Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Reinvesting in Success, What is the Problem?: Questioning the Relevance of Art in Education

The National Arts Educational Association (NAEA) cites “10 lessons the arts teach” ( Based in the teachings of Elliot Eisner (2002) these lessons give students possibilities of finding more than one solution to a problem as multiple perspectives allow problem solving techniques that can evolve and transform. The discourse of art is complex and demands technical focus of that based in the symbolic and the unspoken.  The capability to express feelings allows unique experiences of relationships that cannot be found in core curricula based only in common core standards.

Art defines culture and explains history. Recently, NPR reported that Spain’s Niemeyer Center for the Arts will close December 15th after nine months of operation ( It is a victim of the economy. Listener Joann Flora responded to the announcement by positing that in 1000 years the economy will not be what is remembered ( It is art that will survive and increase in economic value. Eisner (2002) reminds us that art is a cultural artifact and as such, is important to the fullness of a student’s learning experience. Art values are found everywhere and the outcome is technological and economic.

This past spring the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities published Reinvesting in Arts Education (May, 2011).  As the title clearly states, art is an investment that has “transformed the way we communicate, socialize, and do business.” Furthermore, “creative experiences are part of the daily work life of engineers, business managers, and hundreds of other professionals” (Arne Duncan, May, 2011).

I have difficulty in finding an argument omitting arts education from curricula other than NCLB made us do it.  Duncan (October 17th, 2011) declared that “Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is four years overdue” ( That same day the Secretary of Education proclaimed that “Our schools need to sustain arts and humanities programs where they are robust, and strengthen them where they are not” (

If “reinvesting” in the arts will help “fix” NCLB and allow students to succeed beyond schooling and become innovative contributors to economic productivity, why is there an argument as to its importance as a necessary part of the education of all children? I recommend visiting the November and December posts of Marilyn Stewart and Jo-Anne Kirkman in NAEA's "Monthly Mentor" blog as they dialogue both the realities and creative connections to art and culture (

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Take action

Arts is a necessary part of education for all students. Please take a moment to take the action necessary to get involved. When the arts become accessible as an advantage rather than a necessity, the outcome can never be an educational system where no child is left behind. Advocate for the Arts

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The link that follows this post is very important!!! When art is integrated into core curriculum, so many voices are heard. Throughout my elementary and secondary experiences as a classroom teacher, I taught students whose knowledge was suppressed as they continually failed due to fear of incorrect sentence structure, stupid or non-existent oral response answers, or the inability to understand the format of multiple choice possible answers. For many, the abstract, the aesthetic, the creative way of thinking needed to be allowed. For all, the artistic opened new possibilities.

As Elliot Eisner (2002) so eloquently reflected "what has been recognized - a lesson the arts teach - is that the coice of an approach to the study of the world is a choice of not only what one is able to say about the world, but also what one looks for  and is able to see. Methods define the frames though which we construe the world" (p. 215). So much of recent educational pedagogy is defined through the lens of  global success. Understanding that when standards of core accountability for some reason forgot to include the importance of the creative, aesthetic, and innovative as a means to enhance critcal iquiry and higher level thinking skills needs to be realized.

I agree with John Maeda when he states that "artists and designers,... are “'risk takers, they can think around corners.'” All students deserve the rush of succeeding.  When educators deny this rush because they are afraid of taking risks or don't understand how to turn corners, both teaching and learning opportunities are denied.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The Importance of Teachers
I agree with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that teachers are important. Their value is so much more than that which can be measured in annual assessments of accountability. Their importance is what students remember as being unique as they teach the individual, not the standardized collective. Teachers reveal possibilities that invoke innovation and inspire critical and creative exploration. Teachers have earned more than a thank-you as they engage in “the most important work…in our country today,” commands not just a thank you, but also respect.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Price of Educational Accountability

