Archives for category: Arts Education

A former student who all’s him/herself “ArtTeacher” left the following moving tribute to our beloved friend and frequent contributor Dr. Laura Chapman. I wonder if she knew how many lives she influenced, how admired and respected she was? I learned from everything she wrote here.

ArtTeacher wrote:

I was an art education student of Dr. Chapman and her life partner, Patricia Renick from 1974-78 at the University of Cincinnati. We called Patricia “Pat,” and she was vivacious, loving, and upbeat. Her nickname was “Mother Art.” Even as adults, my classmates and I had difficulty dropping the “Dr.” because we held Laura in such high esteem.

I was the first Art Education major to graduate summa cum laude from the school of Design, Architecture and Art, and I still have her letter of recommendation that described me as one of the “brightest and best.” I felt as if I had failed them both when I quit teaching after being RIFed from 2 schools in 3 years.

In 2000 when I became an art teacher again, NCLB was in full force in Ohio, and I boldly phoned her to meet and catch up on current education trends. She laughed when I told her how she struck fear in our undergraduate hearts if we showed up unprepared for her class. She was interested in hearing that two of my 8th graders filled in their scan-tron sheets to create a smiley face and a penis. When I asked what on earth they were doing, one of them said that he was only there so he could attend the dance that Friday. “I happen to know this test doesn’t affect my GPA,” he told me, pointing a finger at my face, “It affects YOU, and I don’t care about you. You can make me come to school, but you can’t make me try.” I told Laura that surely the principals and superintendents would protest the obvious flaws in forcing a school in a rural, low-income area to improve scores on such a test each year, when students’ home lives were such a struggle. The next year I was hired by a surburban elementary school to teach art to over 600 fourth graders, many of whom became physically ill on testing days because they wanted so much to do well, the opposite of the other school.

In 2012 she sent an email asking me to describe how I’m evaluated, how many students I taught, budget, schedules, etc. for a research paper. She said, “The evaluation of teachers by standardized test scores and principal observations is going in the direction that hit the teacher at Oyler (a public school in a low-income area near U.C.). In fact, more standardized tests are in the works and scheduled for administration in 2014, grades 3-12, as a condition for schools receiving federal funds from the ESEA. New state mandates are getting on the books regardless of the governor’s political affiliation. Since 2009, Bill Gates who thinks he is qualified as an expert on education, had been funding many projects that converge on more data gathering and sruveillance of teachers and the overall performance of schools.” So you can see that even as a retired professor, Laura was right on top of everything that was happening, who was doing it, and why.

I started meeting her for breakfast every month or so, to fill her in on what was new at school, and she explained the agenda behind it all, and warn me about was was coming next. I used to awaken in the wee hours with the chlling thought that it was like the plot of a bad sci fi movie, where there seemed no way to effectively fight the evil forces that had taken over. I joined BATs about a month after it began, full of hope that all we had to do was reveal what we knew was going on, and our communities (and unions) would shut it right down. I had even greater hope listening live to the first NPE convention from my home as I prepared art lessons. I remember our union presidents promising Diane to stop accepting Gates’ money, then reneging on that promise three days later.

In 2014 Laura gave a lengthy slide presentation at the Ohio Art Education convention that was titled “The Circular Reasoning Theory of School Reform: Why it is Wrong,” explaining in part why SLOs and VAM were invalid measurements of learning. It was, as you can imagine, annotated like a Master’s Thesis. Her voice was weak because was suffering from COPD and recovering from a cold, but her presentation had an enormous impact. Immeditately afterward we art teachers attended a workshop by the Ohio Dept. of Education intended to train us to write SLOs for our K-12 art students. We nearly rioted. Yet, the following school year, I had to give a test to my fourth graders the first day of school over a list of art vocabulary words I was certain they would not already know. At the end of the year, I tested them on the same 15 words, and nearly every one of 850 students passed with flying colors. Yet most were upset to see their low scores from the beginning of the year. “I can’t believe I was that stupid,” one girl said. I told her that I had to show that she learned something from me, so she was supposed to fail the test the first time. “WHY would you DO that to us?” she gasped. Now we have opted for shared attribution, where 50% of my evaluattion as an art teacher is based on 4th grade math and reading scores.

My students look forward to art class, and I have lost no enthusiasm for teaching them. This is my 20th year at my school, and every year I have something new to try, something marvelous to experience with my students. I rarely miss a single day of teaching. My way of fighting back is to absolutely refuse to let anything dampen my love for teaching art. I actually feel lucky to be an insider during these years, to see and know that even with the most misguided of mandates, my colleagues and I show up every day for the children who come through our doors.

