Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Six Practical Reasons Arts Education is More Than a Luxury

Please enjoy this article from The Washington Post I received as a part of the Association of Teaching Artists' Digest. It does a great job outlining all the reasons why the arts NEED to be a part of every child's education.

Six Practical Reasons Arts Education is More Than a Luxury

By Daniel Willingham

Johns Hopkins University and the Dana Foundation hosted a conference titled “Neuroeducation: Learning, Arts and the Brain.” As the title implies, the goal was to bring together researchers considering, from an educational point of view, the impact of the arts on the brain. A book-length summary of the May conference just became available as a free pdf, available here.

Some great neuroscientists participated, including Mike Gazzaniga, Liz Spelke, and Mike Posner. The keynote speaker was Jerry Kagan, one of the leading researchers in developmental psychology. His address offered six reasons that the arts should be included in school curricula.
Kagan commented that Americans are pragmatists. They respect endeavors that cure a disease or make money, and they view the arts as luxuries. Kagan was careful to point out that his arguments stuck to the practical.

First, he estimated that something like 95% of children are capable of doing the work necessary to obtain a high school diploma, yet the dropout rate hovers around 25%. Too many of these students quit because they decide (usually in about the fourth grade) that school is not the place for them. This decision is based largely on their perception of their performance in reading and mathematics. The arts, Kagan argues, offers such students another chance to feel successful, and to feel that they belong at school.

Second, Kagan argues that children today have very little sense of agency—that is, the sense that they undertake activities that have an impact on the world, however small. Kagan notes that as a child he had the autonomy to explore his town on his own, something that most parents today would not allow. When not exploring, his activities were necessarily of his own design, whereas children today would typically watch television or roam the internet, activities that are frequently passive and which encourage conformity. The arts, Kagan argues, offer that sense of agency, of creation.

Third, Kagan argues that the arts offer a unique means of communication, using representations in the mind other than words, which are at the core of most school subjects. Kagan offers an evocative personal example. He had read about the distinction in Japanese culture between two modes of social interaction. One emphasizes politeness, and one cannot always express all that one thinks. In the other mode, appropriate for intimate associations, one may speak freely. Kagan noted that his understanding of this distinction was much richer after viewing paintings at the Tokyo museum that used this theme, for example, one of two gulls flying, one with its feet visible, the other with its feet tucked out of sight. The arts communicate in ways that words do not.

Fourth, participation in the arts allows children to see the importance of creating beauty, of creating an object that others may enjoy. When a child gets an A on a math test, the immediate benefit is to the child alone. But when the child creates a drawing, she makes something for the pleasure of others as well.

Fifth, the arts offer an opportunity for children to work together. Most school work is solitary, but when a band is congratulated for a performance it is the band as a whole that receives the compliment, not the individual child. Kagan ties this value to a larger moral complex. Too many of children’s activities are solitary, and solely for the child’s benefit. Morality and concern for others grows, in part, from understanding what it means to have a common fate.

Sixth, the arts provide a chance for children to express feelings that they otherwise might be unable to express. Kagan cites data showing health benefits for this sort of self-expression; several studies have shown that writing, even briefly, about emotional conflicts reduces illness and increases feelings of well-being. Kagan proposes that similar benefits might accrue from artistic expression.

Yes, core subjects like reading, math, history, civics, geography, and science are important. But the arts should not be treated as a luxury to be indulged should time allow.

Monday, November 23, 2009

New Website/ New Director

Just a quick update: Amaris Acosta has taken over the ED duties of the Miss Brooklyn Organization. She can be reached at: missbrooklynorg@gmail.com

Check out the new website: www.missbrooklyn.org

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Quick Belated Congratulations!

I meant to include this in the Brightest Star post, as it happened the same evening, and then I promptly forgot!

Congratulations to Jennifer Scacco, Miss Staten Island 2010! You have big shoes to fill, and Kim Cantoni, Miss Staten Island 2009, will be greatly missed. I'm sure you'll have a wonderful year!

(L- Kim Cantoni, Miss Staten Island 2009, R- Jennifer Scacco, Miss Staten Island 2010)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

2009 Brightest Star- Calvin Greene

From L to R, Alyse Zwick (Miss NY 2009), Amanda Mason (Miss Metropolitan 2009), Melanie Gowrie (Miss Brooklyn's Outstanding Tenn 2009), Calvin Green (Block Institute's First Brightest Star), Me, and Inga (Miss Manhattan 2009) at the Block Institute's Brightest Star Awards Gala

Sorry about the belated nature of this post- I've been swamped with school and work and my internship! This past weekend, Block Institute held it's first Brightest Star Awards Gala, to recognize the outstanding achievements of the adults that Block Institute serves, all of whom are living with developmental disabilities. After walking the red carpet, each finalist was featured in a video segment highlighting their achievements. I can only imagine how difficult it was for the judges to choose ONE finalist to represent Block Institute for the year- it was an incredibly impressive group. Congratulations to Calvin Green, who captured the title of the first annual Brightest Star! And a special thanks to Dr. Manhattan (Matt) and the Baron of Brooklyn (Joe), for being awesome boyfriends and volunteering at the event! You made very handsome escorts! And another special thanks to my mom for driving down to Brooklyn to attend!

At left, Matt escorting Hanan. At right, Inga escorting Hoa Hua.

At left, Kim escorting Calvin(who would later take the title of the Brightest Star)! At right, Joe escorting Benita.

Joe and I walking the red carpet!

Catching up with some of my MNY 2009 sisters! It's always a pleasure to spend time with these ladies!

With Joe Carrera, talent finalist, and my partner for the mentoring process.

Thank you to Todd of Block Institute, Kim (Miss Brooklyn ED), and Jeff (head of documentary), for working diligently to put together what will surely become a cherished tradition!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Community Word Project

You may have heard me mention the internship/ training program I was accepted to earlier this fall in previous posts. I'd like to take a moment to explain exactly what it is I'm doing, and with whom, because I'm excited about this program!

Community Word Project was founded in 1994 by Michele Kotler in Chicago. "Believing strongly in the role of the arts and creative expression in facilitating social change and building future community leaders, she set out to create opportunities for young people to develop and share their visions with one another and their communities." The project was soon moved to NYC, where it has remained. 

Community Word Project provides students real, meaningful interactions with art by placing practicing artists in the classroom, charged with the goal of sharing their artform in a meaningful and socially relevant way. 

Community Word Project also hosts a fantastic Teaching Artist Training and Internship Program, which I began in September. This Thursday, I'll begin the internship portion of the program at PS 27 in Brooklyn, and I can't wait!

For more information on Community Word Project, please check out their website.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

STAYING IN SCHOOL- Arts Education and NYC High School Graduation Rates

As an art educator, I understand that one of the biggest obstacles in getting funding and support for quality arts education in public schools is the often intangible nature of its benefits. Because of the abstract and asomatous qualities of art and art-therapy, it's often difficult to produce immediate and easily discernble research that proves the good art can do. And this is why I, along with other arts educators, jump for joy every time a new study produces documented, peer-reviewed evidence that supports the case we make daily. An October 2009 Report from the Center for Arts Education entitled "Staying in School- Arts Education and NYC High School Graduation Rates" studied over 200 NYC high schools over a two-year period, and found that those schools with the most certified arts teachers, dedicated and appropriately equipped arts classrooms and arts and cultural projects had the HIGHEST graduation rates in the city. Click on the link above to read the full report.