Last week I came across a link to a story about Columbia University students who created a program to provide after school arts experiences in NYC. I absolutely applaud the efforts of these students for seeing the need and providing arts experiences to public school kids for the last seven years.
However, the title of the piece sheds some light on the underlying problem – “Students sub for arts teachers at underfunded MoHi school.”
Artists Reaching Out (ARO), the program created by the Columbia students is now teaching arts during the school day. While this is a positive step for the group since their reach has increased beyond those they can serve after school, it a poor reflection on the NYC Public School system that has replaced arts teachers with unpaid volunteers. This great learning experience for the Columbia students is marred a bit by the fact they won’t be able to use the experience as volunteers teaching the arts to find employment teaching the arts in NYC public schools.
I give credit to Reginald Higgins, the principal of P.S. 125 where the ARO program is teaching during school hours. He seems to be trying to lead his teachers toward integrating the arts into the subject instruction.
“It’s really hard for teachers to include dance, music, and theater in their lessons,” Higgins said. “It’s a lot easier when you have it built into your schedule and when you have individuals come in to help you learn ways to work with your students.”
The Columbia students make an effort to learn what topics will be taught in the coming weeks and customize their activities to complement the instruction.
Given the dichotomy of instruction which is especially marked in this school, the efforts of the Columbia students seems particularly valuable in the lives of the PS 125 students.
“PS 125 shares a building with two charter schools, which receive public funding but are privately managed.
“They’re surrounded by children in uniforms who have arts programs, have more resources, and that affects me,” said Emily Handsman, BC ’12, ARO co-coordinator, and head copy editor of The Eye.”
As I read this piece, I thought about an interview Sir Ken Robinson recently gave where he spoke about creativity not being an add on. As I went back to watch the video of the interview, Robinson’s made a comment about a literacy program in the UK where teachers had to provide a prescribed unit of instruction for an hour and how he felt there were those in the “government who hoped they would recommend a creativity hour…on a Friday…after lunch.”
That comment barely registered on my conscious mind at the time, but popped to the surface when I looked at the ARO website and noticed their program required “Volunteer commitment of 4 hours/week, Friday afternoons, off-campus.”
That is certainly nothing more than coincidence, of course, but as the article describes the experience of the ARO participants in the schools, there is much the same sense of the arts instruction being relegated the status of an add on and being viewed by some as an inconvenience.
“The ARO students are building the capacities of my teachers,” some of whom are “art-phobic,” he [Reginald Higgins] said, adding that teachers of older students were worried ARO lessons would take away from time to prepare for standardized tests.
Fox said that increased attention to standardized tests has nearly wiped out exposure to the arts in public schools, but that teachers’ concern was “definitely legitimate.” “We’re really, really aware we’re taking time out of the school day for this, so we want to be sure we’re helping the teachers and not placing an additional burden on them,” Handsman said.
It is a bit dispiriting that the ARO students view their activities as taking time away from more important efforts. Ken Robinson made a comment that made me realize just how un-student centered standardized testing is. He points out that instead of serving education as a guide for making changes, instruction serves the standardized test. He notes that no student gets up in the morning inspired to help increase the standardized test score rating of their school.
Students don’t become unemployable adults because someone looks at their 5th grade standardized test scores, they are unemployable because there was a lack of engagement in their learning. The tests have meaning to teachers, principals, superintendents, legislatures, governors, Congress and the President of the United State and fulfill their needs, but have no direct significance to the students whose educational lives they will purportedly help.
The 5 minute video of Ken Robinson’s interview is worth watching. He points out the “there is not enough time to do it right first time around, but time to do it over” status of the U.S. education system observing that most remedial programs are geared personally to the student after discovering what inspires them. It would be cheaper to have a more individualized focus on instruction than to pay multiple people to teach the same thing to a student more than once.