The Subversive Tack: Arts + Education
The realm of combining arts and education is vast. I do not intend to address this vast landscape in a modest 600 words. However, I will highlight two of my favorite approaches to arts + education in the Los Angeles area.
Inner-City Arts (ICA) offers a variety of programs—school field trips, afterschool and weekend workshops, teacher training, programs for parents—to give children in one of the nation’s poorest areas opportunities for skill-building, artistic expression, and a safe environment.
ICA backs up its work with phenomenal statistics and partners with UCLA, Harvard, and the Department of Education to publish research that others can leverage. In addition to their excellent work and partnerships, the stories from Inner-City Arts are a never-ending source of inspiration.
Arts for All is the mothership for organizing sequential K–12 arts education in Los Angeles County and our 81 school districts. (Yes, eighty-one.) More than half of these districts have signed on since 2003. In addition to providing half a million students with arts education, the organizations backing Arts for All actually agreed on a definition of “quality arts education”.
Despite amazing organizations like Inner-City Arts and herculean efforts like Arts for All, we’re still fighting for the arts’ righteous place in society and education. We do have reason for cautious optimism, though. The #1 most-watched TED talk is Sir Ken Robinson talking about the faults of linear-based education, a product of the industrial revolution. He illustrates his point with the story of a dancer, which gets us artsy types all atwitter.
This video has been viewed 9.4 million times. The #2 most-watched TED talk is Jill Bolte Taylor sharing her experience of having a stroke, due to a blood clot in her left hemisphere. She describes the other-worldly perspective of consciousness in only the “right brain” that we arts folks love so much.
This video has been viewed 7.8 million times. 9.4 million views means that people other than teachers and dancers are watching.
Sir Ken’s message about the inefficacy of schools resonates far beyond education and arts advocates. Ms. Taylor’s recounting of the stroke experience is interesting, but it has reached an astounding 7.8 million views because she shares an experience that millions of people are longing for: escaping the left-brain mentality.
We, as an American society, are slowly starting to embrace the right brain. The ideas of innovation, creativity, and out-of-the-box thinking are now heralded as keys to business success. Authors like Dan Pink and Malcolm Gladwell earn spots on bestseller lists because they admit there’s something more abstract to success than just working hard.
At the same time that we are excited about the creative economy revolution, we love Freakonomics: the comfort of data-based predictions and the assumption that people behave rationally. (I enjoy economic theories, but the bit about people making rational decisions makes me laugh every time.)
So what’s the subversive tack when it comes to education?
We can use the principles of arts integration but we have to frame them differently, for ourselves and others. We cannot promote the arts integration model because we are desperate to inject more arts into education. We have to be aligned with the primary purpose of education: learning. Therefore, we promote arts integration principles because they are very effective teaching tools. (The purpose is teaching, not recruiting future arts patrons.)
The arts' place in the future of education does not lie within the fight for arts instruction during one-eighth of the school day, although that is important.
The subversive tack utilizes the arts in all eight hours of instruction, making learning of all subjects more effective. Why? Because it works. Before they know it, students and teachers will be participating in arts activities all day long. And we will smile.