Arts Learning – The Future of Arts Learning, Week 9

My diagram of the arts learning sector was really focused on distinguishing between the local, state, and national levels and was probably over-emphasized funding as a way to organize the different stakeholders. Now, I think universities and foundations play a much larger role in the sector. If our reading demonstrates nothing else, it shows that research about arts learning over the past twenty years has had a large impact on program design, evaluation, and advocacy. This research comes through universities (or groups such as RAND) but only happens because there is funding through the NEA and private foundations.

What seems to be missing in the sector is effective communication and marketing. My impression is that there is important information to convey that is not penetrating either the general public or policymakers. I just do not hear arts learning discussed as making a significant contribution to school reform, but the evidence on this regard is clear. Given that the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, is from Chicago and some of the leading examples we’ve read about are from that city, this seems a failure in communication.

The teachers unions, which are one of the major players in school reform also seem silent on arts education. I would be interested to know if this is the case. The other NEA (National Education Association) website,  environmental education is listed as an issue area but not arts education. The union is a member of the Arts Education Partnership. But it’s the turf wars between certified arts specialists (union members) and arts organizations and teaching artists, has kept them from fully embracing the full potential of arts education to impact the bottom line.

The other issue that we’ve been exposed to is the idea of new media literacies and it’s impact on the ecology of arts learning. I have to say after reading the first part of Jenkins’ MacArthur Report, I remain skeptical. On page 11 he describes the new media world as one “…in which everyone has access to the means of creative expression and the networks supporting artistic distribution.” (p. 11)

Buying a pencil or a paintbrush gives someone the means of creative expression and is a lot cheaper than an iPad. Relative to the networks that support artistic distribution…it’s not clear, especially with the recent Verizon lawsuit and Time Warner/Comcast merger, who controls or will control these networks and what the constraints will be moving forward.  These readings have made net neutrality a much bigger issue for me. To me, it seems an author or artist has very little control over online distribution of their work and this can be disempowering and potentially exploitative.

I see large jumps in logic in Jenkins throughout the section we read. For example,

“…young people who create and circulate their own media are more likely to respect the intellectual property rights of others because they feel a greater stake in the cultural economy. Both reports suggest we are moving away from a world in which some produce and many consume media toward one in which everyone has a more active stake in the culture that is produced.” (p. 12)

I don’t buy this at all.  Having been a TA and seen how often undergraduates plagiarize material from the Internet, I don’t see more respect for intellectual property. I see less. What exactly is a young person’s stake in the cultural economy?  Protests around the world over income inequality send the opposite message: people feel they have very little stake in the economy, cultural or otherwise.

He says that new media can increase young people’s political involvement more than watching television. But local political issues are right there in front of young people just outside their front door. Issues like getting healthy food in the cafeteria or putting solar panels on the roof or violence in schools are right there. Why not turn youth towards these opportunities rather than toward a computer screen where they are not interacting with others in real time?

I think more research on the social context of media use — does it really transfer to collaboration and problem-solving and political involvement–is in order. I also want to see his argument stand against a study of the political economy of the media environment. I think when you really look at what’s happening in the world of media you see a narrowing of access and distribution points. Finally, media is a reflection of the world, not the world itself. Fundamentally, I think it more profitable to use arts learning to help young people engage in real environments and real communities. I think online environments can be useful, but are no substitute for offline, real time, personal engagement and problem-solving.

Finally, I read the monograph from the NEA (the arts one) on participation. The most important piece of this report for me was in pointing toward target audiences for arts learning programs, namely children of parents with only a high school education and African-American children. The numbers showing decline are shocking. Education for parents themselves could do the most good to at least stop the decline in arts learning.


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