Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Russell Granet – On Parent Advocacy, International Attitudes and Hope (post 3 of 3)

Arts education advocate and consultant Russell Granet spoke to members of the New Vic Council about arts education and New York’s schools (edited with permission).http://www.artsedresource.org/

Russell Granet (RG): Parent advocacy is huge in our work. There is a grant program in New York City where public schools can apply for up to $3000 to offer arts programming for parents that supports what their children experience during the day. The grant is administered by The Center for Arts Education and is called Parents as Arts Partners. The idea being if a parent has a similar arts experience as their child – they will have something to discuss, and potentially develop a life long love of the arts. If a child is taking ballroom dance in the morning, at night there might be the same exact lesson for the parents. What is critical at these kinds of workshops is leaving time at the end of the experience to discuss the implication and importance of making art.

New Vic Council Member (NVC): Have there been any studies done on other countries and education systems in other countries, and whether arts are more integrated? I know it’s hard to measure…

RG: If you look at the UK, most every school studies Shakespeare and understands the importance of the arts – it is part of the curriculum – not separate from the curriculum. The philosophy behind education there is very different. When Shakespeare himself was in school, the mandated subjects were things like theater, diction, poetry, music - things that were meant to prepare you for life. Out of Italy comes the Renzulli method, which is based on four principles. One being: the consideration that there's no single predetermined correct answer. One must be skilled to look at questions and problems in multiple ways.
I often ask principals to brainstorm and share what an ideal graduate might look like coming out of their school. I get the most beautiful images of future citizens. I hear, “I want my graduates to be curious, responsible, and creative; global citizens.” I then ask them to show me where in their curriculum they support this ideal graduate and mostly they can’t. We know what we want, yet we are not developing educational systems that support those individuals.

I also work with independent schools; they can be better, but they’re not great, either. I am looking for a quality, sequential art curriculum encompassing all four art forms taught by licensed teachers and supported by teaching artists and cultural institutions – as a rule, it doesn’t exist in either public or private schools. Back to your question. The schools in Finland have one of the best school systems in the world. They understand the importance of the arts, but they also understand the importance of physical education. They send their kids outside something like 5 times a day just to run and get their energy out and then bring them back in ready to learn.

Equity and access are our two biggest issues in New York City. I live on the Upper West Side, and we have an excellent school on one corner and down the street we have a school that I wouldn’t want my child to walk by. It’s in the same neighborhood so, in theory, the schools have the same resources other than the parent bodies. The equity issue in this city is staggering. You have schools that have literally everything – we have public schools that are as good as any of our top private schools. And if you have a very smart, savvy parent, you can have an incredible K-12 public education. But you need a parent that understands that and knows how to work the system.

There is hope. A principal that I work with in the Bronx says, “I’m not a principal, I’m an activist.” I think we need to invest more in our principals, because at the end of the day, I do believe that it lives with the principal. If you have a strong principal, they can make anything happen. Over the years I have worked very closely with a few schools that were considered exemplary art schools. I asked one of the principals to give a talk to other principals about how she makes it work. She said, “Oh, I can’t tell them, because it’s a complete shell game. What I do is probably illegal. If I talk to principals it can’t be recorded, it can’t be taped, and no one from the DOE can be there, because I make it work under the radar.” That’s such a great indicator of what is wrong, because in order to succeed in the system you have to work against the system.

An educational consulting company did a very quick study of elementary schools, and asked students across the country, “Fill in this sentence: school is BLANK.” What do think the number one answer was?

NVC: Boring.

RG: You got that right, number one answer. That’s what our kids are telling us. I was working with students from India and from Turkey. Their responses were very different. In Turkey they said frustrating, and in India they said stressful. Boring wasn’t even on their radar.

What’s wonderful about organizations like The New Victory is their ability to make a positive impact. Teachers, a lot of teachers will say to me, “If I wanted to be an art teacher, music teacher or theater teacher, I would have done that. Leave me alone. I want to be a classroom teacher.” There are three basic strands in the work we do in arts education. The first is arts integration, where we use an art form to teach a core academic subject area. The second is skills-based work, where you learn the skill of the art form. Then there is aesthetic education, where you give students the skills to understand and articulate the value of the arts. As educators we never know a child’s entry point. In arts education we’re addressing a different learning style – it may not be right for every student, but if we don’t try we are potentially losing out on educating thousands of students. The good news is that the cultural community has stepped up to the plate and has done quality work in the schools. I would argue there are four strands in arts education – the fourth: giving students the skills to think like an artist.

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