The Only Constant is Change

With No Child Left Behind declaring the Arts as a core curriculum (Ed.Gov, 2004), it is increasingly important to recognize and understand the influence of the arts in the education system. Businesses are calling for elevated education standards that include a strong education in the creative arts. According to the National Center for Education & the Economy’s (NCEE) Tough Times Tough Choices, our jobs of the future will depend not only on new and better technologies, but on strong creative leadership, as NCEE outlines:
leadership does not depend on technology alone. It depends on a deep vein of creativity that is constantly renewing itself, and on a myriad of people who can imagine how people can use things that have never been available before, create ingenious marketing and sales campaigns, write books, build furniture, make movies, and imagine new kinds of software that will capture people’s imagination and become indispensable to millions. (NCEE, 2007, pp. 5-6)
America is in a technological transition shifting from a manufacturing to a service driven economy. As the globalization of the world’s economy evolves many middle class jobs are being automated or outsourced to the lowest bidder, and many high skilled jobs are going overseas as we “compete with countries that can offer large numbers of highly educated workers willing to work for low wages” (NCEE, 2007, p. 4). To maintain the United States standard of living we must be on the cutting edge of new technologies and innovative business solutions.
Tomorrow’s workers will require a rich blend of highly developed analytical skills and creative ingenuity. However, the current educational system continues to prepare students for the manufacturing jobs of yesterday answering “political demands for accountability based on high-stakes tests” with “unprecedented standardized testing” (Oreck, 2000). Simultaneously state standards in the arts have been adopted in 47 states (National Center for Education Statistics, 1998), usually without additional funding, as if mandating tests and standards will provide the analytical and creative education needed to ensure success in the new global economy. The connection between process of arts education and standardized testing, offered by the artistic process, is lacking.
The Conference Board and Americans for the Arts, in partnership with the American Association of School Administrators, came together in November, 2007, to develop a survey that would determine whether “educators and executives [were] aligned on the creative readiness of the U.S. workforce” (Lichtenberg, 2008, p. 2). The 1997 survey of public school superintendents and American business executives (employers) reported that:

Innovation is crucial to competition, and creativity is integral to innovation… Overwhelmingly, both the superintendents who educate future workers and the employers who hire them agree that creativity is increasingly important in U.S. workplaces (99 percent and 97 percent, respectively), and that arts training— and, to a lesser degree, communications studies— are crucial to developing creativity. (Lichtenberg, 2008, p. 2)
Richard Deasy (2003), director of the Arts Education Partnership (AEP) added, “Arts develop the imagination, and imagination is the cognitive capacity that most directly prompts innovation. Given the overwhelming support for education that develops the imagination, policy leaders can now stand firmly on that platform” (p. 3).
Neil Postman describes education as both an “engineering problem, and a metaphysical one…if the engineering part is given too much importance education will suffer” (1996, p. 3). Standardized testing has increased dramatically, while funding for arts programs and foundations have been drastically cut, suggesting a preference for analytical skills and a reliance on testing data as proof of knowledge. The artistic process is a vital component to the success of today’s students and educators as well. In order to effectively teach the arts, teachers need training in the arts. Barry Oreck (2000) explains,
The nature of artistic discovery is in stark contrast to the preconceived ends of ‘covering’ curriculum or increasing the number of correct answers on a test. The teacher’s ability to allow students to truly explore and make discoveries, find and pursue problems, and arrive at unique solutions, requires both an artistic pedagogy and the understanding to preserve the aesthetic qualities of the artistic experience (p. 5).
Teachers are experiencing an increasing demand to keep up with new technological advancements. Dr. Chris Dede, the Timothy E. Wirth Professor in Learning Technologies at Harvard University, testified before Congress in 1995 predicting “a new instructional paradigm” that would enhance the “pedagogical repertoire of teachers” (p. 3). Dede’s (1995) stated that in order to react to the global marketplace’s technological demands, the education system must require students to master a new type of literacy described as “immersing oneself in data to harvest patterns of knowledge just as fish extract oxygen from water via their gills” (Dede, 1995). Dede (1995) predicted that the methods of the conventional classroom would be replaced by “knowledge webs, virtual communities, synthetic environments and sensory immersion to help learners grasp reality through illusion”; field trips would be replaced by virtual exhibits, and hands on science labs replaced with virtual experiments. Simultaneously Dede (1995) emphasized the importance of educators stating that a “bottom-up human infrastructure of wise designers, educators, and learners” is needed to prevent today’s “couch potatoes [from becoming] tomorrow’s couch funguses immersed as protagonists in 3-D soap operas while the real world deteriorates” (p. 19). While presenting the tremendous benefits of technology in the education system, Dede suggests a need for creative interactive pedagogy through innovative educators.
