Advocating for Arts in the Classroom

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Academic discipline or instrument of personal change?


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Fall 2010 / Vol. 10, No. 4

Every chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts must advocate for arts education. The arts need a voice in power, say people in the field, someone in the corridors of influence to argue the benefits of teaching the nation’s students about classical and jazz music, ballet, and sculpture. With No Child Left Behind (NCLB) emphasizing math and reading, business and manufacturing leaders calling for workplace readiness in our graduates, and politicians citing lagging international competitiveness in science and math, the Arts Endowment chairman must utilize the bully pulpit more than ever before. Dance, music, theater, and visual arts show up ever further down the priority ladder, and arts educators feel that they must fight to maintain even a toehold in the curriculum. The Arts Endowment chairman, they insist, must help.

It is no surprise, then, that in a November 2009 profile in the Wall Street Journal, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Rocco Landesman offers pointed remarks when arts education comes up. Examine closely what he singles out about the field:

When [Landesman] starts talking about his ideas for integrating the arts in education, his rhetoric becomes less bipartisan: “We’re going to try to move forward all the kids who were left behind by ‘No Child Left Behind’—the kids who have talent or a passion or an idiosyncratic perspective. Those kids are important too and they should have a place in society. It’s very often the arts that catches them.”

The emphasis falls on the unusual student, the difficult kid, not on the arts as a subject for study. Landesman doesn’t defend arts education as a rigorous discipline that builds concentration and requires practice, practice, practice. Nor does he say, We need arts education to keep alive the legacy of American art—Thomas Cole, Martha Graham, Duke Ellington… He doesn’t highlight the provocative stuff with something like, We need arts education to train young people to comprehend innovative, boundary-breaking art. Instead, the purpose is salvation. Some students don’t fit the NCLB regime and other subjects don’t inspire them. Talented but offbeat, they sulk through algebra, act up in the cafeteria, and drop out of school. The arts “catch” them and pull them back, turning a sinking ego on the margins into a creative citizen with “a place in society.”

Saving Kids with Art

To educators outside the arts field, it sounds like an odd approach to a school subject. If you want to advocate a field, you have to justify it as a discipline. It has to form a body of knowledge and skills that students study at least partly for its own sake. In the case of the arts, a graduated curriculum would incorporate technical skills and art history and theory, just as English language arts integrate literacy skills and the lineages of English, American, and world literatures. Yes, arts learning may have social and moral and professional benefits, but if people don’t value the materials of the fields themselves—if they can’t say that if High School X doesn’t acquaint students with Renaissance painting, classical music, and modern dance, its graduates will be undereducated—then arts educators lose in the competition for funds and hours in the day. Arts education remains an extracurricular, and school administrators focused on math and reading can push it aside: The arts are fine, so let kids who are interested in them study in an afterschool program like band practice.

The arts-saves-kids rationale crops up frequently near the centers of political power. I heard it repeated time and again while working on arts education policy at the Arts Endowment from 2003 to 2005. In gatherings such as the thrice-yearly meetings hosted by the Arts Education Partnership (AEP), a venture funded by the Arts Endowment and the U.S. Department of Education, arts education directors at state arts councils, officers at foundations, community arts school leaders, and various education-school professors outlined programs and research that related arts in classrooms directly to students in classrooms, especially to low-income, minority, at-risk, and underserved populations. Participants tended not to be classroom teachers, but to come from a network of public agencies, nonprofits, and academic centers, such as the Arts in Education Program at Harvard University. Their job was promotion, not instruction, their audience funders and politicians and school administrators, not students. They didn’t talk much about the arts canon (Shakespeare, Beethoven, etc.) or the interpretation of forms and contents (how to understand ancient tragedy, modern dance, etc.). Nor did they offer practical strategies for teachers and administrators who want to maintain the arts but face budget cuts and faceless bureaucracies. Instead, they talked about where to find money, how to build alliances, react to new policies, and firm up political support. And their preferred mode of vindication was to cast arts education as an agent of social change and individual transformation. As Dick Deasy, director of the Partnership (who retired in 2008), liked to say, “Teachers don’t teach a subject—they teach kids.”

