Archives for category: Arts Education

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?

The Orange County School of the Arts is one of the most popular, most sought after, and most elite charter schools in the nation. Now it is locked in a battle with the local board of Educatuon about its admission policies.

Its students are whiter and more affluent than the surrounding community.

The Santa Ana Unified School District had made demands for change.

Last fall, OCSA applied to renew its charter with SAUSD, something state rules require must be done every five years. The district staff responded with a scathing 37-page report that found:

The schools “admission/enrollment policies and practices have encouraged applications from high achieving and well-resourced students and discouraged applications from those in the under-represented protected classifications.”

The numbers of “Hispanic/Latino, English Learners” and low-income students were so small at OCSA, it was impossible to meaningfully compare achievement to other district schools.

In sharp contrast to other middle and high schools in Santa Ana, OCSA reported no students who were homeless.

Mandatory meetings where school representatives set expectations that parents make donations of more than $4,000 a year to cover the costs of teaching the arts.

Since that report came out, KPCC/LAist got access to details Santa Ana Unified investigators did not uncover, including the current “Parent Funding Agreement” distributed at mandatory meetings.

While district officials openly say that OCSA is a high-quality school, they also say its policies exclude local, mostly Latino students while welcoming a wealthier, whiter student body that isn’t reflective of Santa Ana.

For example, while apparently struggling to find qualified local disadvantaged students, OCSA has admitted students from other counties, states and occasionally even other countries…. The board decided not to go as far as denial — instead, board members went with another recommended course: Vote to renew OCSA’s charter on the condition that the school work with the district to correct the alleged violations.

OCSA reacted swiftly, and fiercely. The school’s founder said the pushback from the district is payback over a lawsuit OCSA filed against the district last year over special education funding (that’s a whole other act in this drama — we’ll get to that). He also said there was nothing for OCSA to correct.

So the school stopped trying to work it out with the district, and started looking for another oversight agency.

Now, the issue is in the hands of the Orange County Board of Education, the body charged with taking up appeals of charters denied by their local authorizers. They don’t have long to make a decision — OCSA’s current charter expires on June 30.

To the shock and consternation of charter school advocates, the Trump budget proposal abandons the controversial federal Charter Schools Program, turning it into a state bloc program that turns the money over to the states. 

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools issued a scathing denunciation of the axing of the federal charter school programs, which has enriched the big corporate charter chains.

The Network for Public Education issued two reports on waste, fraud, and abuse in this program, showing that nearly 40% of the federal money was spent on charters that either never opened or closed soon after opening, with waste of nearly $1 billion. See the reports here and here.

Trump and DeVos are backing their chief priority: vouchers, which they prefer to call “education freedom scholarships,” at a proposed cost of $5 billion. They want America’s children to be “rescued” from public schools that hat have been burdened by harmful federal policies like high-stakes testing, and punishments attached to testing. They want them to attend religious schools that are low-cost and have no standards or accountability, and are free to discriminate against students, families, and staff they don’t like.

The erstwhile Center for American Progress lamented the proposal to cut federal spending on charter schools, even though Democratic support for them has substantially declined. Apparently, CAP is the last to know that school choice is a Republican Policy.

Chalkbeat reports:

The Trump administration wants to create a new stream of funding for disadvantaged students that would consolidate current spending on Title I — which gives money to schools serving low-income students — and 28 other programs.

This school year, the department spent $16.3 billion on Title I grants to states and districts and $7.8 billion on the other programs. Under the proposed budget, it would all become a $19.4 billion pot that would be distributed through the Title I formulas — a $4.7 billion cut, if the budget were enacted.

The individual programs on the chopping block include:

  • 21st Century Learning Centers, which supports after-school programs in places like Detroit and New York City ($1.25 billion)
  • Arts in Education ($30 million)
  • English Language Acquisition ($787 million)
  • Homeless Education ($102 million)
  • Neglected and Delinquent, which offers grants to states to educate incarcerated students ($48 million)
  • Magnet Schools, which offers grants some districts use for desegregation ($107 million)
  • Migrant Education ($375 million)
  • Rural Education ($186 million)
  • Supporting Effective Instruction State Grants, which is also known as Title II, Part A, which districts can use for teacher training and to reduce class sizes ($2.1 billion)

This move, the budget documents say, would reduce the federal government’s role in education and pave the way for less spending on department staff.

But the proposed elimination of these streams of funding raised alarms among civil rights advocates, who said this would enable states to spend less money on vulnerable groups like students who are English learners, homeless students, students involved in the juvenile justice system, or migrant students.

