Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Arts Education Blog Forum Continues

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on.............................."

DAY 3:
Note:  In a fortuitious coincidence or a flattering emulation, the ongoing White House series Champions of Change is focusing this week on Arts Education.  Click on the link to go to that site and read the participant's entries.  While short on depth, nonetheless this kind of exercise focuses a spotlight on the issue and that is welcome news and an important development. 

Category:   Practice
Question #3:  What is the role of artists and arts organizations in the wider arts education paradigm?

Jessica Mele -  (Executive Director / Performing Arts Workshop, San Francisco, CA).
What is the biggest barrier to a high-quality education?

Time. Teachers will tell you that there aren’t enough hours in the day to squeeze in creativity. No matter how hard we try, or how much money we bring to the table, time is always the enemy. And squeeze is always the verb.

I would like to suggest that the role of arts and arts education organizations is to unsqueeze the school day. We can do this because we occupy a unique position in the educational landscape. Artists and arts education organizations are outsiders. We are not part of the education world. Arts education organizations go one step further. We’re outsiders to both worlds; our goal is learning, not audience development. Our mission is in the classroom.

This current paradigm has an upside and a downside. Upside: we are often allowed to bring new ideas, try new things in school with a freedom that classroom teachers or arts specialists rarely feel. Downside: education professionals will always see the arts as “outside” of education. It also means that we will play the game of “plugging” holes in the curriculum, rather than true educational partnership. 

The arts teach skills that students need but are not getting in most traditional classrooms: critical thinking, leadership, healthy relationships, self-efficacy (see Performing Arts Workshop’s recent evaluation report with findings related to student achievement: http://www.performingartsworkshop.org/pages/pdf/rc.ARISESummaryReport_040411.pdf   Educators who are committed to these ways of learning often recognize that the arts are a way of better managing the limits of the school day. For example, a science lesson on inertia can explore that concept by learning about bodies in motion, AND through the concept of cause and effect in creative writing. This kind of curricular connection doesn’t take additional instructional hours, but rather leverages existing time. 

This kind of collaboration between teachers and artists is a true educational partnership; one that starts from a connection between curricular leaders (“What can we do together?”, rather than “What can we do for you?”). Amazing things can happen in true educational partnerships. And at the same time, are we ready as arts education organizations, arts organizations and teaching artists to engage in this kind of educational partnership? In order to effectively deepen the impact of our work, we have some field building to do. We need standards of pay for artistic staff, and of teaching quality. To date, each organization has had to find its own way compensating, evaluating and training artistic staff. This work is important, and directly related to classroom quality, and yet we are inventing our own wheels without any criteria for what makes a wheel (btw, compensation for wheelmakers is all over the map).

Arts education organizations, arts organizations, and the teaching artists that they staff, offer something unique to the public education system. And some educational leaders see that. If we are to be true educational partners, we need to be up to that partnership.

