Arts Learning – Synthesis of Readings, Week 5

Week 5 – Arts in Education

The Winner and Hetland article examined the skills conveyed within high school visual arts classes and argued that these were valuable to the development and success of young people. The Columbia Teachers College study in Champions of Change confirmed that arts learning leads to these types of outcomes and that they transfer from arts education to overall school performance. They looked at grades 4, 5, 7, and 8. Together, these two studies make a strong case for the value of arts learning as a part of a young person’s education. I appreciated how both articles establish the learning through the arts as a distinct mode of learning, effective at teaching a broad swath of the spectrum of knowledge, skills, and capacities we expect functioning adults to possess. The Mero article provides a picture of how technology can potentially transform schools and raises questions about how arts learning will interface with new organizations of educational time and space.

To me arts in education, means arts learning that occurs within the institutional context of a K-12 school whose focus is broader than solely teaching the arts. This differentiates arts-in-education from studio or conservatory training. The goals of these institutions can be academic, social, emotional, vocational, or a combination but they go beyond teaching technical artistic skills.

This being said, skill building is an important part of arts-in-education. Curriculum in arts-in-education is keyed to a progressive sequence of larger developmental goals. These can be state standards or a progression created by a particular teacher or school. But the idea is that lessons for arts-in-education will build upon one another. This means an increased attention on skill building, but rather than taking place in a vacuum these skills occur in an institutional context that has a broader mission or purpose than training performers, painters, or performers. This broader mission is developmental whereas I think the focus of conservatory training is on making the artistic product the best it can be. The simplest way to say this is that the focus of arts-in-education is on the person; the focus of the conservatory is more the product.

With regard to the readings, I’m interested how the arguments put forward by Winer and Hetland and the Champions of Change studies have been received. I can see that the emphasis on testing for reading and math has made it really difficult for the value of arts-in-education to win the argument. Until evaluation of arts learning has equal weight in the evaluation of schools (and provision of funding), I don’t see any way that these arguments can win out. The articles give me a renewed appreciation for what an awful law No Child Left Behind is and how the current administration is arguably making the situation worse. I am also interested in how arts learning is or is not incorporated into the Common Core standards and evaluated relative to the federal Race to the Top initiative.

In terms of the Mero and the future of technology in schools, I see this as further weakening arts learning by isolating students and separating them from the teacher who, as Winner and Hetland note, must be standing over the student’s shoulder asking questions while students are making something


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