I hope Ed Rendell reads this. I hope he reads and gets off whatever horse that apparently got him elected. Saying he’s a friend of education is like saying Enron cared about its shareholders. It’s like saying Vick was humane to dogs. As the Keystone State Lawmakers continue to exchanger verbal volleys this week, friends of mine go unpaid and all functions of the state come to a screeching halt. I have the solution to free up a lot of money in the budget – kill standardized testing where it stands. But knowing Rendell’s agenda, we will stay the course and ultimately force districts around the state to make their cuts to save the essentials. So now the arts in public education find themselves in another tooth and nail battle because we are non-essential….yeah, right.
Presented for your approval Governor are a series of thoughts about the arts in public education, and what they can bring to the lives and future careers of students. I am certainly not telling you that it has to be all our way like the way you have run the state during your term – but this is more from an informative perspective that your agenda is hurting our ability to reach and provide skills to students that serve them far beyond their high school years. Okay, so maybe I am being a little hard on the Ed, but if you are going to be head chef you better be able to stand the heat in the kitchen.
The arts can be a powerful tool for students to develop competence in as they compete in a 21st century job market. When he was interviewed by Business Week former PNC CEO Paul Chellgren (1996) had this to say about the arts:
“Today’s students need arts education now more than ever. Yes, they need the basics. But today there are two sets of basics. The first – reading, writing, math – is a prerequisite for a second, more complex, equally vital collection of higher level skills required to function well in today’s world….The arts provide an unparalleled opportunity to teach these higher level basics that are increasingly critical, not only to tomorrow’s work force, but today’s.”
There is significant discussion in education today about “Transformative Assessment” and its use in the general classroom. Elliot Eisner (2002), Stanford Art Professor, would argue 5 points that demonstrate this component is evident in everyday practice amongst visual and performing arts educators. These artistically rooted qualitative forms of intelligence reveal themselves in transformative assessment as students 1) experience qualitative relationships and make judgments, 2) encounter “flexible purposing” (capitalizing on emerging features of a work), 3) understand not everything knowable can be articulated in a propositional form, 4) that form and content is most often inextricable, and 5) realize the aesthetic satisfaction that makes the work possible.
The fine, visual and performing arts open many career doors to students because of the transitive learning that is encountered and then applied to a new field. But we must not forget that the arts are a unique way of demonstrating intelligence in knowing, creating, doing, and appreciating within that domain. Education in the arts should help individual students achieve whatever potentials they possess to be intelligent within that domain.
I realize that the many school districts are under a tremendous burden to make AYP in their PSSA. This added pressure of the PSSA’s might influence the resources and time allotted for non-tested subjects like the arts. Recent research in this area conducted by Thorton (2007) demonstrates that many Pennsylvania students who voluntarily participate in music programs such as band, choir and orchestra perform significantly better on PSSA tests than students who choose not to participate is such activities. It is necessary to note that these results do not indicate that students achieved higher scores on their PSSA tests because they were in music. The purpose of this study was to examine whether music participation negatively impacts PSSA test scores, and the data demonstrated that music students’ scores are not lower than those of non-music students.
I must again defer to the wisdom of Bennett Reimer (2003). As I referenced on a recent post, there are 5 dimensions that cannot be ignored that music educators impart to our students. By doing so in the unique way that music can, these values – which so many of us can extol – make the musical experience a life changing one. The values of trust (depending on others who are depending on us), competence (achieving it means there is work to be done), cooperation (with people, with the medium, and with the situation), respect (granting others a sense of worth in a shared enterprise which all of us contribute), and courage (are willingness to risk, be open to the unknown, and deal with challenges) can be instilled in the lives of students within the arts. Those students become new members of society that move forward and contribute positively to careers, their families, and their communities – no matter what their profession.
Beyond that we teach unique subjects with unique ways of knowing. We learn to appreciate the intrinsic value of what we experience through direct interaction and production of art celebrating noble expression of man’s ability to create. We are moved to great extremes of emotional depth, and experience a fantastic set of skills which are required to produce them. The arts will never cure cancer, help the stock market rebound, or rebuild a town devastated by disaster. The arts will make us better people who appreciate beauty. They were meant to enlighten our thinking, and bring out the very best our minds can offer. The arts belong in the public schools for all the right reasons. They make a bold statement to all who experience it about real education progress.
Eisner, Elliot W. (2002) “What can eduction learn from the arts about the practice of education?”, the encyclopedia of informal education, www.infed.org/biblio/eisner_arts_and_the_practice_or_education.htm .
Reimer, B. (2003). A philosophy of music education: Advancing the vision (3rd ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Thornton, L. (2007). A Comparison of PSSA Scores between Music and Non-Music Students:Summary Report. PMEA Research Committee and The Pennsylvania State University (available at http://pmea.net/researchadvocacy.html)
What good is arts education? Educating the workplace through the arts. (1996, October) Business Week,12.