Chike C. Nwoffiah - (founding Executive Director of Oriki Theater, a Mountain View, CA.based performing arts company that provides African entertainment, educational and youth development programs.  An accomplished writer, theater director/producer and filmmaker with over 30 stage and screen credits, Chike is also a Senior Fellow of the American Leadership Forum - Silicon Valley and on the adjunct faculty at Menlo College in Atherton, California where he teaches African History.)
I am a little concerned about the notion that Arts Integration is or should be an alternative to Arts Instruction. I think this creates a distraction, an imagined dichotomy and a false premise for any reasonable solution to the challenges we face. There has to be room for a child who wants to pursue music, dance, drama, etc., as a career to train and be nurtured to full bloom. The rigor, pedagogy and the learning environment that is created for that child is what constitutes Arts Instruction.  This is different but not in opposition to the idea of Arts Integration or “teaching through the arts” which means using arts as a vehicle for a child’s learning in other subject areas: math, geography, history, science, etc.
Teaching through the arts does not mean that an artist will go to bed and wake up the next day as a geography teacher. It means affirming the geography teacher in their own classroom, but giving her some arts strategies that she can use in teaching geography. A lot of this kind of teaching is already happening but is often not recognized as teaching through the arts.  Teachers routinely have their students draw, paint or even produce videos on science projects.  It is common practice in the lower grades to have children learn complex subjects through rhymes and songs. I have seen history teachers challenge their students by dramatizing historic events; geography and biology teachers sometimes take students outside the classroom to study in nature: feel the rocks, build habitats for insects, etc.  There are several "arts" processes that occur in each of the above examples.  I believe that we begin to build artificial walls when we do not validate the creative work that is already going on before introducing our "high-end teaching through the arts" concept.  What needs to happen is validate the vast amount of creative teaching that is happening, recognize these islands of excellence as examples of teaching through the arts; and then figure out how to support the teachers with more art strategies.
The role of the artist is central to both Arts Integration and Arts Instruction. The artists and arts organizations are best positioned to work alongside teachers in sharing arts strategies and demonstrating the intersection of instruction and integration. Most traditional societies have always affirmed and honored disciplined study and training in specific art forms but have seamlessly integrated the arts into everyday life. Songs, dances, folk stories, drumming, etc., are used to teach history, geography, math, social science, civics, etc. This is the backdrop that my art comes from and this is what my colleagues and I have been doing for a few decades. Unfortunately our education system is still stuck in the old paradigm of "education" within the four walls of a classroom from the first bell to the last bell; where everything outside of those four walls and bell periods are branded "extra-curricular".  There is a lot of art going on in the so-called “underprivileged” communities across state, but since they do not fit into what might be preconceived notions of “high art” they are not valued.
Perhaps the exigencies of the moment might force us to throw away these outdated paradigms of what, where and how a child learns. It is clear that any meaningful arts education strategy must give all cultures a voice in our curriculum and not deny nor deprive our students a lifetime opportunity to become full citizens of our globe. Maybe if we are courageous enough, we might begin to tap into the vast resources of ALL artists and arts organizations that are already doing great work across the state.
“Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone, but a community dream, not my dream alone, but our dream, not my world alone, but your world and my world belonging to all the hands who build.” - Langston Hughes, “Freedom’s Plow.

Sabrina Klein(Executive Director / Teaching Artists Organized, Oakland CA.   Teacher, director and occasional performer). Having myself been deeply affected (dare I say transformed?) and influenced by works of art I've experienced and works of art I've made, I am passionate about the rights of every child to find his or her own voice through a broad array of deep and meaningful arts experiences in and out of school.)

I start with an obvious, but easily overlooked clarification: not every artist or arts organization has a role in the wider arts education discussion.  The role of the artist in society is a completely different question.  For those artists and arts organizations who find connection with education and arts education (they are not the same thing), there are a few deceptively easy (and perfectly reasonable) answers to the question.  We are as diverse, complicated, temperamental, extravagant, introverted and confused as any other field of committed professionals—so our roles can vary widely and wildly, and any checklist of possible roles is likely to far short of reality.  

There are, nonetheless, two relatively straightforward “gifts” artists and arts organizations carry that can provide some  answers about our role in the arts education paradigm:  1) we hold certain expertise in the discipline, rigor, joy and challenges involved in art-making.  And 2)  we tend to engage in our own learning about life and art through inquiry, practice, engagement, experimentation and making connections, which are keys to living a life of curiosity and passion.   These hold true for most working artists, teaching artists, arts educators, and arts integration specialists, as well as for most arts organizations. 

Our role as “experts” in this way of engaging with information and ideas has natural classroom and community value.  Beyond this, we have a role to continue to find ways to articulate the more elusive value that artists and arts organization have--not just in any arts education paradigm, but in any social or civil discourse paradigm.  Many of us became artists because we seek ways of making meaning that are extremely hard to talk about.  We have a deeper obligation in the arts education conversations around us not to side-step the challenge of engaging others in dialogue and partnership about our processes of learning and making meaning.  

A checklist of what we bring as both leaders and partners with others in any arts education paradigm would include a range from the astoundingly obvious to the ephemerally subtle.  We provide both content and context for all kinds of learning.  At our best, we are nimble problem-solvers, responsive to challenges.  We are transparent about our curiosity, asking questions and looking at apparently entrenched realities as reasons to think differently about what reality really is.  We model life-long learning and wonder. 

We do our best, most of us, to meet our art with both joy and rigor, holding ourselves to very high standards both internal and external because that is the joy.  A singular role we have is to be models for this meeting of hard work and great joy in learning, and to continue to strive to find ways to engage others in this kind of learning.

Ruth Nott – (Director of Education at San Francisco Opera, overseeing programs that serve children and adults throughout San Francisco and the Bay Area. She has over fifteen years of experience in opera education, having formerly worked in the Education Departments of the Metropolitan Opera Guild and New York City Opera.)

