The importance of the arts in education remains "largely unrecognized, often ignored, generally underrated," Charles Fowler concludes in Can We Rescue the Arts for America's Children? Coming to Our Senses Ten Years Later.
But schools "cannot deprive people of a whole realm of human knowledge and achievement without dire consequences," warns the author--education editor of Musical America magazine--in his study of the state of arts education in American schools.
The book is a sequel to the 1977 report Coming to Our Senses: The Significance of the Arts for American Education, prepared by the Arts, Education, and Americans Panel.
Following are excerpts from the new work:
Between 1977, the year Coming to Our Senses was published, and 1987, there has been an increasing emphasis on achievement tests such as the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Their revelation of substandard performance has induced a back-to-basics emphasis that has tended to consign the arts to an even more distant place on the educational periphery.
Public and corporate outrage at the educational system has resulted in a spate of educational studies, which collectively have spurred a massive education reform movement, that, while not directed at the arts specifically, has swept the arts along with it.
At the same time, in direct response to the uncertainties and the possible deleterious effects of these proposed reforms, the arts-education field has managed to formulate what is perhaps its most compelling rationale. Desperation may be the handmaiden of wisdom.
In this same decade, we have witnessed the demise of the jdr 3rd Fund's Arts in Education Program (in 1979) and the rise of the new Getty Center for Education in the Arts (in 1982).
At the federal level, there has been a shift--not by official declaration but in terms of actions--in the authority and responsibility for arts education from the Department of Education to the National Endowment for the Arts (in 1986). This happened at a time when, paradoxically, both agencies argued for a more limited federal role.
State and federal support for school-based arts education decreased markedly in the 1980's. There are now far fewer possible programs or options under the various titles of the old Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.
From the mid-1960's to the late 70's, states and local school districts received hundreds of millions of dollars in categorical federal funds for arts projects under esea Titles I, III, and IV. When jurisdiction of these funds fell to states as discretionary monies, the arts were seldom accorded any priority.
This is just the beginning. With all the ferment during the past decade, the arts cannot be said to thrive in American education, and overall their position appears to have diminished. Their potential educational value remains underestimated in many school systems, with the result that many American children are not given adequate access to their artistic heritage.
We are on the forefront of turning America's surge of interest in the arts into firm policies to guide the nation's school systems. America's children--all 40 million of them in the public schools--should be able to grow up to participate fully in their culture.
As it is now, the arts are a neglected heritage in too many American schools. By and large, America's children are impoverished. That is a national disgrace.
Can we persuade those who control the school system of their wrong-headedness? Can we mobilize the resources? Can we find the way?
Given the fact that large numbers of the youth of future generations are growing up today in urban school systems in which the arts are sorely disregarded, even spurned, the prospects for the arts in American society tomorrow are bleak. If we are not to despair for our culture, present alarms must be translated into redefinitions of what constitutes a great civilization, a fine education, and the good life.
We can no longer permit our schools to sell out to the goal of mere employability, our businesses to aspire only to what is expedient, our culture to be satisfied with just the easy and the sensational.
The arts are shortchanged in many schools today. The consequences are many children whose possibilities are squandered and whose insights are impeded.
But worse, the sheer numbers of these future citizens and their personal barrenness confronts us with prospects of a diminishing cultural future. Coming to Our Senses presented us with the alternative to enter the mind through the human sensorium--our capacity to hear, to see, to move, to say, to feel. ...
The arts can awaken the learning mechanism because they touch the true inner being, that aspect of the self that is not body, the part that lies outside the domain of science. ... They are one of the all too rare ways by which humans can experience emotional thrill and fulfillment, powerful stimuli for motivation and inspiration.
Because the arts can break the cycle of disaffection and despair that engulfs so many of our inner-city children, these children need the arts more, not less, than sub8urban youth. Yet we know that disadvantaged children often lack even modest access to study of the arts.
If the distribution of the food throughout the United States were as erratic as the apportionment of arts education in American schools, the specter of starvation would prompt immediate attention, and the problem would be solved. But starvation of the mind and spirit is evidently a quite different matter altogether.
We tend to excuse the fact that some children are well fed artistically and others go without, and we accept this choice as the rightful jurisdiction of local school boards. If a school board does not want the arts, it is because it does not value them, or cannot (or will not) afford them.
But should we permit such local discrimination and deprivation? Artistic deficiencies have a detrimental effect on the cultural health of the nation. When we dilute or delete arts programs, we unravel the infrastructure that assures the cultural future of America.
By denying children the arts, we starve our civilization. Our citizens lose their sense of cultural cohesiveness, their pride in identity, their ties to the human greatness of the past, and some of their own potential for the future.
The hungers of the human being--whether visceral or intellectual or emotional--are ignored at our own peril. This is too big and too important an issue to be left entirely to the whim of local school districts.
The fact that some parents and school-board members do not happen to value the arts is not sufficient cause for schools to neglect them. There must be a way to assert a higher order of wisdom, whether promulgated at the state or the federal level.
We do not need more and better arts education to develop more and better artists. We need more and better arts education to produce better-educated human beings, citizens who will value and evolve a worthy American civilization.
The human capacity to make aesthetic judgments is far too scantily cultivated in public education. As a result, Americans seldom recognize that most of the decisions they make in life--from the kind of environments they create in their communities, offices, and homes to their decisions about the products they buy and the clothing they choose to wear--have an aesthetic component.
That component is too seldom calculated when mayors make decisions on public housing (it has been said that we build slums and call them apartment houses), when zoning boards make decisions about appropriate land use, when boards of education approve the architecture of new schools, and when legislators vote on environmental and other issues--the list could go on and on.
When the aesthetic component is ignored, we denigrate life. We abuse people with dehumanizing environments, bombard them with insensitivity and ugliness, and deprive them of the comforts and satisfactions they need for their psychological well-being.
But there is a far more important reason for schools to provide more and better education in the arts. Quite simply, the arts are the ways we human beings "talk" to ourselves and each other.
They are the languages of civilization through which we express our fears, our anxieties, our curiosities, our hungers, our discoveries, our hopes. They enable us to express our need for understanding, love, order, beauty, safety, respite, and longevity.
They are the means we have invented to listen to our dreams, filling our space and time with what our imagination and feelings tell us. They are the universal ways by which we still play make-believe, conjuring up worlds that explain the ceremonies of our lives. They are the imprints we make that tell us who we are, that we belong, that we count.
The arts are not just important; they are a central force in human existence. Each citizen should have sufficient and equal opportunities to learn these languages, which so assist us in our fumbling, bumbling, and all-too-rarely brilliant navigation through this world. Because of this, the arts should be granted major status in American schooling. That is a cause worthy of our energies.
From Can We Rescue the Arts for America's Children? Coming to Our Senses Ten Years Later by Charles Fowler. Copyright 1988 by American Council for the Arts. With permission of the publisher, aca Books, New York, N.Y.