Monday, October 29, 2007

A Recentering of Arts Advocacy?

Why is it that recent arts advocacy has focused on the benefits of arts education in other subject areas? Why do we insist on rationalizing arts participation through the lens of other disciplines and higher math/verbal scores? While this tactic draws in the interest of non-arts participants with the issue of translatability, it is difficult to measure and simultaneously diminishes the arts by defining its place in our society as a supplement in relation to other, more essential, academic areas.

Project Zero researchers Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland try to move away from that and argue for "arts for our sake." (Their ideas are more spelled-out in their book, "Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education.") I'm not trying to deride their research or their idea by any means, but this idea does not exactly inspire policy makers to run for The Hill and tear down No Child Left Behind. In order to effect change, a more detailed feature of the arts must be found in order resonate with arts participants and non-arts participants alike and forge an independent valuation of the arts.

Perhaps the best way to go about it is to quantify the under-served in our educational system. In many instances, the US has demonstrated a reputation and a ingrained moral obligation to fight for the underrepresented and oppressed. While there are certainly other area of educational reform that need attention, Americans can rally against the current educational system that restricts different types of learning. Despite the research on multiple intelligences, first published in 1983, the way teachers are trained and the practice in the classroom has changed little to better address the research. The godfather of the multiple intelligence theory, Howard Gardner states:

"Students with strengths in the spatial, musical or personal spheres may find school far more demanding than students who happen to possess the 'text-friendly' blend of linguistic and logical intelligences." (Gardner, "The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach," pg. 149)

While, admittedly, addressing multiple intelligence in the classroom is not a terribly urgent item in the massive realm of educational reform, it may just resonate with the populace like the standards-based reform movement that culminated in the NCLB legislation. In fact, the imbalance of multiple intelligence teaching in public schools may give better focus to the anti-NCLB movement.

If anyone can point me in the direction of research quantifying multiple intelligences displayed in the public school classroom, I would be very interested to read it. Here at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, we are fond of saying that we operate at the nexus of research, policy, and practice. I want to see how policy and practice align with the theory of multiple intelligences, and if it doesn't, could this be the proper lens to more effectively advocate for the arts?