Arts Vital to National Educational Reform
Recently, I was invited to participate in a conference on the impact that The Nation at Risk report has had on education in the United States over the past twenty years. The conference, sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the J. Paul Getty Trust, was divided into two sections, the first looking back over the past two decades, the second looking ahead at the challenges to come in educational reform. Speakers and attendees included past and current Secretaries of Education, framers of the original The Nation at Risk report, leaders of community, public service and business organizations, philanthropists, academics, and school leaders.
The meeting was rich enough to warrant an entire article of commentary, but I choose instead to use the experience as a springboard for a different conversation. That conversation has to do with a harsh truth, which is that the arts currently play a very minor role in the national agenda for school reform. Only twice during the course of the daylong meeting were the arts mentioned. Allow me to be clear: no one actually came out against the role of the arts as part of the formal education of our nation's youth. In fact, I am thrilled to announce that the arts have made great gains in recent years in being defined and highlighted as a core subject, nationally, statewide, and locally. But that, precisely, is the point: no matter what gains the arts have made in education since the Nation at Risk report was published, they remain relegated to the status of a minor player.
I'm talking about the point where it matters: where it becomes part of the national conversation about what it means to be an educated, productive person in the world's most powerful and influential democracy. Why was the discussion about the benefit of the arts in education not part of the Nation at Risk report; why do so few of our educational leaders seriously discuss the need for the arts to be part of the national (and local) educational agenda in this age of reform, restructuring, and standards?
The arts should be part of the educational agenda at the policy level, that place where much of what matters within education is decided. I am not complaining for the sake of complaining; I subscribe to the notion that credit should be given for building arks, not for predicting rain. This is at the heart of my dilemma. Are we in the arts mostly talking among ourselves because no one else is truly listening? Is it that no one else understands us and believes in the value of what we do as much as we believe in it? Math educators alone do not fight for the value of math within the curriculum, and literacy, or rather illiteracy, is discussed as the national problem it is, but which of our current educational and political leaders are willing to fight to make certain that the arts and their related identities—imagination and creativity—stand tall on the national educational agenda? When will we hear that the arts are as important as any other subject, requiring school leaders to make room—literally create rooms for art—think anew, and be imaginative about the role that the arts can play within education?
I end with a request for your voice to be heard. Do you have an opinion on why the arts are not considered vital to the national educational reform agenda? If so, please email me at email@example.com with your thoughts. I promise a response—and action.#
Scott Noppe-Brandon is the Executive Director of the Lincoln Center Institute.