Resolved: The Arts are Unnecessary

Part Four – Paradigm Seeds and “The Big T”
(See Part One, posted on July 13, 2013)
(See Part Two, posted on July 18, 2013)
(See Part Three, posted on August 11, 20130)

In exploring the objective of creating and bringing about a paradigm shift in the arts as they relate to
educational programming, it is impossible to go back to “square one.” What would that square be? The
current educational system’s methodologies for the way arts programming is perceived, handled, funded and
treated are too deeply entrenched. The bureaucracy is fixed in place and only over time, repeatedly
offered programming that utilizes a paradigm shift and delivers quantifiable results will the status quo
be rendered obsolete.

The seeds of such a paradigm shift are, I firmly believe, planted right under our noses. The shift begins
with a radical rethink of a concept that’s been around a long time; this is the concept of “transfer,”
or more accurately, “transfer of learning.” The term has two general applications: first, it refers to
the ability to take what is learned or practiced in one lesson and then carry it over to subsequent
lessons. Secondly, transfer of learning can mean the ability to draw parallels and useful connections
from one discipline and utilize it in across other disciplines. An easy example is how studying music
has been shown to enhance students’ abilities in mathematics. After all, reading music, at its core, is
very mathematical. Note values are fractions: whole note, half note, quarter, eighth, sixteenth, and so
on. Each measure, conforming to a particular time signature, is divided up into such fractions and each
must total the correct number of beats in the measure. Music, like math, is analytical, it conforms to
specific rules, etc. As a result, there is potentially a significant amount of “transfer” from one
subject to another. With my own instrument, the theremin, there is significant transfer between music,
the science of sound, physics, electronics and even history. However, the idea of transfer is nothing new.
It has been around for a long time and the problem is that it has never been taken far enough.

In his study, Arts Learning and Its Research: Implications of Learning in and Through the Arts,
Dr. Robert Horowitz of Teachers College, Columbia University pointed out an astonishing number of
difficulties related to the subject of transfer, not the least of which is its very definition as well as
stating that “there is not one definition of arts learning on which our field can agree.”

After wading through a miasma of difficulties, Horowitz and his colleagues threw out their entire first
approach – to consider “looking at the transfer of higher order thinking skills directly from various
kinds of arts learning into other disciplines, such as math or social studies.” This is completely in
line with the predominant definition of transfer, yet he rejected it as too “challenging to define the
learning in each subject, the transfer process, and the appropriate methods of measurement.” Instead, the
point of departure was to examine broader cognitive proficiencies that they believed to be both endemic
to arts learning and the learning of other subjects.

Working with twenty-eight schools grades K-8, and over 2,000 students, the findings were that students
with more exposure to arts learning scored better in all areas than those with less exposure. Horowitz
identifies eight “cognitive outcomes.”

  • the expression of ideas and feelings
  • focused perception
  • the ability to make connections
  • the ability to layer relationships
  • improved construction and organization of meaning
  • the ability to take multiple or alternative viewpoints
  • the ability to imagine new possibilities
  • improved sensory learning

  • In addition, Horowitz identified personal learning indicators resulting from arts learning:

  • risk taking
  • a sense of competence
  • a sense of ownership of learning
  • task persistence

  • Such findings reveal the true value of “transfer of learning.” The seeds of a paradigm shift are extant
    in all of the cognitive outcomes and learning indicators cited above because they go far beyond a
    single academic subject and beyond subject-to-subject transfer. Their value extends beyond the school
    and reaches into the daily life of every student. Such extended reach is what all teaching artists and
    every program they offer should strive to demonstrate; that the skills, information, and values of their
    arts programs have meaningful applications in the “real life” of each child.

    Coming Soon:
    Part Five – Real Life and the Necessary Arts

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