Arts education: good, or crucial?

This week’s National Association for Music Educators 2012 Biennial Conference included Rachel Goslins’ keynote as executive director of The President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. Created in 1982 by Ronald Reagan, PCAH historically includes 12 representatives of major U.S. arts institutions, plus private citizens with significant arts affiliations.

President Obama’s Committee investigated Reinvesting in Arts Education, a focus fitting current education reform efforts and the fact that the arts were largely missing from the national conversation. Examining the role of arts education in building critical thinking skills and in educational reform, the Committee sought to answer a fundamental question, not whether arts education is good, but whether it’s crucialA few buzz phrases follow from Ms. Goslins’ keynote and the conference:

Habits of mind – a weighty term that refers to attributes like leadership, self-direction, persistence, flexibility, responsible risk-taking, etc., ways of being in the world that support and predict personal effectiveness.

Arts integration – a collaborative approach supporting teacher efforts to get required test results, without narrowing curricula and with the goals of stronger results than otherwise and arts investment at district levels.

Creativity the bad news: from 1960 to 1990 it rose in American children and then began declining. Now it’s at the lowest levels since data has been gathered. The good news: though we haven’t succeeded in measuring whether creativity can be taught, arts education fosters related motivation, engagement, habits of mind, and social competencies.

Wow schools – Ms. Goslins learned to watch for them during school observations across the U.S. They’re creatively alive, engaging, playful, and full of pride, with deep integration of arts into curricular learning and vice versa and correspondingly impressive test scores.

Leadership with vision – Yes, this is THE most important factor in arts integration. From Ms. Goslins:

You’ve got to have a principal who gets it, and you’ve got to have arts specialists who are empowered by principals with resources, professional development, and as “chief creative officers” of school communities. Arts specialists need the authority to think and act expansively regarding how the arts are expressed in schools, including coordination between specialists and faculties both vertically and horizontally across school communities and outside them in creative relationships with community organizations.

Next up, Committee recommendations:  Art isn’t a flower, it’s a wrench.