This is the online stream for sharing conversations that happened throughout the Greater Bay Area from March through June 2012 around the question:

How can we collectively transform public education through the arts to create a better future for everyone?

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Arts Education is a Political Issue

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.

A good example of the political nature of public education: any controversy over state standards. See the recent Texas debacle. Or the previous Texas debacle.

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.

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4 Comments on “Arts Education is a Political Issue”

  1. lmusic says:

    John
    It is so interesting to think about who the decision makers are in a democracy. Here in California, we are feeling empowered and inspired by a governor and a State Superintendent of Public Instruction who are anxious to abandon narrow instruction driven by standardized tests, and instead embrace deeper learning through arts integration and new performance based assessments.

    In January we had a regional leadership forum with over 200 superintendents, board members and leaders titled “Assessing What Matters”. As we look to a new generation of assessments aligned to new common core stnadards in 2014-15, our teachers, principals, parents, teaching artists and administrators are getting involved and trying to shape what is next – rather than wait to see what the next set of instructional strategies and assessments will be that are “rolled out”.

    We are experimenting with ways to communicate about and connect the wisdom and the ideas that are out there. This blog is one way. I know that you have a lot of sophistication with on-line organizing and social marketing. We would love to think with you about regional strategies that could scale across to support a national movement for change (see Carl Anthony’s blog on “Quest for Environmental Social Justice”). Would you be interested in working on a proposal to present about this work with some of us at the AEP Fall Forum?

  2. So true. Education is deeply political, and the decisions are made at a series of complicated, intersecting levels of governance. Decisions are made not only by lawmakers, but administrators, education advocacy groups who choose to pursue specific policies, etc., at the federal, state, and local level.

    The complexity of the decision-making process about our schools and our students can make it feel daunting to think about how we can bring our own strengths and relationships to contribute to the effort to promote integrated learning (which includes arts-integrated learning!)

    BUT, this complexity also creates many opportunities, no? With so many individuals, levels, and layers who influence the political outcomes that shape education, it’s also likely that each one of us is connected to the discussion. In other words, WE TOO are decision makers.

    Who do we know? Who should we talk to? Our local PTA, our own school board members, supportive community organizations, fellow teachers and educators, and the web spirals outword…

  3. […] others what Joe Landon refers to as “overlapping interests,” and “shared commitments?” As John Abodeely writes, when it comes to education, “thousands of people each day make decisions that impact what […]

  4. We agree that there is a disconnect among those that administer public education and the people that are trying to make positive social impact. The focus needs to be on the learning needs of the individual students and not on the business of education (school structure, hiring practices, and where we place students).