Education Opinion

The Arts: One More Victim of Common Core Testing - Part 3

By Starr Sackstein — August 16, 2015 7 min read
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Guest post by Dr. Doug Green

A Word About Drama and Dance

These subjects are generally relegated to the last year or two of high school. Drama classes are usually English electives and dance classes are not taught at all in many high schools.

A big part of many high school cultures is the yearly musical performance that fills school auditoriums for several nights and makes temporary stars out of a few students.

Early in my career I was the technical director for the drama program at the 7-12 secondary school where I worked. It was my job to round up students who wanted to design, build, and change sets, and design and operate lighting and sound equipment. This was pretty cool as it allowed students to be creative and perhaps more importantly to collaborate. For the most part I just saw to that they had the supplies and equipment they needed and stayed out of their way.

The creativity and collaboration also extended to the actors as they have to create their characters and work together. Many cast members are called upon to dance and for some, this represents their first formal dance instruction. Members of the pit band have less in the way of creative experiences, but they certainly get to polish their playing skills beyond what would happen without these musical opportunities. Unfortunately, these shows require night time rehearsals at least during the week prior to the show, and for kids without parent support, their opportunities to participate are at risk. The only other minor downside was that many of the actors treated my crew as servants. In retrospect, I should have stepped in and dealt with this more directly.

The bottom line is that these performances involve a lot of students in activities that may be more valuable in the long run that what they experience in their classes. I believe that they also give a positive boost to the school’s culture and climate. I would encourage schools to look for ways to expand this type of activity. Classes could conceivably create and perform their own plays and musicals. Perhaps multiple student one acts or short skits would work. Student made videos can also fit here and they can be easily shared with the world via YouTube.

Real World Here We Come - The Artsy Job Market

What most parents want out of school for their students is a decent shot at good job. I suspect many worry that majoring in one of the arts disciplines does not result in great chances for well paid steady work. When you look at the job market, it varies greatly from one discipline to another. I think that it is safe to say that there are more art jobs than jobs for musicians, dancers, and actors.

I’m somewhat familiar with this job market as my daughter is a working artist in New York City. She went to art school there (Pratt Institute) and when she graduated in 2006, she got a good job immediately and has been working ever since. As an art major, she took several studio courses each semester, which required many hours in the studio polishing her skills every day. The professors also gave honest and helpful critiques during each session. Keep in mind that it is hard to improve if you don’t get honest feedback. After four years of this, you should be ready to make real art for someone.

Art jobs require you to do what the boss wants rather than engaging in your own thing. In other words, during the day you are “working for the man.” If you aren’t willing to do this, you just might find yourself in the starving artist niche. Even if you work for someone else during the day, you can make your own art after hours, and from what I have seen, most artist do. If you are wondering what kind of jobs are out there, just take a look at television shows, publications of all kinds, computer games, and just about anything on the Internet.

Any illustrations, photos, videos, and animations you see were created by an artist or more likely, a team of artists. There are lots of different art majors, and some are more likely to lead to good jobs than others.

Do your homework. Also consider going to the best school you can get into in a big city where getting good internships is easier. This is where you meet real people in the industry and expand your network. Some schools like Pratt also let you work on a teaching certificate at the same time as a backup plan. I should note, however, that some schools in smaller cities do a good job of getting internships in cities not near campus.

Music for Moolah

For musicians the job market is not as good. Even many top jobs in symphony orchestras are part time, so you will have to cobble together additional work such as giving private lessons. A back up teaching certificate is probably more important here. There are jobs for bands playing popular music, but it’s hard to make a living wage playing a few nights a week. Band jobs have also decreased from the time when I played in a band in college thanks to the rise of the DJ.

For singers the chances are even more bleak. There are virtually no paid choir jobs and not many paid jobs for professional singers at local opera houses. Unless you are really good and persistent, you will need a plan B. There are outliers like Taylor Swift and Katie Perry of course, but chances for those kind of jobs are far greater than one in million. Acting jobs exist in most communities, but those jobs are part time and end when the show ends. Even movie stars are often unemployed when a film ends, and like music, true stardom is rare.

Dancers have the same problems as actors and musicians with one more problem of their own. Dancers are essentially athletes whose careers are limited in duration thanks to the aging process. While it is possible to dance into your 50s and beyond, don’t expect to find a lot of work. Unlike art music and drama, even teaching jobs are rare for dancers unless you want to open your own studio.

Many non art occupations have artistic aspects so don’t think you only need knowledge of the arts if you pursue an art-specific job. For example, architects need to be good at engineering and design. People who deal with communications and media run into music, drama, dance, and art at every turn. English majors often get involved in writing scripts for some kind of productions. Interior designers, landscapers, woodworkers, camp counsellors, and many others work with artistic concepts daily, and the list goes on.

Adding Value for Life

Even if you find that your day job is totally devoid of artistic features, the arts can certainly add value to your life in many ways. If find that playing one of my instruments is very therapeutic. It’s like the rest of the world goes away while you are playing. I also get a big kick out of playing for other as an amateur in churches, schools, and parks. Even if you didn’t start playing in school, it is possible to start at almost any age.

The same is true for the other arts. While taking my daughter to art classes as a child, I saw that the classed often contained adults who were just getting started. My mother-in-law even joined a senior citizen dance group (the Happy Hoofers) well into her 70s that performed at nursing homes and marched in parades. Local drama groups usually have roles for actors and singers of every age.

Even if you don’t choose to participate in the arts, you can certainly enjoy them as a spectator. Where I live there are several performances of various kinds every week that are usually inexpensive or free. I’m also a big fan of museums that seem to attract more visitors every year. This is in addition to the countless opportunities available on television and online. It seems like it is the rare person who doesn’t enjoy some kind of music and artistic performance. It would indeed by a less enjoyable life without our nearly constant exposure to the arts. I also find that as I gain a more sophisticated understanding of an art form, I enjoy it even more.

In Conclusion

My advice for education’s leaders is to look for more ways to integrate the arts into English Language Arts activities and other subjects at all grades. If you have cut time for the arts for more test prep, at least go back to what you had prior to those cuts. If you do these two things there will be more arts in your school, not less. I suspect that most students will find school more enjoyable and be more motivated to create something.

If students use language as they create songs, skits, and plays, I suspect that they will do at least as well if not better on standardized tests. If as I suspect, states start to pare back or eliminate tests, your school will be ahead of the game when it comes to heading back to the future.

Good luck.

Dr. Doug Green is a former teacher of chemistry, physics, and computer science. He has held administrative positions of K-12 science chair, district director of computer services, director of instruction, and elementary principal. He teaches leadership courses for teachers working on administrative certification, and has authored hundreds of articles in computer magazines and educational journals. He retired in 2006 to care for his wife who had Lou Gehrig’s disease. After her death in March of 2009, he started his blog at http://DrDougGreen.Com to provide free resources and book summaries for busy educators and parents. You can follow him on Twitter @DrDougGreen.

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.