We Still Need Arts Education

Theo at the Leger Exhibit

Theo at the Leger Exhibit

I know this post is not exactly espousing a radical notion, but it’s still worth putting words to the page.

Theo loves to draw. He’s got an amazing imagination that translates to the page in ways that astound his mom and me. And our house is rapidly becoming the Theo Gallery.

And we live four blocks from the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

As a dad, I’m incredibly fortunate to have the financial means to afford a family members to the museum so I can expose Theo to the world of art inside the museum’s walls.

But not every family can afford membership to their local art museum, and even fewer families live within walking distance of a world-class museum.  But every child can be exposed to the world of art – both creating and appreciating it – through school. And every child should be.

And yet, with all of the cuts to education and all of the time and energy expended on preparing for high-stakes tests, art education has been cut in many districts and many schools – and disproportionately in our neediest schools where parents may not have the money to afford a family membership. That’s criminal.

I was raised in a house with tons of artwork because of my mom’s love of art. My mom first fell in love with Leger on a school trip to the Philadelphia Museum of Art when she was in 6th grade. She grew up in Camden, NJ which wasn’t a well-funded district even then, but they had art education. No one ever took her out of art class to make sure she could pass some test. Presumably, no one ever told her teachers that field trips to a Philadelphia museum took the student away from “time on task.”

I want every child to have the opportunity to have a rich art education. As Gary Stager has said often, “We are the richest country in the world, our schools should be able to afford a cello and a computer.” I want kids to go to museums, I want them to sculpt and draw. I want them to listen to jazz and classical and play instruments and sing. Here in Philadelphia, private organizations are trying to fill the gap. The Philly Stamp Pass program does an excellent job of giving kids access to museums and Stanford Thompson and the folks at Play On, Philly are doing amazing work with music education in Philadelphia.

But we should never have to rely on private philanthropy to fund what should be publicly funded in our schools.

The exhibit Theo and I went to today was entitled “Léger: Modern Art and the Metropolis” — it is just wrong that so few students in our metropolis were able to see it… or even had a class where they could have learned about it.

11 thoughts on “We Still Need Arts Education

  1. My thesis project when I was in Museum Education was going to be building bridges between school curricula and art museum exhibits. It got shot down and I moved to a K-5 major. Anyways, there are a lot of PD outreach programs by Art Museums to assist teachers in bringing pieces into existing curricula. The Met & Moma has an incredible outreach program and I can attest first hand that their staff and sessions are incredible. I encourage teachers to attend with their school art teacher and/or media specialist. They also have well designed programs for students as well.
    With that there is some ownership on the sides of the museums for outreach as well both with their design of young visiter experiences in audio, written information and verbal presentations. Anyways, Here is the link to the PMA’s Educators resource page: http://www.philamuseum.org/education/32-129-304.html

    BTW, There is a learning of social etiquette that goes with visiting like museums as well. The same social understandings translate to monuments, libraries and other alike institutions. This is also an important component that is part of the important package.

  2. I agree with everything, but would argue not to limit it to jazz and classical. Sure, for some kids this works, but for other kids more accessible and relevant music is necessary.

  3. Every thing that brings joy, beauty, and purpose to my life is the result of a public school education in Wayne, NJ.

    I fell in love with jazz, learned music theory/composition, and to program in the mid-late 1970s. When I walk out of The Walt Disney Concert Hall having seen Gustavo Dudamel conduct some “modern” composition, perhaps by Varèse and a blue-haired old lady turns to me and asks, “Did you have any idea what that was going to be?” I answer, “Yes, because I had a great middle school music teacher.”

    I saw Thad Jones, Roy Haynes, Buddy Rich, Clark Terry, and Woody Herman perform in my high school and nearby ones while in high school. My high school also presented Broadway quality musical productions each year. I recently saw Pippin on Broadway for the first time since I saw it in the 10th grade.

    I understand what children can learn while programming a computer, because my public school required 30 “hours of code” with a competent teacher for every 7th grader in 1975.