In a recent dialogue a colleague asked to share my perspective of how academic success can be measured other than through a lens of economic success. I had referenced Arne Duncan’s November 1st “” post reacting to the recent NAEP reading and mathematics “National Report Card” results in which he stated that “enhancing education for all is the key to our nation’s economic prosperity” ( At first I had a knee-jerk reaction as academic success was perceived as contributing to the “nation’s economic prosperity.” What happened to the importance of self? When did success change from individual to national need?
After I graduated from college, I decided to pursue a law degree. My heart wasn’t in this aspiration. I was an actress and loved to entertain. The legal thing was something I was supposed to do so that I could establish accountability that would translate to economic success. To support my thespian habit, I worked as a waitress. A University of Chicago chemistry doctoral student, who was a regular at the establishment in which I worked, volunteered to help me study for the LSAT. He was from India and was funded by his government to complete his education and return to his country. One night I asked him what he wanted to do with his education. He replied that he wanted to stay in America and own a liquor store. I never took the LSAT. At that moment I realized that becoming a lawyer was not me. The “American dream” was not a part of what defined my success because self-satisfaction and individual happiness was nonexistent.
Educational accountability has somehow become directly equated with not only educational success but also with national economic success. There is no longer anything that resembles the educational pursuit of a personal dream in the concept of the American dream and students have no understanding of why they are deemed successes or failures. Education is a competition of test scores with bubbled answers devoid of inspiration. Students are marked as failures for burst bubbles of empty learning.
Assessments that measure personal understanding must be part of the educational process. Assessments must include achievement that is meaningful to the individual. When students and parents can take pride in achievement, success has been measured, not by statistically processed data, but by individual accomplishment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Art is Literacy for Everyone

Watching my drama students rehearse an original adaptation of Peter Pan with special needs students always fills me with feelings of pride, happiness, and inspiration. They learn so much from each other as acting encourages risks and challenges many of these kids in ways they would never experience elsewhere. Most high school students wouldn’t dare perform on a stage before an audience. They wouldn’t have the courage to allow their imagination to experiment with all of the physical, vocal, and emotional possibilities. They wouldn’t pay careful attention to subtext that provokes action, reaction, and interaction. They wouldn’t appreciate the discipline necessary to successfully understand and use all of the elements involved in the art of acting. These kids do, and they never fail to move those who watch a rehearsal.

Drama students write, direct, design, construct, and act in a partnership with students who have a variety of handicaps and together they explore the intricacies of literacy that is written, read, and spoken. They create set pieces, props, and costumes, always aware of possible limitations, but never obstructed by them. Every student involved with this project, now in its 6th year, experiences the magic of theater in all of its glory. For some, this is their first such production. For others, it is their third or fourth. At first, the newcomers are timid, but by the end of the first week, all look forward to the rehearsals.

The drama class is a diversified group in and of itself. There are the gifted, learning disabled, gay, lesbian, bisexual, Mormon, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, Atheist, emotionally disturbed, cheerleader, band member,  science nerd, artist, chess club member, gamer, athlete, FFA/4H  participant, and many other represented diversities. Everyone works together for the same end. When these students work with the autistic, intellectually impaired, Downs Syndrome, emotionally and socially impaired, special needs students, learning occurs at so many amazing levels. The meaningful connections to learning at a number of levels of inquiry, innovation, creativity, and critical thought could not happen over and over again without the universal literacy of art.

Making snow for the 2010 production of "A Christmas Carol"

Creating the snow making device for the same production

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Price of Education?

Today the Walton Foundation (Wal-Mart) announced plans to donate $25.5 million more dollars to the KIPP Charter Network of schools, and tomorrow the Dallas-area Uplift Education is expected to announce its plans for expansion. (

In her blog with Deborah Meier “Bridging Differences” ( Diane Ravitch posted today that “never before were there so many people, with such vast resources, intent on dismantling public education. What does this mean for the future of public education? What does it mean for our democracy?