In 2004, for instance, the Arts Endowment sponsored a summer institute organized by the Ohio Arts Council in Dayton. The stated aim was to bring educators from around the state together to hear about ways of strengthening arts curricula in schools. The headline speaker the first day was Harvard professor Jessica Hoffman Davis, who gave a rousing summary of what arts learning does for kids, stating at one point that the arts, among other things, allow schools to get away from letter grades. In the breakout sessions, participants had a common reply: “That was great, but we already believe in the arts. We need to find more classrooms, more resources, more money!”

In such discussions, the social dimension, the salvation purpose, overrode more mundane concerns. In a plenary session of the September 2003 AEP forum at Lincoln Center in New York, Kurt Wootton of Brown University offered a representative vignette in histrionic detail. After asking everybody in the room to say hello to people sitting nearby and to explain why they were there, he illustrated why the arts are “uniquely positioned to create social opportunities for learning.” (The address is reproduced on AEP’s web site in You Want to Be a Part of Everything: The Arts, Community, and Learning.) His proof came in the form of the story of Carlos, “a real gangster.” According to one of his teachers, Carlos was “the bad boy of the neighborhood,” a tough kid who “didn’t take s— from anyone.” He spent his first two years of high school on suspension, in detention, and now and then in class. Teachers dreaded his presence and administrators threw up their hands.

But in English class, something special happened. Carlos read at a 5th-grade level, but in discussions of Othello and Of Mice and Men, “he always had something interesting, and more often comical, to add to the class.” As the year progressed, his commitment did, too. With the help of a visiting theater artist, the students began to design and rehearse a pastiche of scenes from works they had read along with accounts from their own lives. The year would culminate in a schoolwide performance.

After three weeks of rehearsals, the teacher realized, Carlos had not missed a single session. Amazing, but even more so was what the teacher noticed later that day on the school’s daily attendance sheet. At the top of the “out of school suspension” list stood Carlos’s name! He had been kicked out of school for 10 days and had already served 7. And yet, his theater attendance was perfect. Carlos was sneaking back into school for theater.

When Wootten finished Carlos’s story, the room erupted in applause. It had all the ingredients of arts education advocacy and some enticing rebelliousness as well: a caring teacher who doesn’t give up on sliding students, a bad kid with a heart and a brain, a visiting artist in a tough school, and a minority group member defying administrative powers for love of theater.

One can appreciate the motivation that theater inspired in the young man, but the story had some dark undertones unrecognized in the speech. I asked one man who had to deal often with school administrators about what a principal would say. He shook his head and replied, “If a principal suspended a student, he did so for a pretty good reason, and if he knew that the kid was sneaking back onto the grounds, he’d be furious.”

One could hardly imagine the story stirring teachers in other fields, either, for it didn’t validate the arts as an academic discipline. A history teacher might respond, “You think the arts are more ‘motivational’ than history?” A math teacher might say, “Getting an ‘A’ on an algebra final raises self-esteem just as much as doing a self-portrait in art class.” If arts advocates instead emphasize the material—Shakespeare, major and minor chords, etc.—other teachers might show respect for their position, even if only to avoid appearing anti-art or anti-intellectual.

But such tactics don’t obtain at AEP or similar meetings. Turnaround tales and the like carry too much emotional freight to be displaced by talk of art history. Perhaps those engaged in arts ed lobbying believe that class- and race-based melodramas best sway elected officials and philanthropic organizations. Or perhaps they genuinely find the social and personal benefits of arts instruction more compelling than the arts themselves.

