The arts have to prove themselves in education as few other subjects do. People may groan about math, but they take it.
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.
One group realized this was just before the Civil War. What did it feel like to have the men walk off and leave the women to run the farm, and not know if the men would come back? They improvised a skit based on that. That's where the meaning of the history can be taught at a deeper level.
On overcoming fears:
Take drawing, for example. Some people have a hangup about it. [One way to teach] is to go around drawing. There are other ways to draw - tearing construction paper, not worrying about straight lines. You can make a portrait that way. Another teacher gets people more involved in process than product. She does collaborative drawing. We put a still life of African instruments in the center of the table, and groups of teachers worked together. Each person gets to make one mark. Then he or she gets to erase something. Then each person does two lines, then two erasures, etc.
This takes away sense of ownership. What she's trying to do is free people from the sense of a final product. What you're doing on paper is not a copy of what you see - it itself is a work of art.
On arts mandates:
Arts education becomes more available to everyone if it's a statewide mandate. We bring in resource speakers so that teachers have a sense of what is available to them. Educational TV is beamed into every school; we'll talk about grants and funding opportunities, and museums and cultural resources. So [teachers] have a sense of what they can do and of regional resources.
There has been a great separation in the arts between the professional and the amateur. Before the TV, the piano in the living room had a social value that was obvious to everyone.
A school that thinks it's covering the visual arts by bringing in a couple of artists for workshops is not going to see the same results as the school that has the visual art teacher having weekly contact with the kids, and maybe bringing in supplemental artists.
In terms of creating, performing, and responding, it's the responding that they're tested on. They need a certain degree of literacy and understanding of history and the elements of each art form. This is law, and the schools need support in how to get there.
On the arts' importance:
We want a certain literacy about the great contributions of humanity. In a business sense, that world is starting to recognize that they want people who can think creatively and work collaboratively. These are things the arts develop and nurture. Then there's the discipline. In my work, nothing comes close to the focused concentration of performing as a soloist.
A management consultant came to our office and asked, how many of you have taken a course in how to listen? My hand went up - I had taken music dictation. She said we had not been taught to work in teams [when we were in school], and I thought, I had 20 years of chamber music - learning to respect each other, how to take lead sometimes and follow sometimes.
My own kindergarten teacher noticed that except for when she played the piano, I was in my own world. She suggested piano lessons. I tell that story a lot. One, the teacher had a piano and played the piano. Two, she was perceptive in seeing that something else could reach a child.
On support from teachers:
With the research being done on multiple intelligences and so forth, arts are being seen as an equity issue. That's because there are different kinds of learners. If you have a child who needs to learn kinesthetically, then he's going to get that math concept better if he's using manipulatives, bundling objects, than if he's up at the blackboard. More and more, the arts are seen as an educational necessity.
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