Part Three – The Elephant in the Room
(See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)
(See Part Two, posted on July 18, 2013)
In our current predicament, we make the same arguments ad infinitum; solutions, viable and lasting solutions, are
unlikely. We’re far too caught up in decrying the status quo – a status that’s been abominably quo for a long time.
Two days ago, I inadvertently tuned in to the middle of an interview on NPR about arts programs and funding (or
the lack thereof) in the New York school systems. There, condensed into the twenty minutes of driving, I heard
the same litany of reasons why the arts are so important, the same sound bytes of politicians proclaiming
that more money must be earmarked for the arts in our schools (and, of course, their actual record of taking any
kind of action is usually revealed to be nil). As if it were planned to stuff every cliché into the program,
one of the guests spoke of a new study that has just come out that shows once again that the arts are important
in the development of well-rounded students. When the guests were asked point blank, based on the study and the
sound bytes of politicians if any substantive measures would be forthcoming, both said it was unlikely. So,
everything is stuck in same the rut it’s been for years.
As I researched more and more, perusing arguments, reading essays by teaching artists, I believe I finally hit on
something. Regardless of what side we’re on, we’re incapable of devising solutions and potential new avenues of
approach because the view beyond the status quo is obstructed by a big, fragrant elephant in the room that needs
some serious shoveling up after. I have absolutely no doubt that all factions would abjectly declare: “Hey, that
elephant’s not mine.”
The elephant is attitude – unproductive and adversarial attitude. In her essay, Opinion Matters: The
Handmaiden’s Tale, arts educator and Harvard graduate, Lauren Jacobs asserts, “the unhappy truth is that the
TAs [teaching artists] may never be fully respected by the educational system and the system will likely never be
fully respected by the TAs.” There it is, stated definitively: neither faction will ever respect the other.
According to Jacobs, that’s just the way it is; what else can we do but accept it? Trouble is, being resigned to
the certainty that “neither faction will ever respect the other” is a lousy point of departure for any sort of
productive dialogue or action. Buying into this notion as immutable, casting ourselves in the roles of arts
adversaries with a lack of respect for one another, each forever complaining about the other is patently
unacceptable. Jacobs goes on to offer a solution: “Give the arts the full respect they deserve by hiring scores
more teachers of all the arts (Theatre, Dance, Music, Visual Art, Crafts, Poetry, Film, Multimedia Technology,
Culinary Arts) with full roles in the educational system.”
The author’s heart is in the right place, but her solution – to demand the respect that’s lacking – is like the
old joke: “Doc, it hurts when I do this.” And the doctor replies, “Then, don’t do that.” The idea that the arts
deserve respect is one that most people would probably agree with. So is the even more universal idea that people
deserve respect. However, just saying that respect is deserved rarely makes it so. Saying, “give the arts the
respect they deserve” and hire “scores more teachers” is a result, a final goal; it is not a course of
action that can be implemented to bring about that result.
The first real step toward a viable and realistic solution is to bring about a genuine paradigm shift. We also
have to admit that nothing will ever be brought about by the mere act of saying “the real solution is to bring
about a genuine paradigm shift.” Such a shift must be conceived of, planned, put into practice and then tested
under real-world conditions.
The good news is that the seeds of this shift are already planted – right under our noses.
RESOLVED: THE ARTS ARE UNNECESSARY
Part Four – Paradigm Seeds and “The Big T”