Archived Information

Transforming Ideas for Teaching and Learning The Arts - March 1997

Background


"Archeologists, when they study past civilizations, study the artifacts of pottery and cave paintings and musical instruments to determine the quality of a culture."
Boyer 1

Some civilizations have left us no trace but their arts. Should we be educating children without involving them in those activities that may define their time and place in history? Those school systems that treat the arts as something other than essentials give that impression. Yet this is hardly the American way.

Music was established as part of the curriculum for the "Common Schools," when universal public education was adopted as critical for a democracy, early in the 19th century. Art instruction was soon added. Drama took a little longer. Dance is an even more recent addition. Despite the worldwide acclaim that music in America's schools attracted, the music educators themselves were not satisfied. About 30 years ago, their professional organization published a list of objectives that should result from 12 years of music education. Those objectives were beyond the attainments of all but a few school systems. Three years later the Tanglewood Declaration called for music and dance to be placed at the core of the curriculum.

Shortly thereafter, the U.S. Office of Education (now the U.S. Department of Education) funded with $1 million a project to demonstrate the feasibility of such an idea. Arts IMPACT (Interdisciplinary Model Programs in the Arts for Children and Teachers) demonstrated that such a central role for the arts could bring positive results for the whole school.

Twenty-five years ago the American Association of School Administrators' Curriculum Handbook stated, "In the truly comprehensive program, the school administrator is willing to accept the role of the arts as equal in importance to the role of scientific and technical studies."2 For a time, progress was steadily upward. Now, most public elementary schools offer instruction in music and visual arts (97 percent and 85 percent respectively), although relatively few offer dance and drama courses (43 percent and 8 percent respectively); and only 39 percent of the nation's public secondary schools require credit specifically in the arts for graduation.3

In 1987, participants in a symposium called by the American Council for the Arts and the Music Educators National Conference prepared The Interlochen Proposal that describes the potential role for the arts in a reformation of American schooling.4

Arts IMPACT began a relationship among the professional organizations of teachers of dance, art, music, and theater that continues today as the National Coalition for Education in the Arts (formerly, Consortium of National Arts Education Associations). This group prepared the National Standards for Arts Education, released in 1994, which are organized around the definition of art as (1) creative works and the process of producing them and (2) the whole body of work in the art forms that make up the entire human intellectual and cultural heritage.5 Exit-level achievement standards for grades K-4, 5-8, and 9-12 have been developed. These standards help place arts education into overall school improvement and local and state efforts to raise standards.

Plans for a national assessment of students' knowledge in dance, art, music, and theater (grades 4, 8 and 12) through the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) are now underway. Although arts programs in some school systems have suffered during recent retrenchments, education in the arts continues to improve for many American students.

Richard W. Riley, in one of his early statements as U.S. Secretary of Education, called for the recognition of the arts "as a vital part of our effort" to improve the quality of education for all children.6 This echoes a statement of the Arts Education Partnership Working Group sponsored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the J. Paul Getty Foundation, that the arts are one of education's most potentially powerful assets and should be included in educational reform efforts. This idea was incorporated into the language of Title X of the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Improving America's Schools Act). The arts were also recognized by the Goals 2000: Educate America Act of 1994 as one of the core disciplines of study listed in the National Education Goals calling for high academic achievement by all students. Subsequently, the U.S. Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Arts formed the Goals 2000 Arts Education Partnership in order to develop an action plan to maximize the role of the arts in improving education and helping students achieve the National Education Goals.

Considering the stance of the U.S. Department of Education, NAEP, the Goals 2000 Arts Education Partnership, and the Coalition for Education in the Arts, along with increasing support from research as to the value of the arts, the present seems a time of real opportunity. While there are still issues being discussed, such as the importance of interarts instruction and the inclusion of creative writing in the arts, the state-of-the-art in arts education may soon properly reflect the importance of this aspect of education to our civilization.

This booklet is designed to give teachers some of the latest ideas about how arts principles and concepts can best be understood, taught, and used in the classroom to improve instruction in the arts and other disciplines. In discussing the U.S. Department of Education's support for the arts, Secretary Riley said, "The arts in all their distinct forms define, in many ways, those qualities that are at the heart of education reform in the 1990s--creativity, perseverance, a sense of standards, and, above all, a striving for excellence." 7
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