My belief is that the ideal education for all children would include sequential arts instruction by certified arts teachers in all art forms AND arts integration.  Before I continue, I would like to disagree with the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities’ definition of arts integration.  I don’t see the arts as a tool for teaching other subjects.  Learning about and doing arts teach the arts.  I believe that art-learning and other discipline-learning should be taught in equal balance and importance and natural connections between the two should be made.  It is about teaching the whole child–giving them a chance to become thinking human beings and make and understand connections between art and the world.  I also believe that great certified arts teachers teach in an arts-integrated manner.  Hm…maybe quality arts teaching is arts integration.  What do you think?

At San Francisco Opera, we see it as our role to provide arts integration.  We partner with teachers and rely on them to inform us how the art resources that we offer can connect to the disciplines they are teaching.  We provide professional development for educators in our art form and consistent time with teaching artists so that together they can make a plan for how to integrate opera and evaluate that process.  For the most part, but not always, we partner with non-arts teachers.

A divide between arts organizations and arts teachers can sometimes occur.  Arts teachers can see the community arts organizations as trying to take over, perhaps to take their jobs.  Please believe that this is not true!  In our work, we would LOVE to partner with more arts teachers and give them access to our resources.  Art teachers in San Francisco and many other cities are spread so thin, traveling to multiple schools in a week and do not have the opportunity to connect with any one of their many schools and the other teachers within.  But they are the educators who have a vast amount of knowledge about the students at each one of their schools, working with them year after year.  Again, ideally, there is sequential arts instruction and arts integration for every child.

Both the arts and non-arts teachers deal with two main obstacles to partnering with arts organizations–TIME and TESTING.  Like any quality relationship, it takes time to figure out how to best work together.  The teachers we have been successful in working with have given MANY hours of their own time, unpaid, to make our collaboration successful.  They do so because they see the difference that it makes for their students.  And they are growing as well–they are part of a learning community because of the professional development network we provide.

The biggest problem is—when will educators be valued for the enormous difference that they make for the future of our country.  When will education ever be adequately funded and valued?

Nick Rabkin – (Teaching Artist Research Project, NORC, University of Chicago)

Public education is a cornerstone institution and value of our democracy, vital to both social mobility and informed and engaged citizenship.  But schools are stressed to the limit.  Thirty years of intense effort and debate about school reform has not improved the prospects of low-income students much, if at all.  It has also marginalized arts education.  In 2008, 25% fewer 18 year-olds reported that they had taken any arts classes or lessons than 18 year-olds in 1982, and the decline has largely been in schools servinglow-income African American and Latino students where the need for educational improvement is greatest.

There are really two main currents in arts education.  One has its roots in the long history of conservatories that have trained professional artists to make work at the highest levels for patrons since the middle ages.  The other is far newer, making its first appearance here in the US in the settlement movement more than a century ago, when artists began teaching new immigrants and others in low-income neighborhoods. 

The first is connected to an elite European tradition – the arts for the cultivated and the wealthy. The second is self-consciously democratic, associated with social reform, and culturally pluralistic – the arts are for everyone.  The first is grounded in master-apprentice pedagogy and focused on technical skills in the art forms. The second is more student-centered, with a greater focus on the development of voice and meaning in and through the arts.  Both have influenced public school-based arts education.  Free provision would suggest the arts are for all in public schools, but over time schools sort students so that fewer and fewer have regular access to arts education after the primary grades.  Much of the tension and confusion in the arts education universe can be resolved by seeing it through with this binocular prism.

Fifty years ago few artists taught in public schools.  Arts instruction was the responsibility of faculty members, both specialists in the arts and classroom teachers.  As school budgets were cut and curriculum narrowed, starting more than thirty years ago, the number of specialists declined, and classroom teachers were no longer prepared to deliver arts instruction on their own, even in the early grades.  By the mid-1980s arts deserts were spreading in district after district, and arts organizations intensified educational programs for schools in response and new organizations emerged, dedicated entirely to arts education programming.  These efforts did not reverse the decline, but they did mitigate it, and significant numbers of teaching artists have moved into schools in the last thirty years. 

Over the years, the best of these programs matured.  They stayed in schools longer, built lasting partnerships between classroom teachers and teaching artists, arts organizations and schools.  Artists who had been involved in community-based arts education brought the sense of social purpose rooted in the settlement tradition of reform and a commitment to the value of the arts for all.  They developed new approaches to pedagogy, innovative curriculum, and designed creative programs that engage some of the most alienated students, give them meaningful work to do, allow them to exercise their creativity and develop their problem solving capacities, and promote collaboration.  They have expanded on the arts standards, making voice, meaning, and relevance serious goals of arts education. 

