aesthetics and academia – part 2

R – I’ve heard on many occasions over the years that, “not all that is important can be assessed”. I know, I’ve often been the one who has said it. I still do, and I still mean it when I say it. But this blog post is an attempt to add the caveat, “not all things that are important are academic.” And there’s the rub. Things like Beauty are important. Even essential. Aesthetics are important and essential. Breathing oxygen is important and essential. NONE of those things, however, are academic. The mistake we too often make in this country as arts educators is this: trumpeting that what we do in the arts is the all-important essential stuff that isn’t connected to academia.

Tell me again what message this sends to our communities who largely believe that the arts aren’t academic to begin with?

Check out this article on Rafe Esquith, a 59 year old elementary school teacher. His accountability standards are HIGH, but the level of engagement, love of the subject matter, allowing it to impact his students as young people – this is all evident in his classroom. There is intense imagination and self expression being fostered in his classroom. they live in the moment. It’s because he’s a good teacher. He’s not young, he’s not an arts educator, he doesn’t have the “talented” kids and he doesn’t have just those who choose to be in his class.

Why in the world do some arts educators possess the egocentric belief that they – and their subject area – are the ones who corner the market on enriching a student’s life experience? I’ve seen talented musicians just kill a classroom full of students because they are poor educators, and Math teachers who engage students creatively and imaginatively, building them up as people, getting them to see things and others in a new profound way.

The following excerpt is taken from an essay one of my students submitted to me a couple of years ago as a Senior preparing to head off to College and reflecting on her experiences in the YHS choral program. She wrote, “This approach to work has changed the way I think about every project, class and task that life throws my way. Work is no longer drudgery, but an opportunity to dedicate myself to an idea, to feel like a part of something bigger than myself. Because of this approach, I’m also not afraid (to go off to college), where I am sure the workload will be intense and I will be surrounded by people far smarter than myself. So that’s the final miracle: I have found joy in work.” Do you think this revelation occurred because of the avoidance of work???

And if you think this transformation occurred because of me, you’re missing the point (you’d also be very wrong). It’s because there is no short-cut or substitute for academic rigor… but within this, there is extraordinary opportunity for students to discover more about themselves and each other than they could ever have dreamed possible.

These deep discoveries and revelations don’t occur in the absence of academia, they can occur profoundly within – and due to – the context of academia; the peripheral impacts reach someone much more deeply when they have to earn it.

To me, the arts are core academic subjects. Sure, just like math and writing clubs, there are certainly elements of the arts that lend themselves naturally and wonderfully to co-curricular outgrowths as well, and the emphasis for those activities are not academic. No debate there at all. But at it’s fundamental basis, I believe that the arts are core and academic. So, accordingly, as a classroom music teacher, you can only choose one of two paths this year: #1) your highest priority is academic… and then through that your students fully realize expression, self expression, aesthetic connection, creativity, imaginative thought process, self esteem building, collaboration, teamwork and personal meaning as a result of YOUR reflective teaching practices, #2) your highest priority is that your students fully realize expression, self expression, aesthetic connection, creativity, imaginative thought process, self esteem building, collaboration, teamwork and personal meaning… and then if some of them happen to learn a few nuts and bolts about music and music literacy along the way, that certainly doesn’t hurt.

If your academic program gets put on the chopping block for some reason next Spring and you have been following path #1 – meaning that you have documentation which includes rigorous learning targets and ongoing assessments – contact me. If the same scenario happens but you’ve been been following path #2, don’t bother. I won’t be able to help you.

aesthetics and academia – part 1


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