Arts as Discipline

When Dana Gioia took control of the Arts Endowment in January 2003, he didn’t share the arts-as-salvation outlook. One of the first things he told his education staff was of his preference for the Core Knowledge curriculum. While he believed that arts education enriches young people’s minds and transforms their lives, he felt that arts education had the strongest impact when students encountered lasting works of force and beauty. Students needed to experience great art—classic and contemporary—to acquire a solid foundation for their own general education and creativity. Otherwise, arts education would remain a sidelight in the curriculum, marginal and ineffective. How to impart the importance of artistic tradition without estranging arts ed advocates?

Gioia launched two reforms. First, he asked David Steiner, whom he hired to direct the Office of Arts Education, and me to review grant guidelines and suggest ways to strengthen their content requirements. We came up with a simple, but far-reaching stipulation: applicants for arts education grants had to align their programs with national or state standards and evaluate student learning by them. Awards to “Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth” must “apply national or state arts education standards,” we insisted, and “Students will be assessed according to national or state arts education standards.”

This created a challenge for arts organizations applying for Arts Endowment awards. Many of them had evaluation plans already in place, but those usually amounted to questionnaires issued to students at the end of the program that measured their attitudes and enjoyment. Or, they involved observations by evaluators who measured participation—for instance, how many kids talked in class. They did not focus on learning outcomes. From now on, they’d have to.

Arts advocates didn’t protest the change, in part because the field had already embraced outcome measures: the National Standards for Arts Education. The project was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the U.S. Department of Education, and the National Endowment for the Humanities; a consortium of arts teacher organizations developed comprehensive standards for dance, theater, music, and the visual arts. Significantly, the designers weren’t primarily engaged in advocacy and fundraising. The final version appeared in 1994, and ever since it has garnered solid esteem, even though its premises run against the child-centered dramaturgy described above. Above all, arts educators wanted to establish strong disciplinary standards for their respective fields, both to regularize arts instruction across the country and to win higher recognition for the fields in the overall curriculum. Wisely, the designers insisted on the fundamental place of art history in the document. “In this document,” they wrote, “art means two things: (1) creative works and the process of producing them, and (2) the whole body of work in the art forms that make up the entire human intellectual and cultural heritage.” They define a “good education in the arts” as including “a thorough grounding in a basic body of knowledge.”

Furthermore, the standards “help ensure that the study of the arts is disciplined and well focused,” and that “arts instruction has a point of reference for assessing its results.” Assessments in the document follow not from social and personal impact, but from knowledge and skills. For instance, dance standards for grades 9–12 include this skill test: “Students choreograph a duet demonstrating an understanding of choreographic principles, processes, and structures”; and this content test: “Students create and answer twenty-five questions about dance and dancers prior to the twentieth century.” Music 9–12 includes this one: “Students classify by genre or style and by historical period or culture unfamiliar but representative aural examples of music and explain the reasoning behind their classifications.”

Gioia’s other reform was to develop separate arts education initiatives based squarely on art historical content. These programs were a primary instrument for building congressional consensus on Arts Endowment funding overall:

•  Shakespeare in American Communities—tours by theatrical companies to smaller towns and thousands of schools across the United States to give performances of Shakespeare plays and run workshops for students. The program included a toolkit for English and theater teachers that contained educational materials; by 2008, the toolkit had been delivered to teachers of more than 24 million students.

•  American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius—a multidimensional program providing, among other things, educational materials to schools on the high-culture heritage of American art.

•  Poetry Out Loud—modeled on the National Spelling Bee, a competition at the school, state, and national levels for high-school students, who memorize and recite a poem selected from a list of works both contemporary and classic, John Donne to Allen Ginsberg. Winners receive college scholarships and cash prizes for their schools’ libraries. In 2008, 250,000 students participated, and media coverage included a front-page story in USA Today and a segment on CBS News Sunday Morning.

The content of art and artistic tradition was at the center of each initiative. When Gioia first unveiled Poetry Out Loud, some state arts officers protested because it didn’t allow students to present their own compositions. Gioia’s reply was, in effect, “That isn’t what the competition is about.” With this particular effort, he wanted to encourage more reading of great poems, not more writing of adolescent verse.

