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Art For Art's Sake: Obama Falls For Shaky Arts Arguments

27wwlnlede350661 Ann Hulbert has a nice piece in the NYT about how Obama -- and many others -- misguidedly invoke research when arguing for arts education in schools:

"An emphasis on the arts’ utility in the quest to reach math and reading benchmarks may seem politically smart, but the science it rests on turns out to be shaky....If arts education stakes its claim to students’ time and schools’ money on some unproven power to push standardized test scores upward, its position in American schools is bound to be precarious."

Sure, art is cool, and maybe there's not enough of it in schools these days.  Yeah, some kids really groove on arts education and that helps them get through the system.

But, apparently, there is no killer research out there showing that arts helps kids read and do math.  Read the rest of Hulbert's article for what happens next.


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Do we really need to base our decision to have arts in schools on their ability to raise test scores?
I doubt that raising test scores is why should make a lot of decisions in schools. Unless we all forgot that schools were not created to provide an unending flow of citizens for whatever industry is paying for policy makers at the time, we might remember it was originally created to "To initiate individuals into the values, attitudes and modes of behavior appropriate to active participation in democratic institutions. " (Carr Hartnett, 1994)
Aside from the research to prove arts help reading and math, which seems wrong headed and technocratic in nature, there are other valid reasons to include the arts in an academic curriculum.

Here are Ten from Elliot Eisner

The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships.
Unlike much of the curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.
The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.
The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.
The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem-solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.
The arts make vivid the fact that words do not, in their literal form or number, exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.
The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.
The arts teach students to think through and within a material. All art forms employ some means through which images become real.
The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.
The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.
The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

Elliott Eisner, in Beyond Creating: The Place for Art in America's Schools. Getty Center for Education in the Arts. 1985 p. 69.

I thought Ann Hulbert, whose work I usually love to read, was a bit simplistic in her analysis of the benefits of arts education to other areas of schooling. Given the difficulty of quantifying such things, "killer" research is probably a bit too much to ask for. But the Dana Foundation recently released a report summarizing various examinations of the benefits of arts education called Learning, Arts, and the Brain. (you can read it at http://www.dana.org/news/publications/publication.aspx?id=10760). The Project Zero study that Hulbert cites is just one of many, and several others refute its claims.

One aspect of arts education, which you refer to somewhat dismissively as "cool," is that "motivation sustains attention" (Posner, Rothbart et al in the Dana Foundation report). As any teacher will tell you, attention is a key component to the learning process. If interest in the arts helps sustain that attention, shouldn't that be considered an important aspect of pedagogy?

Please read Mark Cooper today at Beacon Broadside discussing the ways he has seen his students grown through arts education.


Ok, so what do you suggest????

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