The last time I saw Laura was in late February 2020 when it was becoming obvious that teaching in a building with 2400 fourth, fifth and sixth grade students was putting me at risk for contracting COVID, and that our Saturday breakfasts must stop to protect Laura’s health. I held my breath and hugged her. My school shut down mid-March, and I was allowed to teach online from home last year — to about 900 students in grades 1-4. I sent long emails describing what that was like, and she was fascinated by my reports. She said she was picking up groceries, staying in her condo, and of course, continuing her research and advocacy. In the spring I asked if we could get together again, and although she didn’t say no, she closed by wishing me and my famliy good health and happy lives. I knew that it was her way of saying good-bye.

Laura H. Chapman was a devoted supporter of public education, the Network for Public Education, and this blog. I was honored to post her carefully researched and well documented comments on this blog. Although her health clearly was in decline, she faithfully attended every annual meeting of NPE.

Laura was a distinguished arts educator. Please read her obituary in The Cincinnati Enquirer. We have lost a treasured friend.

Laura shared my dislike of billionaire reformers who didn’t know much about education but imagined they could solve its problems with Big Data. She was opposed to privatization of public funds. She opposed the substitution of technology for real teachers. She was a fierce and eloquent supporter of a rounded liberal arts education. she never failed to inspire me with her wisdom.

Robin Lithgow was in charge of arts in the public schools of Los Angeles. She writes frequently about the arts in schools.

She writes:

Pleased to announce!

Now that the pandemic is subsiding and schools are reopening, I’m moving forward with the publication of my book. The working title now is Learning the Way Shakespeare Learned: Classroom Dramatics, Physical Rhetoric, and a Generation of Genius. I’m working with Susan Shankin, the publisher of Precocity Press, and the book will be illustrated by my brother. We hope to have it out by the fall.

In the meantime, I’d like to feature some of the truly amazing drama teachers I’ve worked with over the course of my career. I have a deep and abiding love for them all. They teach so much more than drama. Just as drama is an art form that incorporates all other art forms, teachers of drama incorporate everything that every student brings to the class.

To get us going, here is “Jenny, Drama Teacher” from Zadie Smith’s IntimationsThe book is her profound and insightful reflection on the pandemic, definitely worth the read in its entirety, but what I want to share here is from her appendix: “Debts and Lessons.” There she credits 26 individuals with escorting her on her voyage into wisdom, with a brief and lovely homage to each one.

(I’ve loved reading Zadie Smith ever since my mom handed me a copy of White Teeth some twenty-five years ago and I read a book that exploded in my mind. I couldn’t fathom that an author so young could produce such an epic! Presumably her experience with Jenny was a spark for her genius.)

13. Jenny, Drama Teacher

A task is in front of you. It is not as glorious as you had imagined or hoped. (In this case, it is not the West End, it is not Broadway, it is a small black box stapled to an ugly comprehensive school.) But it is a task in front of you. Delight in it. The more absurd and tiny it is, the more care and dedication it deserves. Large, sensible projects require far less belief. People who dedicate themselves to unimportant things will sometimes be blind to the formal borders that are placed around the important world. They might see teenagers as people. They will make themselves absurd to the important world. Mistakes will be made. Appropriate measures will be pursued. The border between the important and the unimportant will be painfully reestablished. But the magic to be found in the black box will never be forgotten by any who entered it.

Sir Ken Robinson inspired educators around the world with his vision of child-centered schools that focused on imagination, creativity, the arts, and the joy of learning.

Sadly, he died last August at the age of 70.

His daughter Kate Robinson has organized a virtual celebration of his life and work on March 4, called “Imagine If…”

I hope you will watch it.

The New York Times said this about him:

Ken Robinson, a dynamic, influential proponent of stimulating the creativity of students that has too often been squelched by schools in the service of conformity, died on Aug. 21 at his home in London. He was 70.

His daughter, Kate Robinson, said the cause was cancer.

A British-born teacher, author and lecturer, Mr. Robinson viewed large school systems as sclerotic, squeezing the creative juices out of children by overemphasizing standardized testing and subjects like mathematics and science over the arts and humanities.

“There isn’t an education system on the planet that teaches dance every day to children the way we teach them mathematics,” he said during a TED Talk in 2006 that has been downloaded 67 million times, the most in the lecture organization’s history. “I think math is very important, but so is dance. Children dance all the time, if they’re allowed to.”


Recently Tom Ultican responded to something I posted on Twitter.

His response contained a typo.

He meant to write “Common Core Standards,” but mistakenly wrote “Common Care Standards.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our schools had “Common Care Standards,” in which we acknowledged our responsibility to care about students?

