Dumbing Down the Arts

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The Guardian gushes: At a time when arts are squeezed in some schools, teachers are embracing them as a tool to teach the environment without realising it is this insidious belief that the arts are merely a pedagogical tool that is leading to a paucity of engagement with great art.

The tragic figure of the starving artist in the garret eking out an existence is such a romantic image that it has informed great works of art like Henry Wallis’s ‘The Death of Chatterton’ and Puccini’s sublime La Boheme yet in the future our art will be a dreaded commercial enterprise trying to turn people into environmental warriors.

‘At primary school children are ‘learning songs about climate change and the environment… It’s a fun way to learn… we learn the ‘compost and growing’ song and produce artwork in relation to it, too. The arts and other curriculum areas are continually connected. Teaching the children to be sustainable has nice science, humanities and responsible citizenship links.’

Instead of singing the ‘Ode to Joy’ these children are singing odes to compost.

Instead of making pots inspired by Grayson Perry or Bernard Leach children are making:

‘footballs out of recycled paper, carrier bags and elastic bands, and they discuss global issues around poverty, fairness and fair trade…’

Instead of wrestling with Sophocles, Shakespeare and Sarah Kane pupils are engaged in:

“farmer drama” sessions have been encouraging students to put themselves in the position of those working within the supply chain.

Now of course Sarah Kane isn’t suitable for primary children, nor for adults if the Daily Mail review that called her first play a ‘disgusting feast of filth’ is to be believed. But primary schools are essential breeding grounds for artists and audiences, future amateurs and professionals and also the foundations for what Chesterton called the ‘soul of a society’. By embedding the arts in the service of farmer drama and compost songs, and by hiding real art in project based learning, children will not know the deep truths that making difficult art can uncover. This starts young, with specialised art teachers teaching art, to children, as subjects in their own right.

In primary schools pupils should have art, music, drama and dance lessons and not only in the service of the rest of the curriculum. If teachers want to teach ‘the whole child’ then do this through the depth of study not merely by ticking some breadth boxes in the name of arts coverage as ‘a useful tool in explaining subjects that may otherwise be considered complex or inaccessible’

 

7 thoughts on “Dumbing Down the Arts

  1. Adam Porter

    I have had to regularly challenge teachers and leaders of all arts subjects as to what they are actually trying to teach in a unit/lesson/activity. So often the subject comes second to context (essential, put only part of a work), social justice (i’m no SJW hater but these issues shouldn’t be the priority) or broad introspection which elevates personal, uninformed opionion above that of great artists and thinkers.
    The irony is these same teachers often feel a great deal of excitement and optimism when told they can actually teach their subjects directly.

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  2. Tunya Audain

    The hijacking of art education for political purposes was highlighted 6 years ago.

    Aristos is an online review of the arts and its April 2010 issue had an article entitled “The Hijacking of Art Education” by Michelle Marder Kamhi. This is the opening statement:

    “Parents and others who think that children are mainly learning about painting and drawing in today’s art classrooms should consider this: a movement has for some time been afoot to hijack art education for purposes of often radical political indoctrination”. https://www.aristos.org/aris-10/hijacking.htm

    After attending a convention of the National Art Education Association (US) she wrote her analysis. She describes some of the left professors who are forefront in the movement to use art education as a vehicle for social justice — a move linked to critical theory and critical pedagogy. This is not to be confused with critical thinking, she says, whose aim is to develop students’ powers of reasoning.

    An abbreviated form of the article was published in the Wall Street Journal, with strong responses, mainly in support of the author’s views.

    A follow-up Forum in Aristos months later provided a reasonable balance of opinions from teachers and professors in the field of art education. Some argued for integrity to art discipline and adherence to the understood principle that teachers should teach how to think, not what. Others saw them selves as “cultural workers” and felt that art could be used to “change the world”. (See Aristos archives.)

    The author concluded in 2010: “Though a social justice approach to art education is not yet widespread in K-12 classrooms, it would be inaccurate to suggest that it is non-existent.”

    Well, here we are now. Martin Robinson quotes from The Guardian that in the UK “in some schools, teachers are embracing . . . [the arts] . . . as a tool to teach the environment.” The children “learn the ‘compost and growing’ song and produce artwork in relation to it, too. The arts and other curriculum areas are continually connected. Teaching the children to be sustainable has nice science, humanities and responsible citizenship links.”

    This is an issue that needs broad discussion. Perhaps that august lineup (EDHirsch, DChristodoulou, GAshman, KBirbalsingh) that is to meet in Nov in Amsterdam (topic: Shift from social-constructivism to science-informed education) might touch on the issue raised here.

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  3. Pingback: Dumbing-Down the arts — constructivism’s spread | Parents Teaching Parents Dumbing-Down the arts — constructivism’s spread | Parents Rights & Responsibilities in the education of their children

  4. tonyparkin

    I have sympathy with the arguments here, Martin. But a more positive view, rather than ‘dumbing down’, could be that, given the damaging pressure from Nick Gibb et al against the arts in school, this is a wonderfully subversive way of encouraging pupils to continue to be creative against the odds. Agitprop is hardly novel, but if children are learning that art has the power to change the system….? 🙂

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  5. Jennifer Hawkins

    I found it very interesting to read the views above, which all make understandable points. It seems to me that children should to be exposed to art at it’s best at some point – whatever the genre. They also need to witness the skill & enthusiasm of a teacher who has the ability to inspire. This can be done within a curriculum framework, delivered appropriately through professionals researching on the ground and planned in a variety of ways – given time and resources. One example was the government funded arts action research program called Creative Partnerships which operated from 2002-2010 in ManchesterSalford for which I was an evaluator.

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