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Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

Oh, for Art’s Sake!

Charlsie Dewey at the Business Journal notes the transformation of arts education. Or more precisely the separation of arts education from the school curriculum. And it’s not that the school community, or the community at large is indifferent to the benefits of the arts.

In the last several years there has been a strong push by educators and those involved in the arts communities to emphasize the value of arts education. Numerous studies have shown that students who receive an arts education — either through dedicated discipline classes like music, painting and creative writing, or through integrating the arts with other disciplines like math or science — are more successful academically.

And it’s not like the arts are only for the kids. Dewey notes the economic impact of arts in Michigan: an Art Serve survey found arts accounted for more 16 percent of Michigan’s total tourism — likely more, since the survey only covered 10 percent of arts organizations.

With that impact, you would think that arts might have a higher place on the curriculum, but no. Instead what we have are arts organizations stepping up to fill the gap left by receding dollars and commitments. Is this the wave of the future? Perhaps.

Whether economically troubled schools that have had to cut or end arts education classes can find a way to integrate the arts into the core curriculum and preparations for standardized tests remains to be seen. It does seem like a new model for delivering arts education to kids and young people is on the horizon.

But it’s not new.

Call this the AAU model of arts education, the love child of privatization and high stakes testing. We can no longer afford our arts generally because of the cost, so let’s fob it off on the community. This is in silent accord with the tacit philosophy of education at work in the State. Elite, liberal arts education for those of the better-off suburbs and their private counterparts, and a more vocational/careerist model for the poor. The strivers of course, are caught in between — for a lucky few there are the programs.

This is the very opposite of the vision for public education that has driven our schools.

The place of arts in the curriculum is a political and philosophical statement. It is an assertion that cultural goods belong to everyone, and not simply the property of a few.  The arts are not an adornment to a life, but help shape, even define a life.

Arts education lays the groundwork for self-governance. In our arts, we create the free inner space, a self-awareness and empowerment, that is the prerequisite for self rule. The excellence of arts not only shapes how our understanding, but finally empowers — as any parent who has ever put up a picture can tell you.

Without art, we end up with the circus, entertainment as a consumer good. The small and private screen. Arts education would give our children something more: the world. They certainly deserve it.

[A shorter version of this also appeared at Written and Noted]
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