Do all schools need the arts? Kentucky says yes.
The arts have to prove themselves in education as few other subjects do. People may groan about math, but they take it.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
The same can't be said about drama, art, and music, long viewed as frills and often the first things to go when too many needs compete for a limited budget.
But what happens when a state requires arts as part of its academic program - and reinforces that mandate with testing?
That's what Kentucky did as part of its education-reform act of 1990. Defining the arts as "creating, performing, and responding to dance, music, theater, the visual arts, and literature," it set out detailed guidelines of what students and educators are required to know.
The guidelines were clear enough. Less apparent was how to bring up to speed teachers who might question their ability to prepare children in the arts.
That's where Jeffrey Jamner steps in. The director of school programs at the Kentucky Center for the Arts (KCA), a state- and privately funded organization, Mr. Jamner focuses on strengthening outreach to teachers.
A performer himself, with a doctorate in piano from the Manhattan School of Music, he is passionate about the positive impact arts education can have, even as he recognizes the challenges it can pose to educators unfamiliar with different art forms.
KCA, founded in 1984, promotes a wide variety of programs for schools, including daylong events to link educators with artists, two-week seminars for educators, and long-term relationships with schools to help build strong arts programs.
The following are excerpts from a recent interview:
On arts education before Kentucky's education reform:
The arts and different subjects were taught independently, without as many connections.
In the early years of reform, there were convulsions. As it took root, teachers saw they were required and encouraged to make connections between content areas. The arts fit very well into that, and started to be seen as something beyond student time with a specialist that gave a teacher time for other preparations.
Teachers are more involved in how the arts are used than they were. And the arts are valued more.
My experience is that at first, there's hesitancy. In a short time, in the right way, they gain confidence and grow.
On training teachers:
Part of it is raising teachers' comfort level, but also giving them a sense of 'What can I do as a follow-up exercise that I can even know how to grade?'
[In our seminars], we list the activities and all their core-content connections to the [state] requirements. We show teachers something as basic as [the requirement that] "students should be able to make sense of what they observe visually" and how to apply that to different forms of communicating.
[In our two-week program], a professional artist who is experienced in classroom settings works with teachers. So teachers learn what it means to take risks and be part of an environment where they can take risks.
You may have a visual artist who is terrified of a drama exercise. So we have dance, drama, visual arts, music, and creative writing - also a lot of integration between the art forms. Teachers are getting in touch with their inner artist, even if they didn't know it was there.
On the uses of field trips:
We show teachers how a field trip can be an arts trip, how teachers can use dance and drama to further respond to a site. Maybe a group has dramatic exercises where they become the people in a painting. If you are trying to reach all your students and get them enthused, it's a way of amplifying that experience.
We went to a working farm, circa 1850. We all square-danced by the barn [as the original occupants would have]. We had teachers improvising drama exercises.