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Opinion Matters: Delegitimizing Arts in Education

A couple weeks ago, I read an article in which I knew much of the information was wrong. Sure, the article touted the positive effects of arts in education, lauded some interesting and effective arts in education efforts, and asserted the importance of arts in education, but the core facts were just wrong. The data presented was misleading and, overall, the piece felt like a bit of a blanket “arts are good” article. I “cyber-boycotted” and did not share the article. Then I saw many friends and colleagues excitedly sharing and praising the article for its assertion that “arts in education is good,” and I wondered if our proliferation of the message “arts in education is good” is actually hurting our case for quality arts in education.

Are we “post-happy?” I love twitter and am usually quick to post articles and quotes about the benefits of arts in education, but recently I started to worry, “Is our blind posting of arts-ed-positive pieces actually delegitimizing our field?” What is effective advocacy? When Radhika Rao wrote about the “Are the arts relevant?” question and how we need to stop indulging people in the discussion of “Are they?,” I began to criticize myself for not having enough confidence in the value of our work to question the articles I was posting. I am so overcome by the need to prove our relevance, so quick to react to those who pose the “Are the arts relevant?” question, that I proliferate arguments and articles that don’t really live up to my standards and don’t match my beliefs.

As Radhika Rao points out in her post, shouldn’t we believe the arts are beneficial and stop challenging people to ask the question, “Are they?” Does the education field as a whole post articles with the breaking news, “Education is good! Education results in positive effects on children!” and other messages of enthusiasm for the field overall? We have come to accept that education overall is good for our children. Can we accept that arts in education is good and move on to more nuanced and interesting press about our field?

I find profiles of best practice helpful and feel-good pieces fun to read, but when the main message is “arts are good for our children,” the sarcastic “Really?!?!” alert goes off. When I see an article that delves deeper into our work, shares accurate and exciting data on the arts and learning, and communicates the importance of arts in education through its careful, thoughtful discussion of accomplishments AND challenges, then I get excited.

I resolve to be more discerning in my promotion of arts in education in the media. I resolve to trust in my belief that arts in education is good and that our society truly believes it is good. Yes, we are up against budget cuts, shifting national priorities, competition for time and energy of educators, and other challenges that necessitate fighting for our place in lives of children and their schools, but I resolve to move beyond the basic arguments and hope for something a little more interesting. I resolve to question, because questioning gives Arts in Education the legitimacy it deserves. Do you?

Aliza Greenberg

Aliza Greenberg Aliza Greenberg (AiE 07) (Chair) is currently the COBALT Manager at the Metropolitan Opera Guild.  Aliza@aieconversation.org

3 Replies to "Opinion Matters: Delegitimizing Arts in Education" Subscribe

  1. Srivi Kalyan Permalink  | May 21, 2013 02:18am

    Aliza, I totally agree with you about the feel-good pieces that don’t delve deeper into what learning, creating or working in the field of arts really means. In fact, as I constantly point out to my students, the arts are serious, and we struggle with consciousness levels, emotions, subtle realities of energies and balancing out days when the creative force just flows through us and the days when we are parched. And to package all of this into a “arts are fun, relaxing and beautiful” feel good conversation sometimes frightens me. Even more, when you look at so many artists lives, you see a lot to the contrary that is not accounted for in these conversations. And so many times I have heard non artists, telling me, “Oh artists live very messed up lives!”

    Most of the time, the feel good conversations actually end up putting us on a very stupid and superficial platform, where our intelligence, complexity or depth of thought cease to matter. Truly speaking, they are dangerous to the arts, because they completely negate the immensity and expanse of this field of human thought.

    And it is so essential to move the conversation forward, so artists can confront the realities of art making as well as survival. ‘Non-artists’ can challenge their own preconceived notions about the arts.

    And art educators can spend more time talking about how to deepen reflection, expression and creation, how to balance creative energies, how to deal with one’s own depleted creative forces, how to actually use the arts for meaningful conversation in society, rather than validation for our existence as artists.

  2. Talia Permalink  | May 23, 2013 07:03pm

    Hear hear!
    I heart this post for a number of reasons. First, I am pretty sure I know which article you are talking about. 🙂 Second, you’re surfacing two distinct questions that we tend to collapse together. The first is, “Is (arts in) education good?” The second is, “What KIND of (arts in) education is good?”
    (And what do we mean by “good,” anyway?)
    If asking the first question is lazy and irresponsible, then, in my mind, so is shouting “YES” in response. I vote we stop doing either and focus instead on what whats and the hows.

  3. Aliza Greenberg Permalink  | May 25, 2013 02:21am

    Thank you both so much for your comments! I feel like we need to start asking a lot of different questions and among them “What makes “good” (arts in) education?” which I think Qualities of Quality does. I am very interested in those deeper HOW questions we can ask and how we might articulate them. I think we need more details, more information, and even more (accurate) data in all of our discussions.

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