Other figures in the arts education network considered Gioia’s programs tame and conservative, a Bush administration retreat from edgy and provocative art. On PBS NewsHour, for instance, after Gioia cited the Shakespeare initiative, interviewer Jeffrey Brown remarked, “Of course, for some people, though, this is the essence of ‘safe.’ Shakespeare? Who’s against Shakespeare?”

Gioia’s sage reply hinted at the social benefits of art while still honoring the art itself: “I could come up with 100 adjectives for Shakespeare before ‘safe’ would be the one I would offer [Regan and Goneril safe? The climax of Hamlet?]…. I was in a production in New York and we had all these New York insider theater people as half the audience and then in came 50 kids from the South Bronx. They were seeing Richard III. This production alarmed, excited. It was provocative. It wasn’t safe. It opened up possibilities in life and imagination to these kids that they weren’t getting otherwise.”

It helped, too, that the initiative gave 2,000 actors in 77 theater companies employment, and that Gioia was able to fund the Shakespeare project without taking any funds away from existing theater grant categories. Moreover, the Arts Endowment’s allocation from Congress grew steadily, jumping $20 million from 2007 to 2008 alone. Even if they bristled at the high-art, standards-based nature of Gioia’s approach, arts education advocates had to appreciate the resources he steered their way.

Beyond the Divide

For all the talk about why the arts are important and how they must be funded, the most successful support tactic I have encountered came from an actor/director in Los Angeles, Pierson Blaetz, co-director of Greenway Arts Alliance. The Greenway Arts Alliance runs a theater on the grounds of Fairfax High School, a large public school in the middle of West Hollywood. Living in the neighborhood during the’90s, Blaetz and co-founder Whitney Weston became interested in bringing more arts to students, but had to figure a way to provide the two necessities, space and money.

The project was an ingenious act of entrepreneurship. Blaetz and Weston surveyed the Fairfax High School campus and saw hidden value. First, they spotted an unused, roomy student social hall that lay separate from the main buildings and could serve as a venue for practice and performances. Second, they noted that the campus had an asset that was not in use on weekends: land. Fairfax High sits on expensive real estate right next to the L.A. Farmers Market. On Saturdays, while locals and tourists flooded the market, Blaetz noticed, acres of Fairfax High sat quiet and empty. What if, they proposed to school administrators, they leased and renovated the student hall and ran a weekend flea market at the school? They would charge a small admission fee, have merchants pay for spaces, let students work it, and pass the proceeds to the school. In return, Fairfax High would integrate Greenway into the curriculum and support its professional activities.

Administrators agreed, and now the Melrose Trading Post opens every Sunday in the Fairfax High parking lot with as many as 4,000 customers browsing some 200 stalls filled with antiques and collectibles. Meanwhile, students take courses at Greenway in drama, dance, and film, including theater classes for low-skilled 9th- and 10th-grade readers. Students also join Greenway in various productions after school, and their weekly Poetry Lounge is one of the most popular slam events in the country. While Greenway’s curriculum emphasizes its work with “at-risk high school students” and the power of the arts to “motivate youth” and impart “essential life skills,” it also aims at “skills, knowledge, and/or understanding of the arts consistent with national and state arts education standards.” In other words, while nodding to the social benefits of the program, Greenway recognizes the bottom line: demonstrated learning of the art, history, and practice of theater itself.

The Greenway Arts Alliance is an obvious model for arts education. Greenway has received support from public agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the City of Los Angeles, but it has staked its continuance year-to-year on private enterprise. The program has thrived for years, and Fairfax High principal Ed Zubiate couldn’t be happier. Money comes in each week, affording the school needed resources, while the Fairfax curriculum expands nicely into the arts. In addition, 15 students have paid employment at the Melrose Trading Post each semester, and adults in the area with no connection to the school visit the grounds to attend performances (thus enhancing the school’s community profile). The relationship is symbiotic, not one of arts educators beseeching a few crumbs and class minutes.