Are the foundations of economic power the future educational accountability bodies defining pedagogy, philosophy, and ideology? I have to question, then, the future definitions of student and teacher as curricula fall victim to the “bastions of unaccountable power” (Ravitch, 2010, p. 201). What becomes of teacher and student accountability when the very definition is based on a  price tag of success?

When students become commodities and teachers become producers of economic success, then that which defines pedagogy is driven by predetermined objectives. Democracy is no longer a possibility as learning becomes a product of capitalistic values. Teaching is no longer an art and students no longer experience possibilities built on imagination, creativity, and inquiry. Education will become a business, nothing more and nothing less.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

What Does Creativity Have to do With Knowledge Anyway?

The “Executive Summary” of the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities (PCAH) May 2011 report Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools states that “in October of 2008, then-Senator Obama released a powerful Platform in Support of the Arts. In it he argued for reinvesting in American arts education, and reinvigorating the creativity and innovation that has made this country great” (p. v). In the “Forward” of this same report, Arne Duncan posits “Education in the arts is more important than ever. In the global economy, creativity is essential. Today’s workers need more than just skills and knowledge to be productive and innovative participants in the workforce” (p. 1). If art and creativity is essential in a global economy, why is it excluded from current American schooling and what is needed so that this reinvestment becomes an actuality?

Perhaps the answer can be found when a blatant absence of arts-based educational research is realized. With an assessment-outcome focus on reading and math, creativity becomes victimized by tensions that are driven by structured, standardized mandates quantifiably measured with no wiggle-room for the artistic.  Ravitch (2010) noted that a result of NCLB was that “test scores became an obsession. Many school districts invested heavily in test-preparation materials and activities. Test-taking skills and strategies took precedence over knowledge” (p. 107).

With a new direction of post-secondary success, it is perplexing and frustrating that an administration and its Secretary of Education understands the need to include the arts in a curriculum design, but is preventing its inclusion. “What counts as knowledge depends on perspective, time, interest, method, and form of representation. What has been recognized – a lesson the arts teach – is that the choice of an approach to the study of the world is also what one looks for and is able to see” (Eisner, 2002, p. 215).

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Finding Possibilities in Standards

I find it interesting that there is not a lot of research exploring the connection of oral to written language (Shanahan, 2006). By secondary school it becomes perfectly clear in my experiences and observations as an English teacher, that a major problem found in today’s student writing is the re-creation of the spoken word to the written page. Students write like they speak. Double negatives, extraneous language, and slang infiltrate the short response to the multi-page essay. However, written language allows revision based in vocabulary choice, structure, and sequential organization (Shanahan, 2006).

So, why is what is written among adolescence so often a mimicking of oral communication? School teaches literacy as that which is read, written and spoken. Standards mandate the drilling and assessment of specific word recognition, reading fluency, and lexile driven comprehension skills that compose “a third area of investigation” of reading and writing relationships (Shanahan, 2006, pp. 175 – 176). I have taught to this research in preparation for the Standards Based Assessment of New Mexico that measures some level of adequacy among 11th graders.

I have taught to the “research” and taught to the “test” as writing was used as an assessment for reading comprehension. I find it somewhat problematic that the short cycle assessment given three times during the school year both separates the two so that a connection to validity and reliability is disconnected in the process. I do perceive one commonality of both assessments. As Scott (2008) posited “the potentially divergent pedagogies of teachers and the divergent interests and potential creative and intellectual endeavors of students are rationalized through the assessment” (p. 154).  I am left to reflect on the loss of “experiences, ideas and genres” (p. 158) that went unexplored in my classroom.

Through his research, Sumara (2002) argues that reading is most effective when it informs thought. He reflects that “ engagement with literary fiction is not merely a practice where one identifies with characters, learns moral lessons, and broadens perceptions” (p. 23) by experimenting with a more indepth reading based in the relationship of personal experience to cultural, historical events. Using the Commonplace Book concept, the goal of literary engagement “is to use features of the novel to create conditions where reader responses can become developed, collected, and interpreted” (p. 29). Relationships to what is read are created instead of based in lexile driven comprehension. However, I do perceive that through these relationships, comprehension reaches heights of critical thinking that will encourage the attainment of heightened skills.

