Archives for category: Arts Education

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.

Parents and teachers filed separate lawsuits against the Buffalo Public Schools, complaining that the school system has failed to provide equitable music and arts programming.

Both parents and teachers are filing separate lawsuits against the Buffalo Public Schools, citing a lack of access to music education. The legal papers claim a legally-required arts sequence is only provided at two district high schools.

Just over a year ago, Hutch Tech High School Band Director Amy Steiner had over 100 students participating in either jazz band, concert band and/or wind ensemble.

“Now we didn’t have a regular rehearsal time, and we only got to meet once a week before school, but we really became very close,” Steiner said. “We would have close to 30 gigs a year with my groups. A lot of them were outside my school.”

Students would rehearse with their ensemble before school started and for a time would receive credit for their diploma via a one minute period later in the day.

Today, outside of a small jazz group there are no performing ensembles at Hutch Tech, a school that still employs two music teachers.

Buffalo Teachers Federation President Phil Rumore said the district isn’t compliant with state arts sequence regulations.

“The district is not providing this in all of our high schools. In fact, not in most of our schools. So we’re going to go to court to make sure that our kids gets what everybody else gets in the suburbs and what’s required by the law,” he said…

In New York State’s 2017 Revised Learning Standards for the Arts, school districts and the state alike are responsible for ensuring “equity of arts learning opportunities and resources for all students in the district/state.”

 

Robin Lithgow, retired director of arts education in the Los Angeles, blogs about the history of arts education. In this post, she reflects on the questions she wished she had asked her parents when they were alive, and her reflections lead her to learning and telling the history of arts education in settlement houses, the social service centers in densely crowded urban neighborhoods. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the billionaires who now pour vast amounts of money into creating competitive structures of schooling were instead to fund vibrant arts education programs?

She writes:

The Settlement Movement began in the late 19th century as a social experiment, to address the cultural needs of impoverished communities. It was modeled after Toynbee Hall, established in London in 1884 “as a practical tool for remedying the cruelty, exploitation, and  bleakness found in city life.” The first settlement house in the United States was University Settlement in New York City, but the most famous was Hull House, established by Jane Addams in Chicago. Eventually there were over 400 settlement houses in cities and towns across the country.

Here’s an interesting fact: the reason they were called “settlement houses” is because a variety of caring groups “settled in” to neighborhoods with wretched living conditions, to learn as well as to help. They lived in the communities and shared the stresses endemic to neighborhoods of poverty. They did not approach their jobs as teachers, but as students: students of the huge diversity of cultures pouring into our nation at the time.

Music lesson at a Philadelphia settlement house

Social dance class at The Memory Project in a Cleveland settlement house

My best source so far, in searching for the answers to questions I never got to ask my  mother, is a monograph written in 2011 by Nick Rabkin: “Teaching Artists and the Future of Education.” In it he makes the assertion that, “Artists have worked in community-based arts education for more than a century, and the roots of their work in schools are found in arts programs at the settlement houses at the turn of the last century.” To quote Margaret Berry, “In the settlement house there were always activities which brought fun and fulfillment to life—music, art, theater, sociability and play.” But Rabkin points out that the settlement houses cast out the old conservatory model of arts training in favor of a much more socially conscious, all inclusive model, in which art making and art exploration was “for everyone and essential to the fabric of a democratic society.” The iconic example is that instead of art students standing in smocks at easels, painting vases, a drawing lesson at Hull House might be a class of scruffy youngsters sketching the unsanitary conditions in the alley behind the settlement. Teachers at the settlement houses taught aesthetics and technical skills but were also “attentive to the arts as tools for critical exploration of the world, celebration of community values and traditions, weaving the arts into daily life, cultivation of imagination and creativity, and appreciation of the world’s many cultures.” We see in this philosophy the derivation of the strands of our national instructional standards in the arts.

Hull House is where the great swing era clarinetist, Benny Goodman, learned music, and the Home for Colored Waifs in New Orleans gave us Louis Armstrong. Social dance, modern dance, and creative movement were regular offerings, as were culturally embedded crafts.

 

 

Michael Moore visited Finland with a camera crew to learn about its education system.

