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Put Art Back on the Charts

So as I mentioned yesterday, this article by Ann Hulbert appeared in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. Essentially the piece takes research from Harvard’s Project Zero and uses it to carefully deconstruct the idea that arts education causes a spike in students’ test scores. Though her point–arts education ought to be appreciated in its own right, and not just for its potential to raise a school’s NAEP results–is valid, she goes on to deride that very point by looking for its relative influence on other subjects, rather than viewing it as, for some, the means to an end.

Why isn’t it possible to appreciate arts education as one option in a panoply of offerings for young minds? Some kids gravitate to math, others to English, and some might well drop out altogether if it weren’t for their school’s drama, music or art program. Though she looks for skills that might “transfer to, say, the school lab,” and “not just in tackling a canvas or lump of clay,” perhaps Hulbert should have checked with Toshiko Takaezu, the artist who headed Princeton University’s ceramics department for 25 years, about how the skills involved in shaping a lump of clay might have helped her career. Or hey, maybe Tommy Lee could tell her how participating in his school’s marching band taught him how to be a rock star. After all, I’m guessing he didn’t have a whole lot of other reasons to show up for class.

 

Tommy Lee mugshot

Hulbert cluelessly wonders “How to forge links between the attitudes nurtured in the quiet hum of a studio and the tasks demanded in classrooms beyond?” when the links are evident pretty much everywhere you look. Architects must have a competent grasp of both geometry and art history. I know a surgeon who credits sculpture for his facility with a scalpel, and attorneys who believe their success in the courtroom is a direct result of their success in a high school play. Can you compute these subtle influences? Probably not, but what would be the point, anyway? Cross-discipline connections are made continually, and the smaller the range of subjects influencing a student’s education, the more that student’s opportunities shrink–and considering our economy of late, do schools really want to be the ones to narrow their charges’ opportunities?

 

Toshiko Takaezu\'s work

 

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Deadlines = Dead Air

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I’m deep into a series of features and reviews for the Philadelphia Inquirer, and sadly haven’t had much time for blogging. However, I hope to catch a break tomorrow. In the meantime, read this weekend’s New York Times Magazine article by contributing writer Ann Hulbert about arts education and its relevance–or irrelevance–to the election, and, for that matter, to education. I’ll be discussing it then, while trying not to lose my cool.