When did individuality, diversity, and creativity cease to exist in the art of teaching? What is so wrong with personally relating  standards to “visions of a rich curriculum that will enable young people to examineways in which a diverse country has struggled to live up to its own ideals of justice, freedom, and equality” (Sleeter, 2005, p. 11)?

 I recently experienced the “turning off” of the wiki spaces site that allowed students to explore online writing possibilities and communicate in ways that superseded the boundaries of the classroom. Witte’s “Talkback Project “(2007) reached a similar roadblock. It is somewhat refreshing to find the “Talkback Project” alive and active as a teacher’s site allowing today’s educators to experience the ability to vent through a blog. Perhaps 21st century instructional strategies can be explored and shared as a process that diminishes the hidden agenda-driven boundaries that separate teaching from learning.

Instead of succumbing to roadblocksand agendas, there is so much that can come together through discussion, researching, experiencing, and expressing. Stories are allowed to connect, contradict, enhance, ignite, suppress, and deny. The possibilities become unlimited when learning is allowed the excitement of exploration. There is so much depth to so many stories that are taught to meet standardized requirements. Explain to Wiesel why the reading of Night should become a victim of mandated standards. Since when is Orwell’s Animal Farm a neatly ordered fable illustrating analogy, symbolism, and point of view? The enjoyment, frustration, and confusion provoked by Lowry’s The Giver can too easily be confined to discussions and short responses based in plot, characterization, and author intent. “When everyone in a classroom, including the teachers, shares personal experiences, the uniqueness of each voice is heard” (hooks, 2010, p. 57). Each class has its own uniqueness, its own energy, and its own funds of knowledge. No class should be lost in an oppressive pedagogy too easily accepted by simply meeting the requirements of standards and benchmarks.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Art is not a statistic.

Art cannot be quantified;

Isn’t that the argument?

“Among teachers reporting a decrease in instruction time for arts

education, our study identified a more likely reduction in time spent on

arts education at schools identified as needing improvement and those

with higher percentages of minority students”

(GAO Report to Congressional Requester, February, 2009 p. 30).

Art does not define students;

It allows individuality




And so much more.

“One of the unintended consequences of NCLB was the shrinkage of time available to teach anything other than reading and math. Other subjects, including history, science, the arts, geography, even recess, were curtailed in many schools” (Ravitch, 2010, p. 107).

When did the possibilities of art end?

Isn’t art a part of what is read, and

What math can create?

“When the teacher’s perspective is one that might be called emergent rather than prescriptive, the stakes for pedagogical innovation are higher and the demands greater” (Eisner, 2002, p. 152).

What is a student’s future?

Why is education limiting what they can be?

Who they are

Their dreams

What they perceive as their success…

Whose lens of responsibility is broken?

“I believe that all students should have the opportunity to experience the arts in deep

and meaningful ways. The opportunity to learn about the arts and to perform as artists is an

essential part of a well-rounded curriculum and complete education” (Duncan, 2011, p. 2) 

The power of “should”

Education is broken



Children suffer

As “essential” never reaches reality

At the expense of….


 “Our contribution to reform may be a suggestion for catching more frequent glimpses of the half-moon, more frequent movements with flamenco dancers, more heart-stopping dialogue with those who find themselves on stage. It is immeasurable, but it may signify a necessary professional development; it may be named ‘possibility’” (Greene, 2001, p. 132).

Where are the educators?

What happened to the art of teaching?

The benefits of learning?

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Dear Art: The essence of all stories, please come back because,

You are, “the extension of the power of rites and ceremonies to unite men, through a shared celebration, to all incidents and scenes of life” (Dewey, 1958, p. 271). It is through you that narratives unfold as symbolic voice, unmasking the truths of existence. Why then does education deny you as a part of the learning process? For, you give the voice of the teacher the means to share experiences with precision, articulation and imagination (Greene, 2001, p. 25). You empower as connections are made that ignite inquiry.