Blaetz says that there are thousands of schools across the country ready for the same kind of creative economizing. A school might run a small farm that teaches students ecology and agriculture—and sells produce on weekends. The strategy transcends arts education and poses a logistical question about all schools. Why are they sitting on underused resources year after year, while scrambling to fund the arts and other programs?

When I shared Blaetz’s story with arts education advocates, not one of them followed up. I mentioned it to several attendees at AEP meetings and received blank glances in return. I’m not sure why, but I can guess. The people I encountered prosecute their mission by appealing directly to federal, state, and local governments and to nonprofit foundations for help. Blaetz went first to the free market. That approach is simply foreign to the network of arts ed folks hovering around public agencies and philanthropic groups.

That’s too bad, because what arts education needs in a time of fiscal crises are fewer advocates and more entrepreneurs.

Mark Bauerlein is professor of English at Emory University.

Comment on this article
  • Jamil Zainaldin says:

    I am one of those who see arts (and humanities) as instruments of personal growth and even transformation, but not with the snap of a finger. I believe that Mark Bauerlein is absolutely correct in saying that study, discipline, knowledge, reading – the attainment of mastery of content, or at least the effort to do so – is where art gains its real power, its staying-power. In an age when we are inclined to forget what came before, how we got here (we did not bring ourselves, that’s for sure!), Bauerlein’s voice is one to listen to, and to carefully weigh.

  • Michelle Kamhi says:

    Mark Bauerlein’s emphasis on the benefits of discipline, standards, knowledge, and skills in arts education for all children–not just for under-achieving students–is laudable. And during Dana Gioia’s tenure as Chairman of the NEA, commendable programs were indeed instituted in their particular area of expertise, the literary arts.

    With respect to visual art education, however, with which I have been primarily concerned, the sad truth is that state and national standards are woefully confused and inadequate. (See my remarks on this in “What Hope Is There for Art Education?” .)

    To a large extent, the art education standards reflect the lack of meaningful standards in the contemporary artworld itself, as do many NEA grants for projects in the visual arts. Unfortunately, this was true even during Gioia’s chairmanship.

    Moreover, as I recently noted in the Wall Street Journal (“The Political Assault on Art Education” ), many professors of art education who are now training the next generation of teachers have replaced a concern for high-quality art with purely political and social goals. Such goals were not only the theme of this year’s National Art Education Association convention, they are also the subject of a special double issue of the NAEA’s journal Art Education, just published.

    Many of the works advocated for study by the proponents of such “art” education would not even be recognized as art by most ordinary people. Yet one prominent arts education advocate has dubbed me the “Joe McCarthy of Art Education” for arguing that a “performance piece” which consisted of distributing specially equipped sneakers to illegal immigrants crossing into the United States should not be studied in America’s art classrooms.

    We have a long way to go before we achieve a solid consensus regarding what constitutes high-quality visual art education.

    Michelle Kamhi
    Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  • Louis Torres says:

    Mark Bauerlein deserves high praise for his critique of the “art-saves-kids” emphasis in arts education and his insistence that the field must “form a body of knowledge and skills that students study at least partly for its own sake” (though I would substitute “mostly” for “at least partly,” or eliminate the qualifier altogether). As a former high-school teacher of art and music appreciation, I especially applaud his views.

    I find his suggestion that “we need arts education to train young people to comprehend innovative, boundary-breaking art” troubling, however. Having long tracked such terms as “innovative” and “boundary-breaking” in arts criticism and scholarship, I should note that they are almost exclusively used to refer to contemporary “avant-garde” work that is in fact incomprehensible and, I would argue, not art at all. (For numerous examples, see Artworld Buzzwords [scroll down to, or search for, “blur” and “innovative”].)