How could a nation post high test scores on international tests when its schools emphasize creativity, play, physical activity, and the arts and ignores standardized testing?

Watch his video and see what you think.

A great victory for real education in Milwaukee, where the business community and politicians have been obsessed with “choice” for 30 years. From the FB page of the Milwaukee Teachers Education Association.

This is a victory for students!

This is a victory for real education!

A Big Victory for Music in MPS!
 
70 photos5 hours ago
Last night the School Board decided to take the first step in moving towards giving the students of Milwaukee the schools they deserve by unanimously passing an initiative to bring music back to ALL MPS schools. This was a big first step in bringing our schools back to what they once were. Thanks to all who wrote letters, sent emails, made phone calls, and testified at the committee hearing on Tuesday to make this happen. We will win the schools our students deserve! Photos are from Tuesday’s committee hearing. #MPSproud

Jennifer Berkshire presents here a podcast in which she interviews Quinn Strassel, the Ann Arbor high school teacher who wrote the musical “Betsy DeVos: The Musical.”

The podcast includes both an interview and some of the songs.

The DeVos-funded Mackinac Center, funded by DeVos, did not like the musical! 

Suffice it to say that DeVos has been a one-woman wrecking crew in Michigan who is now doing her best to dumb down the entire nation with her wacky, failed ideas about vouchers and charters.

I can’t wait until the show reaches Broadway or off-Broadway or off-off-Broadway.

Quinn, save a pair of tickets for me!

Robin Lithgow was in charge of arts education for the Los Angeles Unified School District. She learned to deal with bureaucracy, frustration, and budget cuts, but she never lost her joy and passion for the arts and their power to change students’ lives.

Now in retirement, she has become a student of the history of the arts.she believes that the justification for the arts cannot be demonstrated with data. She is convinced that explorations into their history will awaken minds and draw them into sympathetic appreciation for the power of the arts.

Read this entry on “Good Behavior and Audacity” to understand where she is heading.

I am retired from the position of Director of the Arts Education Branch in the Los Angeles Unified School District, where for fourteen years I and dozens of amazing colleagues labored to bring the arts to the core of the academic day for every student at every grade level. Research supported our efforts; teachers and most administrators embraced the program enthusiastically; and the evidence poured in that students thrive in arts-rich schools….And yet, we were constantly amazed that we had to advocate, advocate, advocate, to fight each year for our modest funding and for our seat at the table with the decision makers at the head of the district.

Could it be that this was, at least in part, because of our lack of history? Education leaders keep asking us for our “data,” and the obsession for data certainly drives the political power battles in education across the country. We HAVE data, and tons of it, but it is “soft” data and cannot always be directly linked to the results being sought. Perhaps history could be more powerful than data.

So I launched my own research, and once I retired I was literally able to bask in it. Over the past six years I have written a book focusing on one brief period in history, that of the humanist education designed primarily by Desiderius Erasmus and enjoyed by the young William Shakespeare and tens of thousands of his peers in Elizabethan England.

The title of my book is Good Behavior and Audacity: Humanist Education, Playacting, and a Generation of Genius.

 

Domingo Morel is a scholar of state takeovers. He wrote a book called Takeover:  Race, Education, and American Democracy. He was also a member of the team from Johns Hopkins that studied the problems of the Providence schools. And, what’s more, he is a graduate of the Providence public schools.

In other words, he has solid credentials to speak about the future of the Providence public schools. The schools are already under mayoral control, so discount that magic bullet that reformers usually prefer.

He knows from his study of state takeovers that they do not address root causes of school dysfunction.

Consider this:

As a scholar of state takeovers of school districts, I have seen how communities desperate to improve their schools placed their hopes in state takeovers, only to be disappointed. While the long-term effects of takeovers on student achievement often fail to meet expectations, the effects on community engagement are devastating. In most takeovers, states remove local entities — school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and community organizations — from decision-making about their schools.

Those who have read the Johns Hopkins report are aware that the absence of community engagement is a major issue in the Providence Schools. Demographic differences are a major reason. Students of color represent more than 85% of the student population and English Language Learners represent nearly 30%, while more than 80% of the teachers are white. These differences are not trivial…

To help cultivate community engagement, the state could partner with a collective of community organizations, including Parents Leading for Educational Equity, ProvParents, the Equity Institute, the Latino Policy Institute, CYCLE and the Providence Student Union, which have come together over concerns with the Providence schools.

