Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Bating and switching: a stealth attack by "art"

An article in last week’s Ed Week entitled “Arts Education Seen as Common-Core Partner” demonstrates yet another way in which the Common Core is being interpreted as justifying a Constructivist intrusion into academics of art (or Constructivism’s version of art).

Regarding some of this, the Common Core is actually quite explicit. In the English and Language Arts Standards, the article points out, there are:

An 8th grade reading standard says that students should analyze the extent to which a filmed or live production of a story of drama stays faithful to or strays from the text or script, evaluating the choices made by the director or actors. A 2nd grade writing standard says to use a combination of drawing, writing, and dictating to compose information or explanatory texts. IP A 3rd grade standard says to “explain how specific aspects of a text’s illustrations contribute to what is conveyed by the words in a story (e.g., create mood, emphasize aspects of a character of setting.” Says curriculum specialist Susan Riley, “I see the common core as a great platform for the arts to really rise and share their importance in the educational fabric of the school.
Now there certainly are ways in which the arts can strengthen an academic curriculum, particularly in English and Language Arts. One might consider, for example, the parallels between literary analysis and visual analysis--a point, in fact, that is made at the very beginning of the article. As David Coleman, the president of the College Board, points out, both involve “careful observation, attention to evidence, and artists’ choices” Coleman also points out that both art and literature have been the subjects of great essays that are worth reading in their own right.

But is this article really about having students write visual analysis essays and/or read great essays about works of art? Among the specific examples the article gives of integrating arts into other subjects, the only ones remotely related to either sound more like “discovery learning” and “inquiry” rather than analytical essay writing. One, for example, has students looking at Andrew Wyeth’s illustrations for Robinson Crusoe and asking “What techniques are used? And “What does that mean?” In another activity, one facilitated by staff at the Isabelle Stuart Gardner Museum in Boston:
When students first encounter a piece of art, they are asked to spend a few minutes looking silently at the image… Their guide begins by asking what’s going on in the artwork. As students share impressions, they are asked, “What makes you say that?”--a question that directly ties to multiple common-core standards for evidentiary reasoning in both English/language arts and math.
A gag-worthy dressing up old, obvious, and rather bland question-asking strategies in a contemporary jargon that makes grandiose claims about educational significance.

The other specific examples cited in the article are much more problematic, and not even remotely about analyzing art: “an elementary dance unit on the Underground Railroad,” “high school theater lesson that involves producing an original monologue,” and learning operations and algebraic thinking by “compos[ing] and analyz[ing] melodic and rhythmic patterns” or “creat[ing] a movement pattern and then depict[ing] it through drawing.”

In other words, instead of using art as a vehicle for analytical thinking, as the article at first suggests, we see a continuation of current trends: a dilution of English and Math by art.

And, as usual, a large number of our tax dollars are supporting this:
One regular cultural partner with the New York City School, the nonprofit ArtsConnection, got $1.1 million federal grant in 2010 to connect theater and dance with the new English/language arts standards, with a focus on developing and documenting interdisciplinary units of study and formative-assessment practices.
The few people whom the article quotes as expressing any concerns are worried, not about a possible reduction in math and Language Arts instruction, but instead about a reduction in arts instruction. We should be certain, says one person, that these activities occur “in addition to (not instead of) teaching the arts for their own sake.”

But unless we’re going to add many more hours to the school year, how are these priorities not going to result in a diminution of math for math’s sake, history for history’s sake, and the kind of analytical writing that the article at first seems to be advocating?

It’s a shame that the educational establishment is perverting the insight with which the article opens: that visual analysis can be great fodder for analytical essays. It’s a great insight, and one I’m filing away for future home schooling assignments.

Indeed, this is the first time I’ve gotten an idea for homeschooling from an Edweek article. Most of Edweek’s articles merely reinforce my reasons for homeschooling rather than conveying any good, new educational ideas; this article manages to do both.


gasstationwithoutpumps said...

You seem to be viewing the analytical essay as the only form of writing worth teaching—a position I strongly disagree with, as the analytical essay is a rather useless form that exists primarily in schools.

I think that creative writing (as in your example of the original monolog) is important to teach, as is technical writing, which is still mostly neglected in the Common Core.

Katharine Beals said...

"You seem to be viewing the analytical essay as the only form of writing worth teaching" Not sure where you get that, GWP. Here what I'm suggesting is that the visual analysis essay is the best way to incorporate the study of art into language arts, doing justice both to art and to language arts, rather than trivializing one and diluting the other.
Analytical essays, obviously, exist in many places outside of schools. And analytical writing is a great way to hone verbal skills and reasoning skills--skills that have broad application outside the classroom, and that employers throughout this country are finding to be in shorter and shorter supply.