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Drama Queen is Live

Please visit my new blog, Drama Queen, at ArtsJournal.com. You (hopefully) won’t regret it.


Are You More Creative than an Eighth Grader?

I received an e-mail today from Morgan Saxby, an account executive at a pr company that, I’m guessing, represents the NAEP. He corrected a comment I made in my “Put Art Back on the Charts” post that asserted, 

Arts education ought to be appreciated in its own right, and not just for its potential to raise a school’s NAEP results.

Actually, the NAEP, in Mr. Saxby’s words,

does not find results for individual schools.  NAEP finds national results, state results (for math, reading, writing, and science), and on a trial basis, district-level results for a handful of urban areas. 

So, sorry for the misstatement, but that’s not really the interesting part, anyway. He goes on to say that the NAEP is preparing a report on the arts that will be released next year. The last time this was done was in 1997, and only eighth graders were assessed. It’s a pretty fascinating bit of reading, and raises any number of questions about what exactly is or isn’t quantifiable. It’s also kind of horrifying to read that 74% of these students received no theater instruction. (What are those middle school drama types supposed to do during their free time if they can’t rehearse for a class play? Just keep getting beat up?) I still remember my eighth grade musical experience:  Perfectly Frank, a tribute to the music of Frank Loesser, which introduced me to Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella, and most important, Lots and Lots of Applause. A belated thank you, Mr. Goltz.

I’m wondering if the 2008 test will be performed across the board, in only certain schools, if raising its scores will become a mandatory part of No Child Left Behind (of course, if there’s a Dem in the White House come November, hopefully NCLB won’t really be an issue) or if the results are just for our own edification.

Of course, I’d love to have answers for you today, but I’m on a tight deadline this week with a big feature due to my editor (look for it in Sunday’s Image section of the Philadelphia Inquirer). So I’ll speak with Mr. Saxby and get back to you with some more details ASAP. In the meantime, poke around the report, and hey, while you’re at it, try out some of the sample questions. I’d love to know how creative professionals or arts afficionados perform when put to the test. Literally.


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


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.