A broad consensus of researchers agrees that good teaching is student centered, focused on meaningful concepts, ideas, and problems, and builds community among students.  That is what the best of these programs have brought to schools.  Teaching artists have established a track record of innovation and success that would suggest they should be a critical element of any strategy to reverse the broad decline in arts education, and distribute arts education more equitably.  More important, they can provide an outside perspective and energy that demoralized schools badly need, bringing innovation and creativity to places that are often starved for them. 

Not that partnerships between schools and arts organizations can provide comprehensive arts education for all students.  That should and must be a broader responsibility, largely shouldered by specialists.  But as schools change to meet the educational needs of all students and the cognitive demands of the new century, they clearly require outside help.  Arts organizations and teaching artists offer an abundant and rich source of help.  They already work successfully alongside arts specialists in many schools.  By studying how they have divided responsibilities and built teams in those schools, we can develop policies that can move us beyond the destructive perception that teaching artists are a form of cheap outsourcing for arts education.  That is essential. 

Teaching artists’ contributions to schools are fragile and ephemeral.  Education policymakers continue to underestimate the cognitive value of arts education, and the additional resources that would be required to expand arts education are not likely to materialize until that changes, especially as budgets shrink and public services are targeted for political attack.  While most teaching artists find teaching profoundly rewarding and believe it makes them better artists, teaching artists are also deeply frustrated by low pay, short hours, and a dearth of validation in the arts and in education.  Half have masters degrees or higher, and my research shows that most are richly experienced teachers.  Yet, more than a fifth have no health insurance.  If conditions deteriorate any further, we may see many teaching artists leave the field.

As it happens, the crisis of our schools is mirrored in an emerging crisis among non-profit arts organizations.  Data from the NEA’s surveys of arts participation show that a declining proportion of Americans finds meaning and relevance in the work of the non-profits, and declining attendance is reversing a long arc of growth in the sector.  Arts organizations find themselves asking fundamental and existential questions about the value, relevance, and the purposes of a system that produces work for a shrinking minority of Americans.  The education departments of arts organizations and community arts organizations are the sites where new and sometimes brilliant strategies are developing to integrate people into the creative process itself, engage far more diverse communities of people, and move them well beyond the relatively passive participation of the audience experience.  Wouldn’t it be marvelous if teaching artists could contribute to saving both our educational and our arts systems?     

Eugene Rodriquez – (Founder, Director Los Cenzontles Mexican Arts Center)

I believe that the most effective and efficient role for community arts non-profit organizations in the arts education ecosystem is to provide deeper levels of technical instruction to students, to create opportunities in cultural performance practice, and to nurture community based artists, hopefully from within the communities they serve.

The ideal arts learning paradigm begins at a young age at home through exposure to music, dance and visual and tactile arts as part of a family’s daily life. The next step is the introduction of music, dance and art fundamentals in the daily school curriculum. Just as language is introduced to children first at home and then at school with more formality, arts instruction should be treated the same. School based arts instruction introduces the concept of arts as a discipline and also create common cultural bonds that are especially critical in multi-ethnic school settings. In an era of tight budgets I recommend that schools at a minimum include group classes, or sessions within classes, of chorus, folk dance and arts & crafts to be taught in elementary school.

Community based non-profits then can fulfill the next level of training by providing specialized arts training as well as opportunities for participation and performance rooted in myriad cultural and stylistic niches. Arts non-profits can connect various levels of arts professionals with community, providing rich opportunities for learning and expressions of community identity. At Los Cenzontles, we regularly maneuver our programming to respond to community need which is in regular flux due to changed demographics. Through our cultural arts projects and exchanges we have also been able to connect students to master artists in our specific field of Mexican folk arts as well as other accomplished artists. Most importantly we have served as an incubator for local artists who are also dedicated to arts education in our community.

So in essence, I see the overall ecosystem as a pyramid with the public schools as the base to ensure arts literacy to as wide a base as possible, with the community non-profit as a vital link to cultural specialization and arts excellence. I believe that this arts ecosystem model is an efficient, effective and sustainable use of resources that best serves to invigorate arts participation and production and to create arts consumers.

More comments follow-up tomorrow and Friday.
New Week: Field Building

Don't Quit