The New Arts Education

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The directions that the arts are taking in public education are endemic to what is or should be taking place in teacher preparation. This is truer today than it used to be just a few years ago. With the current drop in enrollments at every level of the public school system, and with the increasingly smaller turnovers of teaching staff, public schools have taken the leadership for educational change upon themselves.

With public education snugly in the hands of older teachers—those with the greatest seniority—in-service education is replacing pre-service education as the major mechanism to induce improvement. Teachers are, more and more, being recycled in their own backyards. This is a very significant development because it demonstrates that the bargaining position for leadership in public school arts education is shifting, even tending to reverse itself. Whereas the colleges were once in a position to alter public school education just by the sheer impact of their young shock troops—and there were rarely enough—the public schools today are able to dictate what the few new teachers they hire should know.

Remember when state supervisors of music had about as much relationship to the educational establishment as Evel Knievel to the space program? If the position of state supervisor of music used to be ceremonial, it is now functional; and state departments of education are exerting a leadership role that is significant and pervasive. In a very real sense, then, the colleges are more and more in the position of following the lead of the state departments of education and the developments in public schools.

The question, of course, is: What is going on in the public school sector? I would like to share three broad observations about the directions that arts education is taking in today's schools and then discuss their implications for music education in post-secondary education.

 

I

The first trend is that the arts, for the first time in American history, are beginning to function in tandem. This new, cooperative relationship can be seen on a number of fronts. It is evident on the elementary level in the influence of the experimental IMPACT Project, in the growing interest in aesthetic education as exemplified by CEMREL's aesthetic Education Program, and in Pennsylvania's Arts in Basic Education Project, and New York State's Project SEARCH, to name a few. It is evident in high schools through the proliferation of courses in humanities, allied, and related arts. It is evident in state departments of education through the current emphasis on what is called "Comprehensive Planning," which encompasses all the arts.

The formation, four years ago, of the Alliance for Arts Education, which is bringing about a dialogue between state dance, music, theater, and visual arts personnel and representatives of the state department of education and state arts council is also a manifestation of this interlocking of the arts.

The back-to-basics movement in education has also given the arts the impetus for pulling together. There is nothing that draws people together so much as a commonly perceived threat. Where basics become the main thrust of education, the arts suffer. As subjects on the periphery, as subjects that, for the most part, only address themselves to a small part of the student population, particularly on the high school level, the arts can and are being cut or eliminated in order to conserve resources for greater emphasis of the "essentials." In Seattle, Washington, where 42% of the budget was cut, all the so-called "frills" had to be eliminated, including the discrete arts. What saved the arts was the idea of the arts in education—a program of combined arts that reaches every student. The program is fully supported, well-staffed, and thriving. The arts there are working in tandem.

 

II

This leads me to my second observation which is that increased opportunities to study the arts are being made available to all students. At the same time that some programs in arts education in public schools are being cut, others are being expanded. The arts appear to be in a state of double and contradicting flux, both increasing and decreasing, both expanding and contracting simultaneously in different, though often adjoining, school districts.

According to the 1973 Louis Harris poll, a substantial portion of the population believes that the arts should be taught, for credit, as a regular part of the curriculum, and that they are as important as English, science, and mathematics. While 20% of respondents actually participated in playing a musical instrument, 25% of the others wished to participate. While 3% had actually participated in an orchestra or band, an additional 7% wished they could. While 10% had sung in a chorus, 11% more wanted to. These figures point to an enormous need and interest among people to involve themselves with the arts.

If the public want the arts, they will have them. Arts educators are responding by trying to accommodate more of the students. The music educators are working to reach "the other 80%"—those who are not participating in the performing groups. They have added guitar and piano classes, laboratories to explore jazz, ethnic, and electronic music, and general courses on the high school level. The other arts are also attempting to interest a greater cross-section of students.

Expansion by course proliferation is but one way. Arts teachers are also managing to reach more students by assisting classroom teachers in infusing the arts in all subject-matter learning. Infusion undoubtedly offers the best hope for bringing the arts into all areas of the curriculum at all levels. It does not require additional faculty or time blocks reserved for the arts. Infusion also treats the arts, not apart from, but as part of, everything that goes on in schools. When one studies a butterfly, for example, the biological component can be supplemented by the aesthetic. In this way the arts are presented, not as ancillary, but, as John Dewey advocated, in total continuity with life—Art As Experience.

The growing interest in these kinds of democratic efforts is significant. As one theater educator recently pointed out, the teaching of the arts should be self-annihilating in the same manner as medicine. This is the paradox: To the degree that the arts are infused with everything we do, to the degree that the aesthetic component is perceived as a natural and rewarding part of all experience, to the degree that the arts are viewed, not as isolated, elitist, and esoteric realms of life, but as imprinted fibers in the whole fabric of American society, to that extent will the arts as special preserves disappear and arts educators be successful. So, increased opportunities to study the arts is a second trend in public education.

 

III

The third observation is that the arts are being represented more broadly and comprehensively in public school curricula. One art form is no longer sufficient. Many students will not find their fullest release through music. Creativity, self-expression, and self-realization may be sought and found elsewhere—in visual arts, theater, dance, or perhaps through creative writing, architecture, or media such as photography, film, or television. It is the arts experience that is important educationally, not the particular form it takes. As schools attempt to meet the spectrum of talent and tastes among the clientele they serve, they are seeking broader opportunities for many kinds of arts experiences. "All the arts for every child" is emerging as the new motto of the new arts education.

The Artist-in-Schools Program of the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Office of Education, which provides exploratory resident school programs in poetry, film, dance, and other arts media is giving communities glimpses of what these broader arts programs can offer. Through these studies students are discovering and recovering their personal selves and learning to perceive and be responsive to the world around them. They like these experiences. Teachers, administrators, and parents are noticing. Where arts choices are wider, more students are accommodated; more students are provided accessibility to a successful arts experience and to a broader kind of learning.



