Originally published Thursday, March 29, 2012
Amid all the standardized testing hoo-hah lately I've been feeling a sort of undercurrent that the stuff on the test is considered "important" and the rest is considered "frills." Oh, sure there are music and art and PE teachers in all our schools here, but that's as much to provide contractually-agreed-on planning time for classroom teachers in elementary schools as anything. Once kids get to middle and high school, very few schools take music or art as seriously. Kids are routinely scheduled out of non-academic classes like band or chorus or drama (assuming these classes are even part of the to begin with); when I taught high school, band was not only placed opposite required sophomore required classes so 10th-graders could only sign up for band if they took those classes on their own time and at their own expense in the summers, but I was taken to task for the decline in enrollment after 9th grade!
Howard Gardner has spent the majority of his professional life researching and writing about multiple intelligences. For those not up on the theory, it's the idea that above and beyond the verbal and math skills measured by traditional intelligence tests (and standardized tests in schools), there are other equally valuable intelligences we can have: musical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. Recently added to the list was naturalistic intelligence, and existential and moral may find their way to this list as well.
So in schools we address "the 3 R's" - Reading, Writing, Arithmetic (anyone besides me notice that only one of those actually begins with "R" unless they're egregiously misspelled? LOL) - we test for them, we drill students mercilessly to get them to succeed in these areas, but the rest are often ignored or marginalized. Things like music and art and athletics are relegated to once-a-week classes in most elementary schools, assuming those programs haven't been cut entirely and left to be covered by already-overworked elementary classroom teachers, or they're assumed to be covered outside school hours in community groups or private instruction. We applaud kids who have "people skills" naturally, but we do so little to develop these areas in ALL students. Our society venerates professional athletes, popular musicians, actors, dancers, and some writers, but we do so little to encourage and develop these skills in ALL students. Classroom teachers in my experience over the years are often shy about, say, singing in classrooms, wary of incorporating physical activity into their school day or even into their lessons, and due to arts education cuts while they went to school themselves are often unaware of how to effectively incorporate the arts into their teaching, because they themselves never got a good grounding in music, or in different techniques of art, or in using their bodies well. A number of school systems encourage their teachers to use multiple intelligences in the classroom, but there are still a lot of teachers who have a hard time doing so, partly because their own schooling wasn't like that and partly because it can be pretty overwhelming to add so much more to their lessons, but......
If there are truly 8 (or 9, if you count naturalistic intelligence) different intelligences, and we're only teaching to 2 of them, we're missing 75% of our students' potential!
Let me say that again: THREE-FOURTHS of our children's potential is being either minimally addressed or completely ignored and marginalized by our education system.
That is NOT OK.
My personal domain is arts education, specifically music education, so that's where I'll be focusing my diatribe today. I don't feel comfortable getting into the technicalities of visual arts education or physical education or drama as those are outside my purview, although I definitely recognize that arts education, or "non-academic" subjects in general, share a number of commonalities.
So what does education in the arts look like? And why should we care about the arts anyway?
Way back when I was last employed as a school music teacher, the Music Educators National Conference and I parted ways. I'd belonged to MENC (now the National Association for Music Education) for years, because it's what one DOES when one teaches music in the States, but after realizing how different my outlook was from theirs, I ditched them for good after they continuously pushed a music performing contest for high schoolers for which one of the entry requirements was a number of proofs of purchase of Clairol products. :-( So while I was looking up information for this post, I decided to go back there - okay, to be honest, Google landed me there against my will LOL - and was reminded of one major difference between my outlook and theirs: many professional music educators, MENC among them, are primarily defending their academic turf by explaining the academic benefits of music education. Truth be told, studies do bear out the academic benefits of music education, from preschool through high school: certain areas of the brain function more efficiently, language acquisition is helped, kids score higher on IQ tests after music lessons, stuff like that. And of course when music is taught with regard to its origins, we can include history and social studies/world culture education, and the theoretical part of music is very mathematical. I think it's a crying shame that we have to resort to defending music this way.
What's sadly missing from most of this dialogue, in my opinion, is the intangible benefits of music education - and art education, and athletics, and being outside in nature. Music makes us FEEL GOOD. Listening to it is nice and all, but performing it just FEELS GOOD. Dancing to it FEELS GOOD. Creating it FEELS GOOD. Creating a work of art, or a beautiful healthy meal, or a piece of clothing, or an end table FEELS GOOD - just ask any Pinterest addict about the new stuff they've made for their homes. Participation in athletics makes us FEEL GOOD. And we're not talking about feeling good the way, say, a footrub helps us feel good, but they make us happy and content in deeper ways, even in spiritual ways. Creating and performing access parts of ourselves that go far far beyond anything quantifiable testing, above and beyond No Child Left Behind. We ARE leaving huge parts of our children behind, and we're all suffering as a society for it as they become adults who never really had the chance to access those parts of themselves.
The arts give kids a chance to open their minds, to learn in ways other than "only" visual, aural, and motor/kinesthetic. Kids can create, they can learn to think in broader ways, they can come up with solutions that might be hard to put into writing but can be drawn, or acted out, or performed. Kids who need, who really NEED physical activity and motion can be very well-served by a less-structured or at least differently-structured environment that many non-academic areas work well with - and the more we cut back those programs and opportunities in the name of "academic rigor" and "educational excellence," the less chance these children have to really cope in a standard classroom environment hour after hour after hour. Looking on the NAfME site for ways to "make my case" supporting music education, I did a search for "discipline" and mostly found references to self-discipline, very little to overall school discipline, but I know that when I see and substitute in classrooms where the arts and/or more physical activity are part of the routine, I find a much more pleasant atmosphere overall.
Why do we not include and teach and celebrate the performing and creative arts for themselves? Why not more opportunities for creative writing that aren't being judged solely - or even primarily - for how well they fit a prescribed formula used only in standardized testing? Why not more chances to draw, paint, sculpt, compose, perform, dance, even participating in athletics - to create and express, to interact with others in a different way, to use the other 75% of our brains that so often lie fallow so much of the time? We need that different kind of physical and mental activity as much as we need to be able to do a household budget or write a comprehensible sentence, but we have subjugated that part of ourselves in the name of reading and math and science.
Short and sweet, the arts are what make us all HUMAN. Not just biologically human, not just intellectually, but deeply spiritually, emotionally HUMAN. We neglect these parts of ourselves and our children's selves to the detriment of us all.
I love this video that gets to some of my thoughts about music education and arts education in general. Enjoy!
Monday, August 12, 2013
Why Arts Education is Crucial - Semi-Random Thoughts
Labels: academic, artificial, arts, arts education, athletic, creativity, education, multiple intelligence, music
I've always been a musician and music teacher, which got me interested in how the brain works. When my first child was born with some neurological issues that we've since learned can be helped by our diet and lifestyle, we began to learn more.... and more... and now my head is spinning with the things I'm learning about how the Standard American Diet (and lifestyle!) not only was hurting us but how it impacts all of us. Frustrated with The System that assumes that One Size Fits All and that leadership (and therefore information and power) must come from the Top Down, I suppose I'm also just a teensy bit subversive. LOL (That and I'm into parenthetical asides.) I'm the author of My Very Own Crunchy and Progressive Parenting Blog and Scratchpad; my eldest is the primary author of Stuff I Wish My Teachers Knew (under construction). :-)