    It is unclear if Professor Bauerlein has this sort of “art” in mind, though I would guess not.

    Louis Torres
    Co-Editor, Aristos (An Online Review of the Arts)

  • […] is a provocative article by Emory University professor Mark Bauerlein on this subject, and a response by arts ed blogger […]

  • J.L. Williams says:

    Mr. Bauerlein has written a very interesting and thought provoking piece. It gives me pause to reflect on how I have promoted our schools’ art program to others. I wonder how often I have used the ” arts-saves- kids” approach instead of pushing for a quality art program. Thanks for writing a piece that may challenge many of us in art education.

  • Mark Bauerlein says:

    Good point, Louis, and I pull back from advocating “boundary-breaking art” as the center of arts education for precisely the reasons you note. What strikes me about the social-impact argument is that it doesn’t even stay with “radical” art. The radical and the traditional are both folded into the “saving kids” rationale.

  • […] Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, doesn’t think so. In a recent post on his blog on Brainstorm, the group blog of The Chronicle of Higher Education, he offers “How Not to Save The Arts.” It refers, in turn, to an article he wrote for Education Next called “Advocating for the Arts in the Classroom.“ […]

  • Education Next says:

    Further discussion of this article, and the issues it raises, can be found on Judith H. Dobrzynski’s blog “Real Clear Arts.” See

  • JXP says:

    Discipline training vs personal transformation: surely this is a false dichotomy? Attaining the habits and proficiencies of thought that come with disciplinary expertise is surely one of the most profound personal transformations we can experience.

    In any case, isn’t the main point here about arts education funding?

  • […] by PhiloDave on September 20, 2010 I don’t even know what to say about the piece that I just finished reading, other than to say that it had my head spinning at various points, while nodding at other as I read […]

  • […] bloggers directly or indirectly addressed points made by Mark Bauerlein in his article “Advocating for Arts in the Classroom” published in EducationNext and I’ll chime in, […]

  • Megan Zugelder says:

    “Some students don’t fit the NCLB regime and other subjects don’t inspire them. Talented but offbeat, they sulk through algebra, act up in the cafeteria, and drop out of school. The arts “catch” them and pull them back, turning a sinking ego on the margins into a creative citizen with “a place in society.””

    This part of the article really made me think about the importance of requiring and implementing a balanced curriculum! As educators, we are constantly reminded of how each child is a unique individual and we learn to embrace the differences in each student by planning lessons that are open-ended and stretch across the curriculum. We try to focus on various opportunities for implementation, discovery and assessment so we meet the range of interest and abilities. My next question is, why are the arts being cut out? It is the same feeling that I have for physical education. Children need to be exposed to these areas of curriculum and culture. I truly think that the lack of knowledge and opportunity with the arts has caused for many problems in society in regards to respect and acceptance. If students were more exposed to the arts they may find a true passion and if nothing else, an appreciation. It saddens me to think that some students who excel and truly enjoy the arts may struggle or begin to have a negative attitude toward school because they are not provided with a special outlet that other students may feel that they receive in other subjects. I am definitely an advocate for the arts in schools for all of the wonderful opportunities that it can bring to all students.

  • Jennifer says:

    I strongly support arts education for all students – it’s a vital to our culture and adds greatly to academics. But I maintain that for some students, whether as a “savior” or to meet the needs of their talents and passions, we do need schools dedicated to arts: pre-professional programs to truly prepare artists to succeed in arts careers (which may even mean teaching the arts! And yes, I too can make the argument that the arts can benefit anyone in any career, but there are some who will choose to make their living through the arts). I can’t single-handedly change the scope education, but I can try to meet the needs of a few students and continue the ripple effect to impact greater change.