Postman’s (1998) theories of technology suggest that culture always “pays a price for technology; the greater the technology, the greater the price.… Technological change is not additive; it is ecological in that it changes everything” (p. 7). Throughout history technologies have changed the way we communicate and think. “The printing press annihilated the oral tradition; telegraphy annihilated space; television has humiliated the word; the computer, perhaps, will degrade community life”. Internet technology is “more then the world plus the Internet”; our reality is different because of its existence.
Postman’s (1998) ideas suggest the need for creative and critical analysis in anticipation of the future implications of technology. Creative analysis can serve to counteract or prepare for technological outcomes that may prove detrimental. Reflecting on Postman’s theories and highlighting the importance of responsible technology development Dede (1995) warned:
How a medium shapes its users, as well as its message, is a central issue in understanding distributed learning in K-12 schools. The telephone creates conversationalists; the book develops imaginers, who can conjure a rich mental image from sparse symbols on a printed page. Some television induces passive observers; other shows, such as Sesame Street and public affairs programs, can spark users’ enthusiasm and enrich their perspectives. High performance computing and communications are creating new interactive media capable of great good or ill (1995).
Marshall McLuhan (1964) proposed that “technical change alters not only habits of life, but patterns of thought and valuation” (p. 63) suggesting that we are moving from a literary, sequential thinking world to a digital, web-like thinking world. McLuhan’s idea that “the medium is the message” suggests that technologies shape the way messages are communicated, and that eventually society itself will operate as the technology it worships.
School systems are responding to the new communication channels and their success will determine the nation’s global competitiveness. The vital importance of the artist and the artistic process lies in its ability to interject clarity and cohesiveness as new technologies are introduced and integrated into society. McLuhan (1964) highlights the importance of the artist and the artistic process saying:
The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs… the artist is indispensable in the shaping and analysis and understanding of the life of forms, and structures created by electric technology…The ability of the artist to sidestep the bully blow of new technology of any age, and to parry such violence with full awareness, is age-old. Equally age-old is the inability of the percussed victims, who cannot sidestep the new violence, to recognize their need of the artist… The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral awareness” (p. 64).
Artists possess the creative originality and foresight the U.S. workforce will need to succeed and adapt to the global technological and economic changes we are encountering. John Dewey (1934) suggests that everyone is capable of being an artist saying, “what is called the magic of the artist resides in his ability to transfer these values from one field of experience to another, to attach them to the objects of our common life and by imaginative insight make these objects poignant and momentous” (p. 118). If we value the artist, the arts must be shown a prominent place in the education system. Richard Riley, the Secretary of the Department of Education during the Clinton Administration (1993-2001), writes “if young Americans are to succeed and to contribute to what Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan describes as our ‘economy of ideas’, they will need an education that develops imaginative, flexible and tough-minded thinking” (NCEE, 2007). Major business leaders agree that arts education is fundamental for tomorrow’s workforce. According to NCEE’s report, within the next ten years “the prototypical U.S. industry will be engaged in ‘creative work’ — research, development, marketing and sales and global supply chain management; these areas depend on leadership rooted in creativity, imagination and the arts” (Lynch, 2008, p. 2). Lynch explains that the erosion of the arts in our education system limits creativity, spatial thinking, and abstract reasoning necessary for the innovative jobs of tomorrow. Secretary of Education Richard Riley states that “the arts powerfully nurture the ability to think in this manner” (Fiske, 1999, p. vi).
Arts education is essential to the development of creative minds as it “promote(s) creative thinking, fluency in thought, originality, focused perception, imagination, risk taking, task persistence and ownership in learning” (Gulatte, 2007, p. 213). The learning processes in the arts is comprehensive, and changes are often noted in students’ performance overall when they participate in the arts (Deasy 2002).
