Sunday, July 3, 2016

There's Something Happening Here

This excerpt is from my regular column, Culture & Kibbitz on May 24, 2016, at The Clyde Fitch Report. You can read the entire post, which discusses changes in the arts education landscape, here.

Something is Happening Here
There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear...
Everybody look what's going down...

Fifty years ago, Stephen Stills wrote those lyrics, which were first recorded in an iconic version by Buffalo Springfield in reaction to riots in LA provoked by a culture clash of the 1960s. Since that era, proponents of different political and philosophical points of view have made concerted efforts, overt and covert, to bend our government and institutions to their interests. When rhetoric and actual facts on the ground have diverged (as often happens), we must look deeper to really see “what’s going down.”

Consider, for example, the diminishment and/or disappearance of arts education in our schools. This is truly harmful to our society in light of data clearly demonstrating that exposure to the arts in the lives of school children better prepares them for the complexities of life in our culture and, in particular, for success in our modern information age. So it is heartening to see that while our common narrative holds that arts education has disappeared from our schools due to a lack of funds and the need to focus on building other skills, “there’s something happening here.”

We are now seeing public and private efforts, some coordinated and some not, to successfully rebuild arts education programs in pre-K-12 education. After so much debate and rhetoric, some people are again acknowledging that exposure to a broad and diverse set of subjects are critical to a thriving civic and business environment -- and art must be one of those subjects. This acknowledgement stands in the face of the longstanding argument that because literacy in math and science are critical for success and advancement in our technology-driven information age, and because the US has fallen behind in these areas, we must focus funding and standards on those areas, to the specific detriment of literacy of the arts.

At the beginning of this decade, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities called for reinvesting in arts education in K-12 schools. Its report noted growing data showing that arts education increases academic achievement, school engagement and creative thinking. Since then, repeated studies have further shown that arts education increases student graduation rates, improves performance on standardized tests, leads to a better understanding of higher-level areas of knowledge, enhances critical thinking and processing of complex information, and elevates social capabilities, including the ability to understand others. The Committee has invested time and funding in schools around the country testing this proposition.

At the same time, significant efforts in Boston, Dallas, Seattle, Chicago, NYC and LA are adopting related, but different, approaches. The results, while not enough in and of themselves to address the pervasive problem, show definite levels of engagement that contradict the commonly promoted rhetoric that there is diminished or no arts education in schools. In some cases, public schools, private citizens and nonprofit organizations coordinate to provide strategic and philanthropic support and a number of these groups have even built a consortium to exchange ideas, results and strategies. Almost all of them are now documenting improved access to arts education and student performance, though some still have a long way to go.

It is in the nature of the culture we inhabit today that no public debate is free of extreme, often misleading rhetoric. We argue in sound-bites rather than holding a rational consideration of facts and ideas. Half a century ago, some of those unhappy with the direction of the country successfully promoted the idea that we cannot afford arts education in the face of more pressing needs. As data continues to emerge that more and more reinforces what we know about the importance and benefit of arts education, the case gets stronger and stronger to bury the old thinking, once and for all.

Read the entire fully developed post in Culture & Kibbitz at The Clyde Fitch Report here.

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