These, then, are three basic trends affecting the arts in public schools: (1) that the arts are beginning to function in tandem; (2) that increased opportunities to study the arts are being made available for all students; and (3) that the arts are being represented more broadly and comprehensively in public school curricula. These developments signify important changes already underway. They mark the emergence, I believe, of what is basically a new arts education.

What are the implications of all these developments for teacher training programs in music education?

It has been a thesis of mine for years that, by and large, music students replicate their college curricula in the public schools, forgetting that their college programs were designed to teach teachers. In effect they, too, are teaching students to be music teachers. Their focus is on a search for and development of the talented. Of course, there is a vast difference between a curriculum designed for the gifted, and one that is designed to reach all the students. Knowing, then, that the public schools replicate the colleges, I would like to propose that the colleges assume the central goals of the new arts education, so that prospective teachers are prepared by example. What changes would this mean for music education on the post-secondary level?

(1) This would mean that teacher education programs in music would provide interdisciplinary experiences in the arts for all prospective music teachers. All music students, in fact, regardless of their majors, would be exposed to integrated and related arts courses. The music department would necessarily work in tandem with the other arts departments on the campus.

This cutting across departmental lines should help relieve some of the tensions—the tribal wars—that have been building as rivalry for limited funds and positions has become more intense. In this way the arts take the lead in humanizing the colleges in the same way as they are beginning to humanize the public schools.

The newly revised arts and arts education programs at New York University provide an excellent model for the kinds of across-the-arts courses that could be offered. New courses there include, "Introductory Experiences in the Related Arts," "Aesthetic Foundations of the Arts," "Creative Experiences in the Related Arts," "Aesthetic Inquiry," and many others. It is my belief that by operating as a cohesive force the arts will enter the mainstream of post-secondary education.

(2) College music programs that implement the goals of the new arts education would maintain specialized programs for the talented, but also, simultaneously, attempt to reach all the students in the institution. The new goal of arts education is "aesthetic sensitivity for the masses."1

At the same time that our cultural institutions are fighting for survival, the mass culture is thriving. But college arts departments rarely do anything but complain about "trivial entertainment," "debasement of artistic values," and "commercialism," which is the word applied to anything in the arts that pays for itself. If our shopping centers are ugly, and there is not enough public support to maintain our symphony orchestras, and opera and ballet companies, perhaps it is our own fault. Why haven't we made bolder attempts to build a constituency of support for the arts through college and university programs? Practically every mayor, every congressman, almost every business leader, many school board members, all superintendents and principals, and many parents have a college education. And they got it, by and large, without the arts. In a sense the colleges themselves perpetuate the theory that you can be what this culture calls "educated" and not know a thing about the arts.

The logic is simple: by extending our influence, by sharpening our identity, by increasing the value of our subject matter in terms of public understanding, we enlarge our base of support. It is time we stopped groaning about the level of patronage and started working for it. We must find ways to increase opportunities for all students to study all the arts.

(3) College music programs would attempt to be more comprehensive in their scope. We need to develop musician-teachers who know the totality of musical art well enough to bring new discoveries to every student. We need people who can do this through performance, composing, and other kinds of participation, but also through listening, reading, analysis, and criticism.

Comprehensive programs reach out into the community for musical resources as well as provide resources for the community. Again, prospective music teachers need to see such exchanges and to take part in them if they, in turn, as teachers, are to enrich their music programs by utilizing the broader resources around them.

In assuming the comprehensive view, I believe the artificial divisions between "teacher-education" degree programs and "performance" or "professional" degree programs will be eliminated. The whole idea of comprehensive musicianship has already moved many of these programs closer. If teachers and artists are to find it profitable to work together in the public schools, they should have cooperative interrelationships at the university and college level. The two worlds are, by no means, mutually exclusive. The fact is that most people who go through post-secondary music study end up teaching. BA's and BS's should know something of each other's worlds—the musician more about the world of teaching, the teacher more about musicianship.

College music departments would also work more closely with public school districts and with state departments of education. By becoming more closely aligned with the entire educational process, we prove that the arts are ways of discerning and perceiving that are as cognitive as any other subject. There are still people around who treat musical works as precious masterpieces somehow elevated from the pulsing rhythms of everyday experience. It is inconceivable to me that anthropology, psychology, and history are taught without any mention of the arts. I think we need to invade those subjects in order to rid music of its mysterious and forbidding quality and make it integral to the educational process and to life itself.

What I have proposed, then, are some changes in general focus, so that the public schools and colleges can function together to build a vast public constituency in support of the arts. These changes, I want to make clear, involve everyone teaching music at the post-secondary level, not just the so-called "music education" staff.

In one final word, I want to say that by no means is the picture of what I have called "the new arts education" crystal clear, for this is a developing phenomenon, the missing pieces of which will be filled in by all of us working together. One characteristic is clear: the challenge of the task is commanding us to broaden our bases, to burst our narrow specialties, to seek a multi-dimensional focus. In surveying the state of the arts in American education today, from kindergarten through post-secondary, it seems evident that no art is going to make it to the core of those curricula alone. We are talking about a new process of transaction—with the other arts, with artists, with other teachers, with school systems, and with the entire community. And we are talking about the challenge of leadership which the colleges can relinquish or resume. In enlarging our own inner space to accommodate such transactions and such leadership, we share our art with a larger public. What more reward could we ask for?


1Frank Keppel, former U.S. Commissioner of Education during the Kennedy and Johnson eras and President of the Aspen Institute Education Program, made this remark at the National meeting of the Alliance for Arts Education, October 1975, JFK Center.

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Last modified on Monday, 12/11/2018

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