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Arts Education Must Exist Beyond Evaluation, Measurement, and Standards

Rob Schultz

I’ll be the first to admit it. I’m only passingly familiar with many of the theories and practices of arts education. Teaching visual art classes is in my distant, hazy professional background, but my career since then has been in managing community arts education programs and the capable, expert staff who deliver them.

It’s certainly been interesting reading and discussing various approaches to comprehensive arts education over the years, how best practices are defined at any one particular time, and how new approaches redefine what we thought we already knew.

I can appreciate how valuable these theories and practices are and what results they achieve in students of varying ethnic, age, and socioeconomic diversity. Of course, there’s also been an ever-increasing focus on standardization and evaluation, in large part I suppose because of the need to meet “proof of effectiveness” requirements demanded by grantors and others in the business of providing financial support to the arts education field.

All of us were pleased when, in 1994, the National Arts Standards were adopted and our field proudly saw that the arts had been recognized and earned a place at the public education table. More recently, the Common Core State Standards arrived on the national scene, and so now we grapple with ways to make their integration and implementation a reality.

A colleague on the Arts Education Council of Americans for the Arts, Talia Gibas, recently wrote an excellent essay on the value of “shared delivery,” whereby a child is taught through three processes: a generalist classroom teacher who integrates the arts on a daily basis; an arts specialist who “hones in on skills and content specific to their art form;” and a professional teaching artist who deepens engagement.

Comprehensive approaches like these are vital. It’s important stuff. And it continues to evolve and adapt to societal changes that present us with generations of students different from those that came before.

But I’m here to put in a good word for assuring some arts education existing simply for the sake of enjoying what our students are doing, and just letting them do it. Without demands. Without complications. To allow expression to happen without worrying about whether or not it’s planned, measured, defined, linked, collaborative, progressive, sustainable, integrated, modeled, informed, competent, or transformational.

I recently had the good fortune to sit in the audience of a semester-ending recital at my arts center in Arizona. The students were of all ages and stripes, bound together only by their choice to sign up for private voice and music lessons with a master teacher. They ranged from an impossibly cute 8-year-old girl learning to play the flute, to a nervous but determined 12-year-old singing “White Christmas” with everything she had, to a trio of adults playing their own mellow, blues-rock compositions on acoustic guitars.

But their performances in front of 50 or so parents, grandparents, and friends were of the purest form, driven by their innate need to reach down into their souls and share themselves through their voice, their fingers, and their movements. This art wasn’t measured, tested, or evaluated. It was beautiful. May it always continue…

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