The Boston Public Schools are proposing Arts be introduced as a compulsory element of the High School Curriculum. States like Washington and Utah (these are two I know of) have some credits in the Arts deemed mandatory for Graduation.
I think everyone agrees that the Arts are important till the middle-years. I am not certain whether they believe this should be so. My discussions with some educators (mostly in India) has lead me to believe that Administrators give the Arts Carnegie Units till these years because:
a) The coursework or curriculum coverage till the middle years, especially in the absence of state-testing is not as important as it suddenly becomes in the High School Years. Then Math, Sciences & English take over. Till then, the Arts are seen as an activity that kids love & is low maintainence – hence it should be allowed to continue.
b) Arts allow demonstrations at PTAs. They allow Demonstrations at Annual Days. The School looks pretty with colourful posters on the walls. Makes the school look good.
At the slightest provocation Art Classes are disbanded and recsheduled to other teachers who lag behind in Syllabus Coverage.
In my opinion, two inputs could change this thinking.
1. The Arts should be defined more broadly. In too many schools the Arts mean a Paper, some colours and an active imagination. Hence teachers struggle to see the connection between coursework and Application in life. After all, how many times have we drawn as adults?
The Arts go beyond paper and colours. I attend lots of power-point presentations. Most are dead boring, ofter because of the power-point. Not that the software is to blame- these speakers have never understood (haven’t been taught) the power of visual communication.
Probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn, this map by Charles Joseph Minard portrays the losses suffered by Napoleon’s army in the Russian campaign of 1812. Beginning at the Polish-Russian border, the thick band shows the size of the army at each position. The path of Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow in the bitterly cold winter is depicted by the dark lower band, which is tied to temperature and time scales. (courtesy Edward Tufte)
The arts encompass graphic designing (my wordpress template designer is one beneficiary), animation, choreography, storyboarding, photography and hundreds of other techniques that could make this subject more interesting and relevant.
2. There is a strong link of the Arts with Learning and more importantly with Doing. Arts (through graphs and diagrams) help us understand better (especially those of us with special needs), have been shown to be an important intelligence, increase development of the brain and as Daniel Pink says, it maybe amongst the most important skills for the future.
I feel there is a strong care to be made for the Arts in Education and there definitely should be a component required all the way up to college. There should be a mandatory exhibition of mastery over the work and a student-centered rubric that will allow teachers to assess the student. Assessment in the Arts is a reality and I would love to start a conversation with anyone who’d like to know how.
I leave you with an example of good design in communication (some have argued against the use of this word to describe strength of this work).