An Arts Education Symposium

RICHARD KESSLER: People in the education field now question everything.

FRANK J. OTERI: Even phys ed?

RICHARD KESSLER: It’s in much worse shape than the arts.

FRANK J. OTERI: I questioned it when I was a student but it didn’t get me anywhere…

POLLY KAHN: The only thing that is not questioned is language arts and math. And everything else is up for grabs. I mean, people might not literally say it, but when it comes to the dollars, everything else is up for grabs. Phys ed went away the same day in 1977 that art, music, foreign languages and the library went away. Phys ed teachers also lost their jobs that day.

RICHARD KESSLER: And they’re now creating a new model…

POLLY KAHN: They have a Presidential commission.

RICHARD KESSLER: It’s not unlike the Annenberg Project.

HOLLIS HEADRICK: That’s what it’s based on, the Center for Sports Education, they’re trying to get it going…

MAXINE GREENE: You know, I’m very paranoid about it. I mean, I think a lot of it is deliberately to create what Aldous Huxley called deltas. To keep the lower class lower class, not to open too many doors. I really think that. Because they wouldn’t know what to do with…

RICHARD KESSLER: …Too many opinions.

MAXINE GREENE: …Too many middle class people.

RICHARD KESSLER: To some degree, I think there’s a fear that people have about the imagination. You mentioned it very early on about controlling students at the very beginning of this discussion. There’s something to this idea: you asked if you can teach creativity. Well, it’s a specious question because everyone has imagination, so therefore creativity resides within each person. You can’t quash the imagination because it exists. It’s one of the few things you own. You’re brought into the world with it and you will leave with it. But, many teachers, many places where control and order have to exist, where certain kinds of directed learning has to exist, the imagination is a sort of chaotic, almost guerilla-like event.

MAXINE GREENE: We’ve got to do something about teacher education, though.

HOLLIS HEADRICK: Yes.

MAXINE GREENE: We really do. Because teacher educators don’t care enough, and therefore teachers aren’t acquainted with this world. You know, and that’s very important if they’re going to create those situations. I think the English teachers are, and on the whole, language people are. You know, but the technology people, only maybe, and the historians and the social studies people I’m not sure at all.

RICHARD KESSLER: And of course, there’s been a tremendous backlash with whole language.

MAXINE GREENE: Yeah.

RICHARD KESSLER: Tremendous.

MAXINE GREENE: Oh, yeah, it’s political backlash.

HOLLIS HEADRICK: In this kind of cycle, or if you look at it as a circle of the arts, of arts organizations and teachers and institutions and schools and how it all works together, the part on the circle that’s not closed is the teacher education piece. Because when you go into the schools, most of the time, unless you’re working with arts specialists, and even some of them, you have to get through layers and layers of somebody teaching their class, what they know, what they don’t know about the arts, and so you have to spend a good amount of time creating relationships, or not even so much relationships, but really trying to get people to understand what you’re doing, to really begin to make headway.

MAXINE GREENE: That’s what Lincoln Center‘s contribution should have been and sometimes has been. But that’s what we hope for.

POLLY KAHN: Yeah, I think because of bad conditions when no arts specialists were there, I think we gained a value-added benefit, which is that we learned to work with people who had no previous experience in the arts. And I think that we can’t say enough about how that has contributed to this climate of interest for the arts, because we really created a constituency from the bottom up, if you will, the bottom of no experience up. Had we not hit that crisis, we never would have created that constituency. Most of us would be doing 2% of what we do now, because we would still be in that mode that wouldn’t realize any urgency about investing in the public school system. And to the degree that we were working, we would be working just with the specialist in that isolated to isolated connection. Here we’ve created a much more broad-based constituency, though it takes a lot of time and patience to do that.

HOLLIS HEADRICK: I heard a statistic today, I think, from New England Conservatory, that 90% of the students don’t take any kind of education courses. But about 2 or, you know, 5 years later, when they’re in their professional lives, 80% of them are involved in education in some way. I think that the conservatories are going to have to pay more attention to what it means to get a music degree and to go out in the real world and earn a living when there are only so many places in academia as a composer or as a performer or a professor of some kind in the music world. So I think that’s going to be changing. And I think that if the trend stays, and more and more research comes out on the value of arts education, I think it will give more currency to having arts specialists of all kinds in the public schools. And hopefully the cultural organizations in New York as well as across the country will more and more see their role and value that role and want to express that role by really devoting their resources, both the human resources and the time and the funds necessary to make sure that the programs that are in schools really respond to the needs of schools and have the kind of integrity that’s necessary so that it’s really something that’s meaningful for kids.