“Democracy is a story, or a set of stories, we tell ourselves. Stories of democracy have moral, aesthetic, and psychological as well as political resolution” (Beyer & Pagano, 1998, p. 391). A democratic classroom is one in which all voices are heard, stories are shared and an individual’s experience is expanded. Diversity is realized through the diverse community interaction of the educational environment. “Democratic stories require a new vocabulary that provides us with metaphors for our self-creation. And self-creation is not just moral and psychological; it is political, and it is an aesthetic act” (Beyer & Pagano, 1998, p. 393).

Art, you are oblivious to race, gender, wealth, social status, learning ability and handicap. You do not victimize students through a blame-the-family, stock story, mentality. Your defining power is stronger than the statistical standard of accountability that manifests as a number without human value, without a soul. You give the stories of students’ respected significance, empowering inquiry and insight that become Eisner’s “cognitive event” (Eisner, 2002).

All students must be given the ability to learn through experiencing a variety of ways to both think and express thoughts. Through you, students become problem solvers as they are given a heightened cognitive awareness that is expressed in “flights of the imagination” (Eisner, 2002, p. 9). Because of you, students unite in interpretive expression, instead of becoming victims of penciled-in bubbles. Differences identify the unique, not the adequate. For, who has the right to place judgment on either?

Teachers should not be afraid to take risks, explore, and discover the unknown. You provide a way to expand consciousness through new perceptions, reaching realities that are different and present discomfort rather than the safety and convenience of NCLB’s standards and benchmarks. To ignore your significance is to limit possibilities by both student and teacher.

As the essence of all stories, you have always provided the path to progressive thought. Through the visual arts, drama, dance, and music, oppressions are communicated as you reveal truths, expose contradictions, and propose transformation (Boal, 1985). The thicknesses of conformity, complexity, compliance and cowardice (West, 2001) are illustrated, symbolized, and characterized. Encounters are provoked and awareness is motivated “not in extrinsic demands, but in human freedom” (Greene, 1995, p. 39).

You are not a privilege, but a benefit that should not be reserved as an elite, educational gift. You are a part of life, an intrinsic part of the human experience that is acknowledged in universal stories. To banish you from the educational community results in learning that is fragmented and incomplete. Dewey (1958) recognized the need for you to be “the incomparable organ of instruction” but also realized that too often “we are repelled by any suggestion of teaching and learning in connection with art” ( p. 347).

My journey has just begun as I uncover the importance of your integration with the established NCLB core curriculum. You are necessary as a part of all education and your beauty in and of itself must have its place. Beyond being an artist, I am an art educator and art integration is my passion as a teacher, curricularist and theorist. Courage will come from the students, teachers, administrators and parents who share in the possibilities of transformative, magical experiences heightened consciousness. The entirety of a culture can connect, understand, and take ownership of a classroom that by its essence is democratic. Cultural stories become transformed as an entire educational community perceives, experiences, and reflects through enlightened inquiry.

Hannah Arendt, as quoted by Greene (2001), perceives education as the point “at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it.” (p. 75) Greene (1968) expands this perception when she states that teaching is “where we decide whether we love our children enough not to expel them from our world and leave them to their own devices, nor to strike from their hands their chance of undertaking something new” (p. 196).

Art, you cannot be extinguished. Though you have disappeared from education, your absence of power has evidenced itself through that which is imprisoned within the statistical. In May of 2011, the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities published the report Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools. In its forward, Arne Duncan posits “experiences in the arts are valuable on their own, but they also enliven learning of other subjects, making them indispensable for a complete education in the 21st Century” ( p. 2). Without you, Art, education cannot be whole. I will work for your return.

With Much Love and Respect,

Jill Lynn Hare Drama teacher, art integrator