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).