The standards might read like this:

All children shall have access to high quality preschool.

All children should have time to play every day, between classes and after school.

All children should have three nutritious meals every day.

All children should see a school nurse whenever they don’t feel well.

All children should be checked by a doctor and dentist annually.

All children should have access to a well-stocked library.

All children should have a safe place to live.

All children should have the arts as part of their daily schedule.

All children should have a school curriculum that includes not only reading and mathematics, but civics and history, science, literature, and foreign language.

Do you have anything to add to the Common Care Standards?

Nancy Bailey is hopeful that 2021 will bring a new agenda for public schools and their students and teachers.

All are worried about the pandemic and whether there will be the resources to protect students and staff.

There will surely be a teacher shortage due to the numbers of teachers who felt threatened by returning to school when it was not safe, as well as the necessity to reduce class sizes to make social distancing a reality.

The need for social justice should be high on the agenda, and it has nothing to do with vouchers and school choice.

Students with disabilities have been seriously affected by the pandemic and need extra instruction and resources.

The pandemic threw a harsh light on the condition of school infrastructure. Many states have not invested in school facilities. Will they?

The arts were dropped in many schools during the disastrous reign of NCLB and Race to the Top. Today they are needed more than ever.

What will become of assessment? Will the new Secretary follow those who think that testing produces equity? Or will he listen to teachers and parents? Twenty years of federally mandated testing produced a static status quo, locking the neediest students into their place in the social hierarchy and denying them equality of educational opportunity.

Dr. Michael Hynes is the Superintendent of the Port Washington School District in New York and a friend of Sir Ken Robinson.

The Legacy and Impact of Sir Ken Robinson

The world lost an inspiring and incredible human-being on August 21, 2020. Sir Ken Robinson, the gifted author and educator, and one of the world’s leading thinkers made an incredible impact on everyone he met. You may know him from his famous TED Talk entitled “Do Schools Kill Creativity”. It happened to be the most viewed TED Talk of all-time. To think people cared to watch an 18-minute discussion about school and creativity more than 66 million times shows us what an amazing orator he was. More important, it highlights his ability to connect with people who cared about what he had to say.

Most people know him from his multiple TED Talks. Not many knew that he led an incredibly multifaceted career before he hit TED stardom. Sir Ken was Director of the Arts in Schools Project, an initiative to develop arts education throughout England and Wales. He also chaired Artswork, the UK’s national youth arts development agency. Sir Ken was also professor emeritus of education at the University of Warwick. In 2003, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his services to the arts. I’m just scratching the surface of his esteemed career but this gentleman was also Senior Advisor for Education & Creativity at the Getty Museum. His contributions to the field of education and the world are vast.

I could go on and on about his legacy and his ideas concerning creativity. He deeply cared about the education system our children and teachers are “trapped” in because he felt it needed to be transformed. His quotes are legendary. Here are a few of my favorites:

1. “The fact is that given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”

2. “Creativity is as important as literacy”

3. “Imagination is the source of every form of human achievement. And it’s the one thing that I believe we are systematically jeopardizing in the way we educate our children and ourselves.”

I was blessed and fortunate to work with Sir Ken a few years ago and stay connected ever since. This past April I had the pleasure and honor of spending time with him for his new podcast series related to teaching from home. Sir Ken is like that old friend you don’t see for a while; and then when you do meet up again, it’s like you saw them yesterday. He made you feel like your work and ideas mattered. Sir Ken had the uncanny ability to use his humor to draw people in and then use his superpower of connecting with you to seal the deal.

I saw that someone penned, “Sir Ken’s loss offers everyone in the field of education an opportunity to honor him by reflecting and acting on his wisdom.” As Pasi Shalberg, another icon in the field of education wrote me earlier today, “His words would have been heeded now more than ever. We must carry his message forward, Mike.” I couldn’t agree more. We all must carry his message forward every single day.

In one of his last TED Talks, Sir Ken discusses how life is your talents discovered. He concluded his talk by saying, “Nothing is more influential as a life well lived.” I can’t think of another human-being that I know of who has lived a life more well lived than my dear friend. The world lost a great man but his ideas will live on.

Favorite video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5MSgCut1Ils when he speaks to the Dali Lama.

We have heard many ideas for what schools should look like after the pandemic, or if they reopen while the pandemic is still around. Most of those ideas are centered on distance learning. Nancy Bailey has a different concept: Bring back the arts education that was sacrificed to high-stakes testing.