“History has shown us that … unless the federal government says you must serve migrant children, and here are funds to help you do that, migrant children are lost and forgotten,” said Liz King, the education equity program director at The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “The purpose of the dedicated pots of money … is to make sure that the most powerless people in our country are not lost.”

Advocates for other programs expressed concern, too. During a question and answer session with education department officials, a member of the National Association for Gifted Children asked why the administration had proposed eliminating a $13 million program that supports gifted education.

Jim Blew, one of DeVos’s assistant secretaries, and a former official at the Walton Family Foundation, said that advocates for these programs should lobby the states to fund their favorite programs.

Robin Lithgow continues her exploration of the history of the arts in education with this post about Shakespeare’s education.

Robin was director of arts education for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

This post includes a video of Robin describing her passion for her subject.

And it begins:

I know, I know—the “whining school-boy…creeping like snail unwillingly to school” and all that—but I actually think Shakespeare had a lot of fun at Stratford’s Latin Grammar school. Not only that, he shared that fun with his classmates.

For one thing, I am absolutely convinced that the first draft of his The Taming of the Shrew was based on a riotously funny collaboration written and performed by Stratford schoolboys, but I’ll save that for a another post when I can show a reading of Erasmus’s hilarious colloquy “Uxor” (Marriage), starring Xanthippe, the Shrew. (My gut tells me that young Will played that part and relished it!)

But I also think that learning dozens and dozens of rhetorical figures and devices was fun too. Why? Well, when you think about it, they ARE fun in themselves—like intricate word puzzles—and wordplay was a major source of entertainment back then. Either by good pedagogy or by necessity, collaboration was a constant factor in the Elizabethan classroom, and figuring out those devices together must have been totally engaging.

Just to demonstrate: I’ve attached here the full video of a presentation I did recently in which the participants engaged in a collaborative activity creating examples of four figures. I’ve posted segments of the video featuring readings from two colloquies (and hope to have one soon of “Uxor”), but the rhetoric portion of the video is in the first half.

 

Robin Lithgow, former director of arts education for the Los Angeles public schools, has been researching the history of children’s theater, in particular, the boys’ acting companies that were popular in England.

This is Part 4 of her series. 

She begins:

If you’ve been on the edge of your seat waiting for this final post on the boys’ companies active in the Tudor Age, you are probably alone, and I need to hear from you! This is a shame, because if theatre historians Harold Newcomb Hillebrand and Charles William Wallace are correct, the Globe Theatre and Shakespeare would never have happened without them!

My first three posts on this subject covered the immense popularity at court of the Children of St. Paul’s and the Children of the Chapel (along with many others that came and went and entertained the aristocracy in the provinces) up through the last decade of Elizabeth’s reign. The third post chronicled their demise as a result of politics and the far more active men’s companies. Hillebrand and Wallace wrote their books early in the last century, and since then there has been almost total silence. Fortunately their books are exhaustive in their detail, and if you can get your hands on them, you might join me in appreciating the role that boy actors played in our rich history

The truth is, the last gasp of the boys’ companies during the reign of James I, while dazzling and controversial, was brief; and it was entirely different from what had gone before. Both the Children of the Chapel and St. Paul’s had a second flowering with the ascendance of a new monarch, but their new life was a life sustained by a different breath—the breath of commerce. Ambitious entrepreneurs banked on the nostalgia for the playful antics of the boys who cavorted through the courts of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I, and they took a huge gamble. They had investors, and they threw their money around rashly, hiring the best playwrights available. Samuel Daniel, John Day, George Chapman, Thomas Middleton, John  Marston, and Ben Johnson pocketed way more money writing for the boys than they did for the men, and their brilliant plays can still delight us; but the playful antics of the cavorting boy actors were not a good fit for them. Jacobean audiences had grown much more sophisticated, and they and demanded edgier and more dangerous fare than the children could manage.

 

Robin Lithgow, former director of arts education in Los Angeles, is researching the history of children’s theater.

This is Part 3 of Lithgow’s series on boy actors.

She begins:

If Charles William Wallace, in The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare, is to be believed, it was at Blackfriars Theatre, in the early 1580s, that the Golden Age of Elizabethan Theatre was launched. He makes a convincing argument which I will attempt to summarize here. It is perhaps an implausible leap to say that without the boys’ companies there would have been no Shakespeare, but let’s look at the evidence.

The wildly popular flourishing in the 16th century of the Children of the Chapel and, later, the Children of St. Paul’s and the Children of Windsor, had a lot to do with the youth of three monarchs. Youth craves entertainment, often the edgier the better, and Henry VIII, his son, Edward VI, and his daughter Elizabeth were all very young when they first ascended the thrown. All three of them loved the antics of the theatrical, satirical and often histrionic productions of the boys’ companies.

