Arts educators are not specialists

Posted by Mr. James Palmarini, Sep 15, 2015 1 comment

One of my favorite Saturday Night Live characters has always been the upright Church Lady, played by Dana Carvey. An opinionated citizen of the moral majority, she always got her way with guests on her “church chat” show, frequently putting them and the audience in their place with the catch phrase “Isn’t that (or he/she) special.” And in those moments it was special and usually very funny.

There are lots of things that are still special—the inexplicable rise of the Mets, my cat’s ability to sleep on his back, and the enduring appeal of the Muppets, for instance. This week we’re celebrating National Arts in Education Week. That’s special too. But those who teach it are not special, at least not to a vast number of school leadership who continue to see arts educators as extras or, ironically, specials or specialists. Arts educators are not specials, electives, extras, enrichments, non-academics, add-ons or encores teachers. They are education essentialists, just as much so as any other recognized core subject area professional teaching a rigorous, well-defined, and assessable body of knowledge and skills that prepares students for college, career, and citizenship.  

That fact was made clear twenty years ago with the 1994 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that articulated the value of arts education in school reform, and was further clarified when No Child Left Behind defined arts as a core subject area in 2001. Being listed along with English, math, history, science and other subject areas makes the arts eligible for federal funding. The current Senate ESEA reauthorization bill maintains the arts in the core subject language. The House ESEA reauthorization bill does not. Besides access to federal resources, what’s important about that arts-friendly provision is that it can serve as a key advocacy tool at the state and local level in curriculum planning and school board meetings addressing subject area access and equity. Despite long-standing core academic standing and directives from the U.S Department of Education, many state and local decision makers have continued to put arts education instructional time and funding cuts on the front lines of their school reform strategies. In other words, they are defining arts education as non-essential, and along with that philosophy has been the expendability of thousands of well-trained and certified arts teachers. That’s certainly special, but not in a good way.

So, here’s what I’m proposing you do this week on behalf of your community of arts teachers. Take the time to send them a note—whether they’re in- or out-of-school providers—and thank them for being the hard working core educators they are: theatre teachers, music teachers, dance teachers, visual arts teachers, and media arts teachers. Share that same note with their principals and school board members. Let them know how much you value and appreciate what those arts teachers are doing for your student and/or the community at large. While you’re at it, ask them to sign on to any petitions and letters that come their way regarding support for the arts as core language in ESEA reauthorization.  

And let’s leave behind the terms like “Extras” and “Specialists” to the pickles and barbecue sauce you can’t resist at your local bistro, and those guys you have to visit when your HMO says you have to go outside your network. Here’s hoping that ESEA reauthorization keeps the arts and those responsible for delivering it in the network of well-rounded education of all students. 

1 responses for Arts educators are not specialists


October 28, 2015 at 3:27 pm

Great post, Jim! Thanks for the reminder.

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