    I understand politics, representative democracy, and my role as a citizen because I had splendid 7th and 8th grade social studies teachers.

    Incidentally,my empathy as an educator stems from having plenty of insanely terrible teachers too. They just happened to teach the “real subjects” – the ones on the Common Core.

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  5. Have you taken him to the Barnes Foundation? It’s on the Ben Franklin Parkway……….it may even have a website now…………………..

  6. Orchestral and choral music from 4th grade on, left their imprint on me. I was fortunate enough to be part of the Paramus, NJ school system which provided amazing arts education. I still sing to this day and work with children in a choral music program which teaches music theory, vocal technique and uses classical music to do so. Seeing the “lights go on” when the kids “get it” — whether its learning to read music or recognizing intervals is a gift.

    I’m constantly frustrated by the emphasis put on sports at the expense of music and art. Yes, sports are important, but for another group of children who may not be inclined to sports, music is the saving grace that opens pathways for their future. They take it with them through their lives — there’s no age limit on playing an instrument or singing (unlike playing football as you enter your 50s!)

    Music and art are education — while I applaud what private groups are doing here in Philly, I wish the School District and State would step up and fund our system at an adequate level so that every child has the opportunity to understand great music and art.

    • In New Jersey we have standards that speak to the performing arts being integrated into the classroom so there is ownership of the school to integrate arts into the curriculum somewhere. Within my lessons we use clay, music, paintings, examine portraits etc.. It’s an important part of creating the wonder and building the bridge between idea to tangible creation.
      While yes, it’s easy to say ‘I wish the state would…’ or ‘it’s a shame that…’ there is a proactive approach to be taken here by leadership (administration) and teachers to bring the arts into their practice by encouraging staff to attend workshops at local museums and creating community outreach with artists, dance studios, etc. We’ve had a local ballet company come in and teach PE classes and the school participated in artists in residence because teachers have reached out to the community. I look to our arts teachers for ideas of integration and always invite them to workshops I attend. Leadership can encourage the dialogue to happen that creates awareness with staff, students and a life long appreciation as well as perspective. Outlets for arts education can be found with google searches and some site digging.
      For example, teachers around Washington D.C. can attend workshops on a regular basis via the Smithsonian for free and workshops at the Met generally cost $25 and come with supplies.Both of these places, including the PMA, also have summer institutes. For teachers who can’t get to museums, many museums have online collections and there’s the Google Art project, not to mention you-tube and other video resources available.
      I’ve seen teachers steer clear of teaching sciences because they consider the subject difficult or don’t feel confident about their own knowledge. I wonder if the same disconnect happens when it comes to using arts in the classroom. It comes down to identifying the need, developing a plan of action and having the right people to spearhead it in a school by the supportive administration.

      I too grew up in a house of art, music (mostly Motown and folk), theater and made it through high school because of my involvement with the arts. Luckily, I went to a HS that placed as much importance on the arts as it did its sports. I see my former students, now in middle and high school, and they thrive because they have the opportunity to be involved in creating their own balance.

      Speaking of being proactive, I’ve gotten some valuable ideas for arts integration from Arts Edge, a resource from the Kennedy Center. Pass on the links and ideas you’ve written and read about to colleagues and turn them into dialogue and action.

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  9. I find this article to be misleading. The schools in Philly DO have Arts education. Most schools have an art teacher or music teacher, some have both. It depends on whether the principals support and pay for this in their schools. Principals have the power to choose specialists or “prep” teachers. Some choose computer class over music. Some choose to have itinerant teachers come to their schools to have band and orchestra programs. It says a lot about the leadership of our schools when you see a school with no arts education. The SDP has vibrant programs in schools. Play on Philly is a small program in a few charter schools while the SDP has programs in over one hundred schools. The district has made a commitment to arts education and partnering with the arts institutions in our city to provide amazing experiences for our students. If you read this article and was not a teacher or parent in the district you might believe that we need private organizations to provide arts education. The fact is, that the SDP has many arts programs.