Robin Lithgow, former director in charge of arts education in Los Angeles public schools, has written an engaging series about the history of “boy actors.”

This is Part 2. 

She begins:

The day of the old morality plays ended in 1514, when the young King Henry VIII stood up in the middle of one, yawned, and walked out of the room. Two years earlier, during a celebration of Twelfth Night (the holiday, not the play), Henry’s Sergeant of the Revels had introduced a brand new style from Italy: the Meskaler: “called a masque, a thing not seen afore in England.” The sets, the dress, the colors, the music, the wit, and especially the dance that the noble observers always joined at the end, all imported from the seat of the Renaissance, quickly displaced the old religious dramas that had dominated English theatre for centuries. This new style, mixing music and dance with interludes of dialogue, had a huge impact on theatrical productions during Henry’s reign.

It was the in the “interludes of dialogue” that the Children of the Chapel had their big opportunity. The masques were lavish and they involved unbelievably elaborate pageant wagons that would put our Rose Parade floats to shame. Here’s a description of just one: “adorned with purple and gold, having branches wrought of roses, lilies, marigolds, gillyflowers, primroses, cowslips, and other kindly flowers, with an orchard of rare fruits, all embowered by a silver vine bearing 350 clusters of grapes of gold. It contained thirty persons, and its great weight broke the floor as it moved up the hall. On the sides were eight minstrels with strange instruments, and on the top, the Children of the Chapel singing.” At least one of wagons was said to be pulled by lions and antelopes! (Really?! I know that is hard to imagine, but that’s in the description. They may have been huge disguises manipulated by several bodies?) Since they where heavy enough to crack the tile flooring at court, the light bodies of the boys were an asset, and their trained voices made them natural candidates for the interludes. Indeed, before they were called actors, these young Thespians were called “interluders.”

Eventually there were two major boys’ companies who entertained the aristocracy, providing most of the theatricals at court for the first eighty years of the 16th century. They were the Children of the Chapel Royal and the Children of St. Paul’s. There were other companies in the provinces that came and went, playing for the great houses of the dukes, earls,  viscounts, and lords, but because of the meticulously kept royal records we have the most information about the Chapel and St. Paul’s boys. Researching them I relied heavily on two books written early in the last century: The Evolution of the English Drama up to Shakespeare by Charles William Wallace and The Child Actors by Harold Newcomb Hillebrand. Very little attention has been paid to them since, which, if Wallace and Hillebrand are correct, is kind of astonishing. Both of them make a convincing argument that the Golden Age of Elizabethan theatre would never have happened without them!

Robin Lithgow, former director in charge of arts education in Los Angeles public schools, has written an engaging series about the history of “boys’ theater companies.”

This is Part 1. 

She begins:

“Harken, I do hear sweet music: I never heard the like” and “we shall hear [in the choir of Saint Paul’s] the fairest voices of all the cathedrals in England … and to tell the truth, I never heard better singing.”

— Claude Desainliens, a French visitor to London in 1573

“Mom, I was just in Westminster Abbey, and there was music falling from the ceiling—the most beautiful singing I’ve ever heard. I thought it was angels, but then the choir door opened and out walked a whole lot of little boys!”

—My 18-year-old daughter, calling from a phone booth on her first day in London, 1995, having just heard the Westminster Boys Choir in rehearsal

* * *

A Bit of Little-Known History From My Book:

“In England, the training of boys’ voices for royal entertainment goes far back in history, deep into the Middle Ages. Sometime in the 12thcentury, probably earlier, an ecclesiastical body of musicians and singers was organized to meet the spiritual needs of the England’s reigning sovereign. It still exists. Called the Chapel Royal, it is today considered the oldest continuous musical organization in the world. Traditionally it has been comprised of from twenty-four to thirty-eight men and from eight to twelve boys. Besides the Chapel Royal and the Westminster Boys’ Choir there are dozens of boys’ choirs throughout Britain, the Chapel Royal only being the oldest.

“No one knows when boy singers were added to the Chapel Royal or other church choirs, but they were probably present from the very beginning, their treble voices being thought to be the closest to the voices of angels. There was a religious pursuit of this purity of tone. Churches, abbeys and cathedrals were designed acoustically to capture it: massive sound boxes that amplified these “fairest voices.” Choir schools, attached to churches and training children for church choirs, played a role in the pre-reformation history of British education. They offered free education to able students. Their purpose was to assure a sufficient number of well-trained voices to supply the needs of the church. As we shall see, Erasmus himself attended a song school in Utrecht, perhaps because it was an opportunity for a free education. The earliest choirmasters were usually almoners, the men who distributed alms to the needy.