Policy and Leadership
One of the key preoccupations when we think about the aims of education today remains, as it was at the time John Dewey was writing, the distinctions constantly drawn between educating for the market–be it via creative economy now or vocational education then–or education toward growth–both communal and individual. This relationship between growth and markets today is at the center of policy thinking and should be a primary concern for those invested in arts education. The work of those of us interested in understanding and guiding policy thought in a responsible and responsive manner–attending to the needs of subjects and not solely to needs of capital–must therefore consider, once again, questions of why we educate as we educate and the relationships–limitations and possibilities–that we establish between our aims and the process we create in order to see these aims fulfilled.
Reading Antonio Novoa and Martin Lawn’s book Fabricating Europa and the May 2011 Report of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities called Reinvesting in Arts Education, one cannot escape the enormous pressure placed upon educational environments and the almost unimaginable requirements, we as a society, are asking education to bare.  The central question for us, arts educators seems to be:  Can the arts play a vital role in the educational process?
Martin Lawn places the issue historically for us, highlighting how a young italian diplomat in 1942 admonished against the “New World Order” which the Third Reich was attempting to establish, and the “mechanical and materialistic” vision they attempted to impose:
They have no idea that no economic order can rule if not based on a political order, and that to make the worker work, it is not enough to promise him (sic) a certain wage, but one must also give him the sense of serving a community, of which he is an intimate part, which he feels an affinity with and in which he recognizes himself (cited in Mazower, 1997, p. 142)
This could have been written today!  In fact, in the preface to the Reinvesting in Arts Education report, Secretary Arne Duncan, as much of the global political body, articulates that indeed “to succeed today and in the future, America’s children will need to be inventive, resourceful, and imaginative” adding that “the best was to foster that creativity is through arts education.”  The secretary concedes  that “its an unfortunate truth that many schools are falling short of providing students with a full experience of that arts” and bemoans the fact that  “todays curriculum fails to spark student curiosity or stimulate a love of learning.”   Heartening words if they were not followed by the instrumentalist argument that places the role of ‘the arts” as one of aiding students to “engage and succeed in other academic areas and build skills that would serve them in the innovation economy.” While certainly problematic, this would be palatable if not followed by a simplistic description where Secretary Duncan ‘personalizes’ his address, sharing with the reader how he has “witnessed the ability of one arts educator to enrich the learning” of his daughter and son, sharing that “in [this teacher’s]  music room, children sing about gravity, sedimentation, rocks” and that he even “write songs for the students” about “American heroes.”  The inevitable, if embarrassing, moral of the story–which you might be guessing by now–is that “years later” the Secretary of Education of the United States writes, “when students sit down to take their SATs, they report humming [the teacher’s] songs to recall historical and scientific content.”
Arts (and particularly music educators) have their work cut out for them!
Such an impoverished description of what the arts are ‘good for’ requires that we all, consider again (and again and again) the ways in which we can become not better advocates for the arts, a term that distances us from the true educational values we aim to establish, but how we must do more to understand educational policy, its discourses and their impact. Arts education are an essential way in which we can recover education as a process of communal and individual growth where we can rescue learning, and consequently ‘work’, as something that is not abstract, not alienated from whom we are, but rather a space in which we can recognize ourselves, and develop a sense of intimacy, of use, to that which we create, discover, produce.
Policy thinking, as a complex enterprise, is a space, if critically thought, where we can be both pragmatic and humanistic, creative and productive, collaborative and self-achieving.   As the vanishing credentials of the 2011 ‘word of the year’ still retain some resonance, we, arts educators, must occupy policy.  Therein, in our daily commitment to its import, lies a serious path forward for a complex understanding of the central role of arts in the life of schools and their communities.