Although it is difficult to evaluate the effect of the arts, there have been some promising correlations drawn. The 2005 College-Bound Seniors report stated that “students who took four years of arts coursework outperformed their peers who had one half-year or less of arts coursework by fifty-eight points on the verbal portion and thirty-eight points on the math portion of the SAT” (p. 5). Two years later the College Bound Seniors (2007) analysis reported significantly higher SAT scores in students who took drama and performing arts:
in the State of California specifically, drama students scored fifty points higher on critical reading, twenty-eight points higher on Math, and forty-nine points higher on Writing. Those with acting or production experience were sixty-eight points higher on critical reading, thirty-two points higher on Math and sixty-five points higher on Writing than non-dramatic arts students (p.9).
The AEP’s (Deasy, 2002) report: Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Academic and Social Development studied five major art form areas: dance, drama, visual arts, music, and multi arts. The results identified six major benefits: reading and language skills, mathematics skills, thinking skills, social skills, motivation to learn, and positive school environment (Deasy, 2003).
The arts enhance lives in many ways. Young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week, through at least one full year are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement. They are three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools and four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair. They are three times more likely to win an award for school attendance; four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem; and young artists, as compared with their peers, are likely to attend music, art, and dance classes nearly three times as frequently. Young people who participate in the arts participate in youth groups nearly four times as frequently; read for pleasure nearly twice as often; and perform community service more than four times as often (The Nebraska Arts Council).
Although the statistics are impressive, academic evaluations are not always good indicators of creativity and leadership ability (Walberg, 1971). According to the nonprofit advocacy group Fair Test, “…about thirty percent, or nearly 760 colleges and universities out of the approximately 2,500 accredited four-year institutions across America have made at least some standardized tests optional for some applicants… Several other schools dropped the test requirement for admissions after the revised SAT came out in 2005, after seeing that the new version did not address concerns about access and poor predictive value” (Landau, 2008). As a result, new evaluations are being sought. The National Education Association found correlations between amounts of arts education received and later success saying “… education is generative – more education in the arts also shows higher levels of general education and vice versa” (Peterson, 1997). There is a link between arts and high school graduation rates in that “high school dropouts reported having received much less school-based arts education than did high school graduates.” Although correlations have been drawn between academic achievement and the arts education in general, specifically music and visual arts, more studies are needed.
The real benefit of arts programs is more comprehensive than any testing will reflect. The Arts Education Partnership’s Gaining the Arts Advantage states that “the arts improve the school climate, the arts’ comprehensive tasks challenge students, and the arts turn schools into communities” (AEP 1999). Arts challenge students with tasks requiring multi-level processing skills. “The real driving force behind dramatic arts is what it does for the emotional, physical, and cognitive abilities of the student” (Jensen, 2001, p. 76). Cognitive functions are processes which are difficult to evaluate, but directly affect the outcomes which can be evaluated. Therefore, correlations in academic performance can suggest that the processes exercised in artistic pursuits enhance the outcome of academic performance. It can be helpful to study the academic success of a student, but equally helpful to study the strengths a student may possess in cognitive functioning.
Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence theory and Daniel Goleman’s theory of Emotional Intelligence provide some insight on different cognitive functioning abilities. Gardner (2007) describes eight categories of intelligence including linguistic, logical mathematical, spatial (pictures), bodily-kinesthetic (the body), musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal (the self), and naturalist (nature), yet the majority of standardized testing is focused only on math (logical) and reading (linguistic). Goleman presents five characteristics and abilities including self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills (Goleman, 2006, p 318) as important to success. None of these abilities are addressed in standardized testing methods. He asserts that emotional intelligence skills are synergistic with cognitive ones and that top performers have both (p. 22), suggesting that “in the new workplace, with its emphasis on flexibility, teams, and a strong customer orientation, this crucial set of emotional competencies is becoming essential for excellence in every job and in every part of the world” (p. 29). To educate our children for tomorrow’s jobs, the emotional and cognitive literacy required in arts education are as important as academic excellence.

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