The Arts (in School?)

Posted on June 20, 2013 by Jeff Bloom

Even though I’m a science educator, I feel like the arts are at the core of our humanity and are critical components of schooling. But, the arts need to be “taught” well, not with more “standards” of knowledge about the arts (teaching the arts as a set of content standards is being done, by the way!), but as ways of exploring and representing children’s experiences of the world. How often do we hear children say, “I can’t draw,” “I can’t sing”? Everyone can draw and sing. But, I’m damaged goods in this regard. Personally, I feel incomplete and like damaged goods, because of a couple of bad experiences (especially in music, where the took me out of the elementary school chorus “because I couldn’t sing” and took away my melody flute “because I couldn’t play,” I am still working with those scars). I’ve tried to remedy the situation as a adult, but the lack of confidence and self-consciousness have been huge obstacles.

I dont’ know which is worse… Damaging children with poor teaching of the arts or not teaching the arts at all. However, I just keep coming back to the idea that without the arts, we’re just less than human.

I do try to draw and use photography as an art form, but music in another story. I wonder how many children share such experiences? I certainly hear children say they can’t draw, can’t play music, or can’t sing. But, the same holds true for many subjects that are kept in schools — many children say they can’t understand science, they can’t write, they don’t like to read, and so forth. It’s all pretty sad.

The reduction or elimination of the arts from schools is really an awful state of affairs. And, there’s an incredible amount of evidence that shows how the arts have impacted children in positive ways, including increased motivation and learning in other subjects. In many ways, the arts help all of us see the world in more authentic and meaningful ways. The arts provide both the artist and the receiver of the arts with deeply emotional connections to our worlds and to our own humanity.

The same sort of disconnect that is being propagated with the arts in schools is characteristic of the way the Common Core is suggesting we teach everything. Reading is about “getting” some arbitrary content. Reading (in which the Common Core has a greatly reduced emphasis on fiction, which is where the real learning and thinking lies) is not about opening up worlds of imagination, questioning social patterns, or re-developing the way one sees and connects with the world. Studying science is not about inquiry and learning about the nature of science (how science works), but about “learning” some set of concepts, but also NOT learning about other sets of concepts that might threaten the corporate status quo.

But, then again… who benefits from children’s lack of passion for the arts, for reading, for science, and so forth? “We” say we want children to be able to read, but do we want them to enjoy reading, to be voracious readers, or to read because of impassioned curiosity? Remember, people who are knowledgeable and who can think deeply can’t be manipulated as easily. So, again, who benefits? Have you ever tried to “reason” with a corporate representative about an ethical business practice? They can read the script, but they don’t understand a word of the argument. And, that’s just the way the corporations want it. They want employees who can read the script, but who are otherwise clueless. And, heaven forbid, they certainly don’t want employees at the public interface who can actually think out of the box, who see the world in different and creative ways, or who can be empathetic.


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