The Many Voices of Arts Education Advocacy

As I wrote in my posting about Arts in Education Week, Americans for the Arts recently hosted an Arts Education Blog Salon where  17 people in the arts field wrote about arts education.  You can read all the Arts Education Blog Salon postings here and I’d like to share some thoughts on some of  them.

Making the Case for Arts Education

Several Arts Education Salon 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, too.

I believe that Bauerlein mischaracterizes advocates for arts in schools stating they argue “saving kids with art” where the “emphasis falls on the unusual student, the difficult kid, not on the arts as a subject for study.”  I think the arts do much more and can be used to reach and make a difference for all types of children. But I also think arts education advocates go beyond that and I agree with Bauerlein that “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.”  There are as many arguments for arts education as there are people making the arguments. I believe one can advocate for arts in schools by addressing the areas Bauerlein discusses of using the arts to transform lives as well as the arts as an academic discipline.

Many arts organizations support the need for effective arts standards and assessments in schools, as League of American Orchestras’ Heather Noonan wrote in the Arts Education Salon, “Given the image of the arts as a marginalized subject of learning, policy leaders – even those poised to champion implementation of the arts as “core” – too frequently assume we aren’t ready to play in the assessments game.  In addition to the inaccurate view of student progress in the arts as being too soft or magical to measure, there is a misperception, nationally, that the field of arts education is unprepared to consider wide-scale assessments.”  Noonan and several fellow Arts Education Salon bloggers write herehere, and here about the need to update national arts education standards and the efforts the State Education Agency Directors of Arts Education (SEADAE) and representatives of arts organizations are undertaking to revamp the 1994 National Standards for the Arts.

We’re All Responsible for Arts Education Advocacy

No matter what argument one uses to advocate for arts education, it is everyone’s responsibility to do so. As Mark Slavkin of the Music Center of LA County wrote in the Blog Salon, “If you care about arts education, you must be in the advocacy business. Until such time as the arts are fully embedded in every American school system, we have to be energetic in making the case.  We cannot leave this work to a handful of “advocacy organizations.””

Organizations such as Americans for the Arts and DC Advocates for the Arts — a group of dedicated arts organization representatives, artists, and individuals focused on promoting arts and arts education in DC — play important roles in the arts advocacy picture. But as I wrote in my post about Arts in Education Week, day in and day out we need to not only provide excellence in the arts to young people, but also be effective in promoting the value of the arts and arts education. This goes for everyone from arts organizations and educators to parents, artists, and individuals passionate about arts education.

Events like Arts in Education Week or October’s National Arts and Humanities Month can be used as occasions to highlight the great work of arts organizations and serve as a jumping off points to help in marketing to advocate for issues, but we all can and should play a part in arts education advocacy 52 weeks a year.

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