She writes:

Teachers teach remotely, and parents are helping students at home. Hopefully, children and teens are doing art. Self-expression is important, and art calms and leads to self-discovery. When public schools reopen, when it’s safe to do so, parents and teachers must demand a return of art education with qualified art teachers! Music and drama are critical too, but this post focuses on art classes.

Due to high stakes testing and the no excuses agenda, teaching art became obsolete especially in poor schools. Underfunded school districts removed art classes from the curriculum years ago. They pushed more reading and test preparation.

Nina Rees is President and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Rees was once a senior education policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation and helped develop NCLB. Once asked “Do you consider art and music ‘frills,’ or would you say they are necessary to good elementary education?” she answered:

It depends. If a student is attending an affluent school that has the budget to invest in such things, then I see many benefits to adding art and music courses. What I object to is focusing the attention of poor school systems on these activities. Schools should be in the business of teaching students the basics. If they fail to teach students how to read and write, it makes no sense to ask them to offer music! In a perfect world, these are decisions that I wish parents could make and pay for.

Rees implies that the arts are only for children in wealthy schools! Educators know that the arts and academics complement one another. It’s detrimental to get rid of the arts in poor schools. Children in underfunded schools deserve art as much as students in rich schools.

All children deserve access to art classes. Dedicated public school art classes bring children together. Art is important for children with disabilities, gifted, twice exceptional students, and children and teens who have anxiety or depression.

Bailey goes on to describe the many ways that art helps students, the lessons and values they impart.

Yes, the arts are for everyone.

When their performance was canceled due to the pandemic, the Chamber Singers at Chino Hills High School in California found another way to perform.

Watch this beautiful performance of “Over the Rainbow.”

This video was widely reposted and went viral.

Creativity! Hope! Persistence! Resilience!

Robin Lithgow titles this wonderful post Flores y Canciones: The Poet as Witness. She writes about a culture that values its poets.

She writes:

I’ve just finished a riveting memoir titled “What You Have Heard is True,” by Carolyn Forché. It is about the lead-up to the civil war in El Salvador in the 80s. I recommend it highly because of the perspective Forché gives on our troubling history with Central America and our current concern for immigrants and separated families at the border.

But that’s not the purpose of this post. I’m writing about it here because the author is a poet. I’m intrigued by the fact that a charismatic and mysterious coffee plantation owner named Leonel Gomez Vides, the protagonist of the book, would drive all the way from El Salvador to San Diego in 1978 just to ask a young poet to visit his country and bear witness to its struggles.

Why a poet?

If you read the book, you may understand why poetry might be needed to weave such a vivid and painful narrative. It reminded me of something I learned working with the Office of Multi-cultural Studies during my time in the Arts Education Branch at LAUSD. We were developing a professional development for our elementary dance, theatre, and visual arts teachers, incorporating the arts to focus on the La Llorona (the weeping woman). La Llorona is an oral legend known by virtually every hispanic child in our schools but only vaguely familiar to many of their teachers. In fact, some of our arts teachers were weirded out by the workshop. This is understandable. It’s a terrifying story about a woman who drowns her own children and then spends the rest of her life mourning them and snatching other innocent children away from their homes. Hardly an uplifting tale! But we thought it appropriate that we were drawing on a legend from deep in the cultural consciousness of the children we teach, and, like Euripides’ Medea, as a piece of literature it has the powerfully emotional resonance of a poem.

Here is Carolyn Forché in her own words in an interview with Robin Lindley at George Washington University. explaining why Leonel Gomez Vides chose her to write about his country:

“He came to visit me as an American poet. And of course, I tried to dissuade him from imagining that a poet could accomplish the task he imagined, explaining to him that poets didn’t have a great deal of exposure or credibility in the United States, and that we weren’t consulted on matters of foreign policy. We were considered a subculture or a fringe element. He was surprised by that because, of course, in Latin America poetry is very important and taken very seriously, so he decided that one of my tasks was to change the role of poets in the United States, which I thought was very quixotic and probably more impossible than anything else he was asking me to do.

“I was touched by his faith in poetry and by his regard for it…”

Reading this I remembered that I’ve heard this twice before. Barbara Kingsolver said the exact same thing about her book The Lacuna, which tells the story of Trotsky’s time living in Mexico. In The White Goddess, Robert Graves describes a time in ancient British history when poets sat next to kings in government. Poets are, and have always been, valued in other cultures far more than they are in ours. They interpret, clarify, and vivify the times to which they are witness.

Read on. Finish the post.

Lithgow shows you the beauty and importance of poetry.

What is the role of poetry in the Common Core curriculum? Will poetry help you write a market analysis? What does it do? Why does it matter?