The 2001 Summer Music and Art Institute for Teachers was presented through a collaboration among Cleveland State University, Young Audiences of Cleveland, Cleveland Opera, the Cleveland Orchestra, and ICARE (the Initiative for Cultural Arts in Education, a program currently housed at the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture). The Institute was the first such collaboration by this diverse group of organizations and programs. The featured keynote speakers were Cleveland Municipal School District CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett and Elliot W. Eisner, professor of education and art at Stanford University.
Dr. Byrd Bennett reiterated her often-expressed passion for the arts and her commitment to bringing art and culture back into the mainstream curriculum of the Cleveland Public Schools. The audience of more than 200 teachers from Cleveland and neighboring suburbs was no less gratified for having heard this message before. The tangible progress within her administration and in direct financial support of arts in the schools demonstrate that she is "walking the talk."
Dr. Eisner's remarks, however, provided the real substance that one always hopes for from a keynote speaker. Professor Eisner's address pushed the discussion of arts and education to a new level, raising the bar on future expectations for the role of the arts in educating the whole child. He may well have surprised a number of people in the audience with the two main points that were the basis for his conference address.
• The arguments being made for the re-introduction of the arts to the core curriculum are neither the best nor the right arguments.
For one thing, the arts have far greater utility to learning than simply being a tool to teach other subjects. (In many districts this is the seemingly justifiable but “back door” rationale for bringing limited, curriculum-relevant arts experiences into the classroom.) For another, the research is not conclusive enough to make a convincing case for the much-heralded notion that studying music improves analytical brain functioning. It is not clear that there is a direct causal relationship between studying music and improved math scores, as attractive as that idea may be. Rather, Dr. Eisner believes it is past time to make the case for teaching the arts for their own sake — and the arguments to support this case are compelling in their own right.
• Not only should we teach, with professional expertise, the disciplines of music, dance, theater, and the visual arts to our children, but also we should change the ways of teaching and learning math, science, history, and other core subjects to more closely resemble the way teaching and learning take place in the arts.
Regarding his first point, Dr. Eisner presented nine cognitive development attributes he believes convincingly make the case for including the arts in the core curriculum. These, he said, are among the essential skills an individual must acquire in order to be an educated and functioning adult in society — and which are learned nowhere better than through the serious study of an arts discipline.
[The following comments are paraphrased and are not intended to represent the full extent of his remarks on each point. K.C.]
Dr. Eisner believes that the serious study and practice of an artistic discipline is the most effective way for children to learn the following:
Based on these arguments, said Eisner, the notion that the value of the arts lies in their ability to help teach other subjects, is upside down. Instead, he said, the rest of the core curriculum needs to make use of the teaching and learning approaches that address the same cognitive development that comes naturally and powerfully through a study of the arts. Nuance and surprise and relationships should be part of the learning platform for all subjects. As these nine skills come to be valued and nurtured in other academic subjects, Eisner believes that learning becomes a creative process and accomplishment in these other subjects then takes on the character of a work of art.
In summing up, Eisner advocated for a point of view expressed frequently throughout his address: standardization of learning should not be the goal of schools. We should embrace the fact that there are differences in people — in aptitude, interest, and proclivity. “The good school increases variance among students and elevates the mean in the process.” He closed by bringing his themes home to the purpose of the gathering in Cleveland. “Teacher training does not end with the receipt of a diploma. It must be completed in the schools. A good school is one that has an environment and an ecology that supports the growth of all the participants — not just the kids.”
Elliott Eisner, Ph.D., is professor of education and art at Stanford University. He is author of more than fifteen books and many articles. The focus of his academic research is the development of aesthetic intelligence and the uses of critical methods from the arts to improve educational practice. He was originally trained as a painter and designer.
Kathleen Cerveny is senior program officer, Arts and Culture, Cleveland Foundation.