Hal Leonard-Britten
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The mission of the ACDA is to inspire excellence in choral music through education, performance, composition, and advocacy.

The Arts Teach

In Elliot Eisner’s book The Arts and the Creation of Mind (2002, Yale University Press), Eisner states, “The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.” In Chapter 4, What the Arts Teach and How It Shows, Eisner outlines Ten Lessons the arts Teach:

  • The arts teach children to make good judgments about qualitative relationships. Unlike curriculum in which correct answers and rules prevail, in the arts, it is judgment rather than rules that prevail.
  • The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution and that questions can have more than one answer.
  • The arts celebrate multiple perspectives. One of their large lessons is that there are many ways to see and interpret the world.
  • The arts teach children that in complex forms of problem solving purposes are seldom fixed, but change with circumstance and opportunity. Learning in the arts requires the ability and a willingness to surrender to the unanticipated possibilities of the work as it unfolds.
  • The arts make vivid the fact that neither words in their literal form nor numbers exhaust what we can know. The limits of our language do not define the limits of our cognition.
  • The arts teach students that small differences can have large effects. The arts traffic in subtleties.
  • The arts teach students to think through and within a material.
  • All art forms employ some means through which images become real.
  • The arts help children learn to say what cannot be said. When children are invited to disclose what a work of art helps them feel, they must reach into their poetic capacities to find the words that will do the job.
  • The arts enable us to have experience we can have from no other source and through such experience to discover the range and variety of what we are capable of feeling.
  • The arts' position in the school curriculum symbolizes to the young what adults believe is important.

The National Art Education Association (NAEA) gives reprint permission for the above 10 lessons, with proper acknowledgment.

 
on January 30, 2012 8:27am
Kurt Knecht wrote a blog post in which he argued that once teachers start arguing that the value of music classes is that they enhance SAT scores and performance in other disciplines such as math, you've already lost the argument. Kudos to NAEA for not falling into that trap, which is depressingly common among music apologists in general.
on January 31, 2012 12:36am
I think it depends on the intended audience and the desired result.  There is most definitely a context for advocacy where bringing up the enhanced verbal and math scores that result from music study is entirely appropriate, constructive, and indeed the most important thing we can do.  I get the idea, but I don't think we can put too fine a point on this kind of thing when programs are getting cut all around our feet. When we're dealing with administrators who reflexively associate dollars with test scores we simply have to use the right ammunition in the right gun, and at the right time. Try telling a school board that is considering axing its elementary music programs that the students would no longer be able to "think through and within a material," and get back to me on the success of that.

I would argue almost the opposite here, that we could only use these types of (somewhat effete) arguments after we've already won the argument!  Eisner's points are insightful, interesting and relevant for practitioners, but let's face it, they are probably only going to appeal to people who have heard our message and are already bought in. 
on January 31, 2012 9:54am
As someone who has taught music and arts in the "private sector" and in public schools, and is a mother who has seen these effects on her child, I affirm - Eisner, Tim, Allen and Bruce - that you are all right!
As Bruce alludes, "with [arts] cuts all around our feet", why should we eliminate any opportunity to communicate their value and positive effect?
I believe our challenge is to continute to get the proof out there.  Persons with no background/weak background in the arts might conclude that "all this rhetoric is just to justify their jobs."   But we all know groups whose scores have gone up, or students who are winning essay contests, college scholarships, at-risk students who admit to staying in school due to their music/theatre/dance/art teacher, parents who take time off work to fight to re-instate cut programs, sublime/indescribable moments at a concert...and most importantly, arts students who graduate and become citizens who contribute significantly and altruistically to their communities/the world.   It is this knowledge/awareness that needs to be on everybody's radar-screen.   We need to work very hard to see that people - especially corporation-heads and the government officials they "control" ;) - don't have a week/month go by without hearing/seeing/reading such success stories.
"Education in the Arts and Education through the Arts" was the motto that our school district Fine Arts Department adopted.  We were expected to put this poster in a prominent place.  
A few years ago our metro-area sent a group of former "criminals" in rehabilitation process to live in our district.  This resulted in a very swift change in  our parent income/education level.   While the system struggled with plummeting test scores, Annual-Yearly-Progress losses, street crime, and eventually a temporary loss of accreditation, our Arts department survived pretty well.  A large part of that is that our dedicated teachers - both arts and "core" subjects - realized, along with some citizen/parents, that the Arts are a lifeline for many - and cooperated reasonably with the Fine Arts Department re: Field Trips, rehearsals, etc. 
As the last song in "Ragtime" says, "Make them hear you!"  :)  Westminster-grad/vocal expert/composer Sue Ellen Page, presenting a workshop, told how she had involved a principal in a concert, and he broke into tears.  He was a "singing wounded" - one who had been told he "didn't have it' .  At that moment, he experienced all ten of the lessons Eisner describes.  "Tell me, I forget. Show me, I remember.   Involve me, I understand."....applies not just to our young students, but to our administrators and the decision-making adults in our community.
Thank you all, for sharing your profound thoughts and words.
--Lucy