  • Education Next says:

    The following was submitted as a letter to the editor:

    There is much to appreciate in “Advocating for Arts in the Classroom.” In the recent past, the central issue inhibiting a quality arts education for U.S. public school children has been an overemphasis on high-stakes testing. For too many policymakers, student achievement is defined solely by test scores in reading and math, which has led in turn to the disappearance of the arts, particularly in low-performing schools. Turning this around will require a well-crafted message that includes and significantly expands on the value of great art in and of itself.

    But I disagree with Mark Bauerlein’s viewpoint on arts education advocates: we need more advocates, not fewer. For some principals, the spring concert may be what brings parents into the school building. For special needs students, the process and tools of the arts open up important new pathways of learning. For new Americans, the arts in the schools may provide the means to share their cultural heritage while celebrating a diverse citizenry. For others, it will be the discovery of Kandinsky. Arts education today is more than instruction: it is also a barometer of our willingness as a nation to provide equity through our public institutions.I applaud Rocco Landesman for bringing his important message directly to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan at their joint appearance at the Arts Education Partnership: “Arts exposure is fine, but unless students are prepared for the art, unless teachers are integrating the art into the student’s overall learning for the year, it remains exposure, not education…. The public schools need to own arts education. It should not be outsourced to us.”Presumably Landesman recognizes that school teachers identify the NEA as the National Education Association, rather than the National Endowment for the Arts, and that as chairman he can have much greater impact advocating for arts education with the White House, Congress, and U.S. Department of Education than he will through direct work with the arts education field. While the programs of the National Endowment for the Arts are indeed vital, stimulating arts education–friendly policies at the USDOE must not be overlooked.

    Richard Kessler
    Executive Director
    The Center for Arts Education

    (For more letters, please see

  • Education Next says:

    The following was submitted as a letter to the editor:

    I agree with Mr. Bauerlein’s twin observations that arts education adherents need to go beyond the social/behavioral-rectification benefits of the arts and demand more rigor and an understanding of art’s context. Focusing solely on arts-specific practice has led the general public to look upon arts education as worthwhile only for those kids who want to be artists (e.g., “Glee-wannabes”), hence the current overemphasis on practitioner development. It also follows that there should be a better balance between self-expression and communication: expression is easy, effective communication more demanding.

    Given the current educational climate, the rich value of arts in education has yet to be mined. According to [executive director of the Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences, and Humanities] Dan Hunter, who helped to draft the “Creativity Challenge Index” legislation recently passed in Massachusetts, there is no political imperative for arts education in this country—none. But there is a growing awareness that if we want kids to grow up and become capable adults they must develop 21st-century skills such as creativity, imagination, cross-cultural understanding, and an entrepreneurial mind-set. By definition, these are “arts” skills. By leveraging these skills, and capitalizing on the catalyst of emotional engagement (our stock on the shelf), we can bring about significant student achievement.The challenge for us in the arts education community is to demonstrate how teachers can employ those very same skills in their teaching, whatever the discipline. The “habits of mind” inherent in the arts are not arts-dependent, but can be readily employed in other contexts. My colleagues and I have been discussing such an approach with Marc Hauser at Harvard, Ed Pajak at Johns Hopkins, and Jonathan Plucker at Indiana University. Our aim is to demonstrate these ways of thinking in terms that are reasonably accessible.We will be giving a presentation on these challenges at the ASCD conference next March in San Francisco and hope to further this work in a weeklong institute in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution next summer.

    Bruce Taylor
    Director of Education for
    Washington National Opera

    (For more letters, please see

  • […] var addthis_product = 'wpp-261'; var addthis_config = {"data_track_clickback":true};Mark Bauerlein has made a truly splendid argument for the real and important intrinsic value of the arts in our education system. Advocating for Arts in the Classroom : Education Next. […]

  • […] Educationnext “Advocating for Arts in the Classroom.” Mark Bauerlein. Fall 2010. V 10. N 4. […]

  • […] a previous post, I mentioned an EDUCATIONnext article that goes into more depth about why we should advocate the arts in the classroom. In more ways then […]

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