiative:
Through the lens of Marvin Gaye’s landmark album, students are asked to create an original media piece that shares their vision of What’s Going On…Now. They can then upload their piece to either YouTube or Flickr, and are entered into a contest to win a trip for two to attend a tribute concert featuring John Legend, the National Symphony Orchestra, and Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings at the Kennedy Center in May.
To launch this new initiative, the Kennedy Center held a press conference on January 31 that included a live performance by John Legend. Besides the press in attendance, there were also students from Duke Ellington School for the Arts, who were rehearsing for a performance later that night. Legend surprised them by spontaneously inviting them up on stage to perform with him. Here is their incredible and moving performance:
When was the last time you attended a student performance in your community? You know the junior theater’s production of My Fair Lady or the young art show at the museum…
Although I spend a good part of my time working to keep arts education in the schools, and many of the client projects I work on are related to student learning in the arts, I don’t get to as many student performances as one might think. I do as many do and opt for the big orchestras from out-of-town, or the modern dance company I’ve seen many times over. Boy have I been missing out!
Last weekend we attended a San Diego Youth Symphony (SDYS) concert at the invitation of our friend and SDYS President and CEO Dalouge Smith.
What I experienced was, in a word, transformational.
To begin with, the students were just phenomenal. The clarinetist showcased in Luigi Bassi’s “Fantasy on Themes” for clarinet from Rigoletto had won their 2011 Orchestra Concerto Competition. She could have easily given many professional musicians a run for their money as she deftly moved over the notes with accuracy and poise.
And the Orchestra’s performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 6 in b minor “Pathetique” was the highlight of the evening. Their powerful execution of the third movement was amazing and not something one would think could come from a group of teenagers in the sunrise of their experience as musicians. This was not amateur hour. Read the rest of this entry »