For Arts Professionals in the Know
Four years ago, when I first heard the phrase “turn STEM to STEAM” – i.e. add the arts to the federally-recognized acronym for science, technology, engineering and math -- I was skeptical.
As a theater geek born to a physician and biologist, I understood that the artistic process and scientific process have a lot in common, and that participants in each arena can learn a lot from one another.
My skepticism was not rooted in whether the arts and sciences are connected. What was missing for me as the “STEM to STEAM” mantra started to pick up more and more (ahem) steam was an articulation of how they are connected. Sure, there are elements of geometry in visual art, and yes, you need to understand basic math in order to read music or follow rhythms in dance. But arranging letters on a page is one thing; bringing different disciplines together in a thoughtful and authentic way is something entirely different.
In my mind, the ability to articulate and explore the authentic relationships between the S, T, E, A and M is crucial. The arts and the STEM subjects have similar processes, but provide different means of understanding what currently exist, as well as imagining what does not yet exist. If we want the STEM to STEAM movement to have longevity, we need to get specific about what those relationships are.Read More
For those of us who’ve been involved with arts education for any length of time, we’ve seen many theories and practices arrive on the scene. All are well grounded, express a philosophy of teaching, and hopefully build upon the education foundations already laid since the late 19th Century and the rise of the Picture Study Movement. Today, over one hundred years later, Common Core’s focus on national standards is receiving much attention from educators, commentators, think tanks, and politicians.
What seems overlooked in this evolution is the tectonic change that’s occurred inside the classroom. Specifically, inside the arts classroom–or on the mobile cart that carries the arts into the “regular” classroom.
Much time, it seems, is spent studying arts education practices at the macro level. We in the field read, listen, talk, debate, and write consistently on how theory and practice impacts students. In my household, alternatively, we generally eschew theory and instead talk a lot about reality. Why is that? Because my wife is a visual arts teacher in a K-8th grade public school.
In her 27 years in the classroom, things have changed. Kids haven’t really changed all that much, but the atmosphere surrounding public education certainly has.
The challenges she faces in her job on the front lines of education have evolved significantly. At one time, she felt supported by her principals and school administrators, especially in areas like discipline. Today, the kids rule. Principals now consider the child’s side of a dispute more than the teacher who brought it to their attention. School board members bend sideways with any angry parental breeze. Imagine an eight-year-old lying through their teeth after being caught doing something wrong, in spite of plain evidence to the contrary, and having the principal castigate the teacher for not “truly understanding” the child’s behavior.Read More
“If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves...We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament.” ~ from A Nation at Risk
Last Friday I attended an event at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looking at the impact of the report released back in 1983, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative For Educational Reform. According to the Fordham Institute’s website:
“Thirty years ago, A Nation at Risk was released to a surprised country. Suddenly, Americans woke up to learn that SAT scores were plummeting and children were learning a lot less than before. This report became a turning point in modern U.S. education history and marked the beginning of a new focus on excellence, achievement, and results.”
The report language itself called for many sensible reforms, including more instructional time, higher standards for courses and content, stringent high school graduation requirements, and demanding college entrance requirements.
But the sound bite that came out of the report was that we have a “desperate need for increased support for the teaching of mathematics and science.” And, "We are raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate."Read More
It has been an exciting few weeks for arts and arts education professionals and advocates in the nation’s capital.
After a week of activities hosted by the Arts Education Partnership, Kennedy Center Alliance for Arts Education Network, Emerging Arts Leaders at American University and Americans for the Arts’ State Arts Action Network, training for Arts Advocacy Day began on April 8 and we were off to the races to meet with our congressmen and women all day on April 9.
Quite honestly, by the time I headed home, I expected to be totally wiped out—overloaded with information and overwhelmed by the situation at hand. Instead, it felt like the more time I was able to spend with such passionate people, the more energized and inspired I became.
People do not work with students, schools, community organizations, or become advocates because they are passive. They do it because they see a need to ensure arts opportunities for all of America’s students, but they know that the annual Arts Advocacy Day activities are only a small part of the work that needs to be done.
Coming down to Washington to learn about and discuss federal issues is a change of pace for me, and for most of us who work at the state and local levels.
It is absolutely important to learn about, and try to influence, federal education issues that impact the arts such as the reauthorization status of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Delayed. Again. Still.), Race to the Top requirements (which require teacher effectiveness evaluations for all subjects, including the arts), and No Child Left Behind waivers (which allow for more flexibility at the state level to pursue changes in graduation requirements and assessments).Read More