April 29, 2013

NPR Series Highlights the Benefits of Arts Education: Last week National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast four programs describing the “intersection of education and the arts”.
 
Chuck Close reflects on Learning School Lessons Through Art. One of the superstar artists connected with the Turnaround Arts Initiative is painter Chuck Close. He says that when he was growing up, he had some teachers who had enough flexibility to allow him to paint a mural about Lewis and Clark, even though he would not do well on a test about it.  He’s now working with students at Roosevelt School in Bridgeport, CT. Listen here.

The Case For the Arts in Overhauling Education by Rachel Martin (Weekend Edition Sunday on April 14, 2013. In this broadcast Rachel Martin, host of Weekend Edition Sunday, interviews Elizabeth Blair about “…her reporting on the role the arts play in helping low performing schools improve and in nurturing creativity that can help young people in all subjects.”

In her research about cuts to school district budgets Ms. Blair found that middle-class/upper-class school systems still have instruction in the arts, but instruction in the arts is less available in poorer neighborhood schools.

The report notes that in a “very small but strategic way” the Obama administration is introducing a rigorous and aggressive arts curriculum in eight low performing schools called the Turnaround Arts Initiative to see if the arts can affect student attendance and overall school environment. The success of the program will be judged on student attendance, behavior, school climate, and, of course, student test score results, including creativity. Ms. Blair explains in the interview that she has observed a disconnect between what schools want to do, help children become creative and innovative thinkers, and what is actually happening in schools, where children are learning that there is only one right answer on a multiple choice test. Instruction in the arts might be a way for students to explore their creativity.

Creative Classes: An Artful Approach to Improving Performance by Elizabeth Blair (All Things Considered on April 16, 2013). This show describes how low-performing schools serving students from poor families in Denver, Portland, New Orleans, Des Moines, Washington, D.C. and Montana are implementing the Turnaround Arts Initiative, an intensive arts curriculum supported by the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

The initiative provides resources for the schools to support instruction in music, dance, drama, and visual arts in the schools, and bolster learning in math and reading as a result. According to the initiative, integrating the arts in the schools improves the conditions for learning in the school, motivating students to come to school and learn. As part of the initiative, members of the Presidents Committee on the Arts and the Humanities have adopted one of the participating schools. The members, including Kerry Washington, Forest Whitaker, and Yo-Yo Ma, teach master classes and mentor students.

The program notes, however, that researchers have not found a causal link between teaching the arts and performance on test scores, according to child psychologist Ellen Winner, who was interviewed for the broadcast. Professor Winner, who is chair of psychology at Boston College and co-author of the book Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education, still believes that the Turnaround Arts Initiative can help students, because the arts lead to engagement and attendance and “interesting teachers and engaged teachers”. Listen here.

More than 50 Years of Putting Kids’ Creativity to the Test by Elizabeth Blair (All Things Considered on April 17, 2013. In part two of the series on arts education, Elizabeth Blair discusses how creativity is being measured and why it is important to find a measure for creativity.

Some of the early research about measuring creativity was conducted by E. Paul Torrance, who, as a psychologist, observed that some troublesome children were actually the most creative people. Teachers often ignored these children, because they were harder to control. He developed the Torrance Test to measure creativity and to prove that creativity was important to success in every field, not just in the arts. The test is still used today.

James Catterall, a psychologist and director of the Centers for Research on Creativity in Los Angeles, is still “field testing” his Next Generation Creativity Survey, but has already found that elementary school children score better on the survey than high school students. According to the interview he believes that schools have a tendency to “suck the creativity out of kids over time”. Listen here.

In D.C., Art Program Turns Boys’ Lives Into ‘Masterpieces’ by Elizabeth Blair (All Things Considered April 18, 2013). This third part of the series about the intersection of education and the arts describes the Life Pieces to Masterpieces arts program, an after-school program that serves the Ward 7 neighborhood in Washington, D.C., and teaches African American boys and young men how to express themselves through painting.

The broadcast explains that Ward 7 is one of the poorest neighborhoods in D.C. with a poverty rate over 40 percent for children and a juvenile detention rate of 23 percent. The Masterpieces program, co-founded by Mary Brown, helps boys, ages 3-25, learn the four Cs: connect, create, contribute, and celebrate.

Participants learn to express their sometimes horrific life experiences through art, including painting, songs, and poems, and have formed a “brotherhood” where they feel comfortable and safe. They also learn how to meditate and reflect about what has happened in their lives in order to rejuvenate themselves. Although the program has had some setbacks, an estimated 1000 young men have completed the program since its founding in 1996, and 100 percent of participants have graduated from high school and have either gone on to college or vocational school.

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