The Reason Arts Education Lacks School Day Resources is Because Arts Ed Professionals Don’t Do Quality Work

Posted by John Abodeely, May 24, 2010 5 comments

John Abodeely

This probably isn’t going to be a popular statement. But let’s throw it out there and see what folks think.

I believe that if arts education professionals provided amazing arts education to students, we wouldn’t have to fight for time in the school day, money in the school budget, or support among our neighbors. From firsthand experience, I know creating art and can be transformational. I believe that if the arts teaching workforce—whether teaching artists, certified arts teachers, or arts integrationists—could regularly and reliably facilitate the best arts education experiences for their students, there would be no question as to the absolute need to provide arts education.

I wouldn’t suggest this is easy. But I think it’s still true. And yes, the implication is that our work—collectively, across the country—isn’t good enough.

To be fair, I can see a couple obstacles to it.
1.    Our governance agents diminish the value of spiritual or personal value when there’s a tax dollar involved.
2.    Scaling up transformational, personally-demanding education would be hard.

But am I really off base? If we did this, would our existing obstacles still be obstacles? Would we still fight the “read, write, and you’ll be fine” assumption that plagues schools—especially high-poverty schools? Would we still run into assumptions that such experiences can’t compete with the need to clothe and house people?

So many of our authorizing agents still assume that it doesn’t matter what kind of life you live. It only matters that you survive it without being a criminal or a derelict. It’s not about quality—not for the masses. It’s about quantity. It’s not about the depth of the self, it’s about income. It’s not about you or others; it’s about the GDP.

What arts education offers its students has not been quantified by economists in any real way. But what it offers is still why I do the job I do.  I think if we took to our classrooms the same passionate, obstinate, unmitigated drive to transform—to fearlessly explore ourselves and our relationships, to expose unknown but harmful elements of our society—then we would not only earn our schools minutes and dollars; we would transform our schools. We would transform our world. We wouldn’t just have artists among us. We’d turn the whole place into a giant art studio.

I think that might be the most fantastic accomplishment there ever was.

5 responses for The Reason Arts Education Lacks School Day Resources is Because Arts Ed Professionals Don’t Do Quality Work


May 24, 2010 at 11:34 pm

I think there are some excellent points made here. I call it the "Sports Quandary". Sports are just as far from "essential", in regards to survival, and reading and writing. Yet it has no problem being supported by schools everywhere. Even at tax payer expense.

So what we are looking at can't simply be that arts are not seen as "fundamental" enough. It must be something about the way it is presented, or, as you say taught. Perhaps the average arts program in our school really is lacking.

Good article.

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Leslie says
May 24, 2010 at 4:03 pm

It was certainly the case at my undergrad school that the students who were, shall we say, "performance-challenged" majored in ed, while the others majored in performance. After graduation, some of the performance majors went on to become great teachers while education majors went...nevermind, I don't know where they went. They're not teaching though.

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May 24, 2010 at 4:08 pm

In the Lowcountry Arts Integration project, "What would I do differently next time" is part of the documentation I have to complete for every arts integrated project. Being a teaching artist is a practice, just as the education of kids is a grand social experiment in the best sense.

I personally don't have set-in-stone activities that I repeat from school to school, instead I work with teachers to develop a project that addresses curriculum needs then and there. Sometimes it flops and sometimes it's successful (my ratio is good) but it's always a learning experience for all involved. That's the great thing, and the problem, about kids-- they will learn something in any situation.

Improvement is necessary, always, however-
"if arts education professionals provided amazing arts education to students, we wouldn’t have to fight for time in the school day, money in the school budget, or support among our neighbors..."

falls short as a remedy for respect for the arts, academic achievement, and general school conditions.

In my schools, just two of the remedies would be improved nutrition for the kids, and a commitment to a calm and stable learning environment (ie no interruptions, no interrupting class for hearing exams, no lunch ladies coming in to take lunch orders, no indeterminate bells going off, no sudden cancellations of classes for assemblies. That and more all happened in one week recently.)

and then there's tax reform and other iniquities in SC...

Professionally, I'm not taking the blame for an administrative system and public that is too scatterbrained and doubtful to have good priorities.

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May 27, 2010 at 10:34 am

Hi Ty - I don't necessary see that happening--sports being treated too well. I definitely see some communities that highly value sports over the arts, but I also see a lot of schools cutting their sports programs to just about nothing. I'm grateful for Tim's recent post about the fight that is--unfortunately and necessarily--taking place between foreign language, sports, arts, and library services. Still, you make a good point--in some communities that disparity of value on sports, at the expense of many other opportunities, is unfortunate for a lot of kids who don't fit into that one learning experience.

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Will Stokes says
May 28, 2010 at 2:40 pm

I absolutely agree with Joh's statement about the priority and viewpoints of authorizing agents. Today, education does seem to be entirely about quantity. Quality and the intrinsic motivation behind both the arts and arts education seem to be completely denounced for the sake of the GDP, socio-political agendas, and sheer ignorance.

I can distinctly remember my adolescent years as a junior high and high school student. The only thing that seemed to be of any value to teachers was 'packing' information into students. Textbooks, endless worksheets, and testing were the loaded weapons of so called 'professional educators,' whose only aim was to box the information and content in and send us down the assembly line so to speak. Sadly to say, I can recall only a few instances in my high school education in which creative problem-solving and meaningful learning were held in high regard or standard.

The good news for me is that my college education turned every bit of that around. As an undergraduate and presently graduate major in Art Education, my greatest ambition in this world is to change the lives of young people for the better through the teaching and exhibition of visual art. This blog means a great deal to me.

We as artists and arts advocates need to project our voices for the nation and world to hear. WHAT WE DO MATTERS!

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