Whatever Happened to Humanities Curriculum? (from Arts Watch)

Posted by Tim Mikulski, Jun 02, 2010 1 comment

Two weeks ago, I joined approximately 40 other arts education leaders in a two-day meeting to discuss plans for National Expectations for Learning in Arts Education, a projected originally taken on by State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE).
For the first time in 16 years, arts education experts from national organizations spent time evaluating the possible impact and creating a plan for potential revisions, additions, or replacement for National Arts Education Standards.
Over the two days of discussion, I was struck by the passion in the room and energized by what will be coming in the next steps in the process.
Much has changed in the world since 1994. In fact, an entire generation of students has passed through the K-12 school system since that time and approaches to the challenges of access, equity, and quality arts education must change if not only because of time alone. However, we also cannot ignore the fact that other core subject areas are also realigning and revisioning their expectations. We simply can't be—forgive the term—'left behind.'

Thinking back to my own arts education experience, I realize that ironically most of it ended in 1994—the year I graduated eighth grade. Due to a variety of reasons including social pressures, the option of elective courses, and the low number of credits given to music classes (I lack the dexterity needed to be a visual artist, computers weren't my thing, dance wasn't an option, and theater could have been another route to being further identified by my sexuality before I was ready to deal with it.), the only arts education courses that I took in high school were a new course called Humanities Seminar and a one-semester course called Mass Media, which looked at music, tv, and film.
I often ponder if Humanities Seminar is even still a course, or was even repeated the following year, because it was one of the best classes I took in high school—combining history and language arts and using the arts as a way to create context for both. It was a challenging course, but judging by the reaction of my peers, even our checked-out senior minds didn't seem too bothered by it because it was fun and fascinating.
It is courses like those that should be the norm in today's schools. We no longer live in an education world where math, language arts, history, music, science, foreign languages, etc. should be all separated into their own little nodes. The 21st century needs, and deserves, students with well-rounded educations that prepare them for daily decisions and choices in every job sector.
Are you aware of courses like my Humanities Seminar in your local schools? Do you think they'd be valuable as an arts-integration model?

1 responses for Whatever Happened to Humanities Curriculum? (from Arts Watch)


August 02, 2010 at 7:40 pm

I took a Humanities course my freshman year in high school that was undoubtedly one of the richest educational experiences I've ever had. I learned to write in that class, learned to think and debate, learned that the separation between subjects on my report card and standardized tests corresponded to no such discernible dividing line in the world outside the walls of the school.

As a theater educator I didn't initially set out to work across disciplinary boundaries, but I've slowly come to see our rehearsal space as a crossroads where history, language, art and even math and science can intersect and inform each other. Last spring we put on a production of "The King and I" that cemented my commitment to making art in meaningful connection with the other teaching and learning happening at our school. The experience inspired my colleagues and I to deepen our work along these lines--or maybe it's better to say around this kaleidoscope? The linear model doesn't fit anymore! We've made some big changes in our department that will allow us to collaborate a lot more closely with the other artistic and academic programs this year. It's not quite a Humanities class, but I think we're heading in a cool direction.

Thanks for your advocacy work and writing.

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