Arts Education is a Political IssuePosted: June 27, 2012
I’ve said this before (if you Google the title of this, you’ll see other stuff I’ve said about this):
Arts education is as much a political issue as it is an educational or instructional one.
This seems obvious to me, but I work at the intersection of educators and politics. This of it this way: what is taught to whom by whom and for how long are all political questions. What subjects are taught? What constitutes each subject? (Generally, these are state standards.) Who is teaching them? Who is hired to teach? How are they trained to teach? What qualifies them? Who is being taught? Which kids attend which schools? Which kids end up in which classroom? Which kids are remediated into math-only school days, for example? And, finally, for how long? Is reading a 180 minute-block session? Is the schedule block or linear? How often does the music teacher see each kid? Is it “each kid” or is it just the 5th graders? Is it just the 5th graders who aren’t in trouble?
These questions about how the education system is organized and run are answered by adults. They are not answered by the recipients of the decisions’ outcomes (the kids). They are answered by people who are paid by the system or who are elected to make decisions. They are made, secondarily, by advocates who spend their time and/or money trying to affect each decision.
Let’s add to this daunting picture. There are multiple levels of governance: federal, state, and local. Within states, sometimes there are intermediary units such as county departments of education that sit above school districts. (In PA and other state they’re call “intermediate units.”) Within the “local” sphere there are districts and there are schools.
The federal levels includes congress and the president and the US Department of Education. The state includes the state department of education, the state board of education, the governor, etc. Locals, of course, include superintendents, their team, principals, teachers, etc.
Lest we forget the private sector: there are PTAs and other advocacy groups at the federal, state, and local level. There is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Diane Ravitch and other outspoken leaders and advocates. There is the national Chamber of Commerce, ALEC, the National Education Association and the AFT. There are too many to list.
In summation, thousands of people each day make decisions that impact what is taught to whom by whom and for how long. They may be high-profile controversies like the ones in Texas. They may be subtle shifts (Race to the Top teacher evaluation). They may be standard practice such as school scheduling.
So here’s my point: it is coalitions of caring individuals and organizations that do the difficult, rare, and critical work of coming to agreement about what they will do, together, as a coalition, that can impact this mess of a democratic civic institution. And this difficult, rare, and critical work is exactly what Alameda is up to.