Arts Education: Intrinsic? Or Instrumental?

Posted by John Abodeely, Aug 09, 2007 1 comment

By Nick Rabkin
Center for Arts Policy
Columbia College Chicago
August 8, 2007

It is so rare that arts ed or arts ed research gets coverage in the daily press. The recent article in the New York Times about the "Studio Thinking" research project (1) is significant first because of its rarity. It is already generating a buzz about arts education that we rarely feel.

It is important for another reason as well, though. For the last decade or more a debate has raged about the "intrinsic" vs. the "instrumental" value of arts education. Ellen Winner, one of the "Studio Thinking" researchers, played a very big role in that debate several years ago, when she and colleagues published a "meta-analysis" of arts education research in which she found no evidence that arts learning contributes to student academic achievement. (2) Hence, she argued, it was scientifically irresponsible to make a case for the arts' place in schools because they improve student performance in other subjects. Furthermore, she suspects that education policymakers will reason that if they want to improve math achievement, they will teach more math, not more arts. In the end, the arts are important in their own right and should be justified in terms of the important and unique kinds of learning that arise from the study of the arts.

Some researchers who believed that there was good evidence the arts did contribute to higher achievement across the curriculum criticized Winner's meta-study, arguing that it excluded good research from its scan.  As one of many places in the country where teaching artists were inventing new ways to improve schools by connecting the arts to other subjects, many folks here in Chicago felt Winner's study simply ignored their work and contributions. Others, more committed to arts education traditions, thought Winner bolstered their argument against "arts integration" and for "sequential and discipline-based instruction" in the art forms.

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What Have We Got to Lose?

Posted by John Abodeely, Aug 07, 2007 2 comments

by Judith Tannenbaum 

Preserving the important qualities of the Teaching Artist profession, while still moving ahead with its professionalization.

Passing on the vision and practice of art-making is as old as culture itself: creation stories told during long winter evenings, women and young girls weaving baskets, men welcoming boys to their dances. One generation has always taught the next.

This history moves forward into the 21st century. Artists; arts program administrators; school, hospital, senior center, and prison administrators and staff; and professors in a variety of college departments are increasingly asking that the valuable work done for decades by teaching artists be recognized as a professional field. 

One repeated conversation is a fundamental one that questions the ways in which professionalization of the field strengthens or harms this work that we love. In the midst of these conversations, I often think of architect Chris Alexander. When brought to the site of a new project, Alexander is said to have asked community members not only what they wanted that they didn't have, but also what they presently had that they valued and did not want to lose.

That's the question I'd like now to ponder: What do we-teaching artists, students, program administrators, site partners, community activists”cherish about the work of art in other places, as Bill Cleveland calls it, as it has been practiced over the decades? What do we want not to lose as teaching artistry becomes a more formal field?

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