Finally, state officials should examine their role in contributing to the current conditions in Providence. State funding, particularly to support English Language Learners and facilities, has been inadequate. In addition, the absence of a pipeline for teachers of color is a state failure.

What a surprising set of recommendations: increase the pipeline of teachers of color. Build community engagement. Work with community organizations. Increase state funding.

He might also have added: Reduce class sizes. Provide wraparound services for students and adults. Open health clinics for families in the schools or communities. Improve and increase early childhood education. Beef up arts education and performance spaces in every school.

It takes a village, not a flock of hedge fund managers or a passel of fly-by billionaires hawking charter schools.

 

Dr. Ryan Shaw, assistant professor of music education at Michigan State University, wrote this post urging the legislature not to scrap the 1-credit arts education requirement for high school graduation. There is a move underway to drop that requirement and replace it with a potpourri of “21st century skills.”

As Dr. Shaw points out, this is sheer nonsense. There is no more important 21st century skill than the ability to understand, participate in, and communicate in the arts. Music and art unite us, regardless of geography, gender, race, culture. They are vital human skills appropriate for every century.

Sometimes teachers complain that their schools have too many regulations, too many routines.

This music teacher, a professional violinist who signed up to teach in a charter school in Arkansas dedicated to the arts and dear to the heart of Alice Walton, learned about the perils of teaching in a school where everything was deregulated and there were no routines.

Someone thought that a school where decisions are made on the fly and teachers are always on their own was a good ideal maybe this was someone’s idea of innovation.

No, it was not innovative. It was chaotic. It was abusive in the eyes of this teacher. It was disorderly and unpredictable.

Don’t the arts require practice and discipline? Can teachers flourish when there is no respect for them?

Who thought that an atmosphere of chaos and disrespect was a good idea?

The article begins:

“When I started teaching orchestra at Arkansas Arts Academy High School last fall, I didn’t know much about the state of public education in Arkansas. My entire career — 15 years — had been spent as a performing violinist: concertmaster of the Fort Smith Symphony, concertmaster and principal viola with the Arkansas Philharmonic Orchestra, composer/director of Storybook Strings, and a freelancer with touring groups like “Book of Mormon” and Harry Connick, Jr. I also had a long history of teaching private lessons, with a background in the Suzuki method.

“What I did NOT have was an Arkansas teacher’s license, or any previous training to become a public school teacher.

“That’s okay!” the principal assured me. “We’re a charter school. We have waivers from teacher licensure requirements, as long as you have a bachelor’s degree and relevant professional experience!”

“Cool,” I thought. “I know music. I teach music. I can learn everything else on the job.” So I signed up to teach, half-time, trusting in the experience and good faith of my administration and fellow teachers to help me learn the ropes.

“The school didn’t give me a contract until 41 days after I was hired. It was my fourth day of teacher in-service before I found out what my salary would be ($21,187.50) or what employment terms I had signed up for. And those employment terms? They were incredibly vague.

“My contract said “190 half-days,” and “at-will employment.” It also mentioned “a waiver granted by the Arkansas Department of Education” that made Arkansas Arts Academy “exempt from certain laws relating to schools, including specifically many of those relating to employees.” But I trusted the school’s good reputation — I had a friend who taught there, and knew families who sent their kids. Plus, what musician wouldn’t root for the success of an arts academy?

“I should have been more careful. If I had gone to the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) website, I would have learned that the “waiver” in my contract was actually a LOT of waivers, and the ADE grants new ones all the time. Currently, Arkansas Arts Academy High School has 51 waivers in effect, including teachers’ rights to planning periods, duty-free lunches, limitations on before- and after-school duties, and the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act. Arkansas Arts Academy is also exempt from having to provide written personnel policies*** to its employees, which means that there is no handbook telling us how to access our classroom funds, what to bring for fire drills, how to interact with the parent organization, or who to talk to if we need help.

“In the absence of state oversight, and without written personnel policies, things quickly became chaotic.”