In keeping with education's past 19th. Century-based approach, today's paradigm for the arts in schools has been maintained now for well over half a century. While there is recognition by policy makers that the way we structure our educational framework must be overhauled in order to prepare kids for a rapidly evolving 21st Century world, generally left out of that equation of perception and reform is the role and relative importance of the arts. We must reconsider our embrace of the status quo because the "quo" of that status will no longer exist. Fundamental changes beget the need for significant change.

Presently, the arts' primary function in many schools is to provide celebratory events of show and tell. Having classes for music and art also facilitated "prep" time in the school schedule when you have to give the classroom teacher one period in the day without children. However, this convenient set up, with its corollary overriding emphasis on "performing" (e.g. songs, plays, etc.) more than an intentional focus on "learning" (i.e. a change in behavior as a result of experience, understanding and knowledge), has led to the diminishment of the arts in spite of their appellation as a "core" subject, but in reality are collectively tagged as "enrichment," a euphemism for non-essential or extra.

Contrast this with the growing realization that the presence of artistic practice in our society, due in large part to the Internet (itself a visual and aural artistic medium) and associated technologies, is ever expanding. But importance goes beyond the myriad of contemporary products that have their genesis in artistic competency. It will be the "habits of mind" developed through the arts that will become crucial skills for success in the future, not just in contexts limited to the arts.

Within the next decade there will be a fundamental rethinking on how kids will learn and what they should be learning. Because of the adoption of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) across the country, there will be a shift from just knowing content to the transfer and manipulation of it. There will be more of a need for understanding rather than simple recall. Much of what kids will need to develop is how to think, create and communicate effectively. But these very same abilities are in reality arts skills! In order to succeed in an increasingly complex, conceptual, and globalized world kids will have to acquire skills that require them to analyze, interpret, evaluate and demonstrate understanding (among others) -- skills artists have employed for centuries.

The irony is that a fundamental aspect of our humanity, contained in the 1% of our DNA that distinguishes us from chimps, is our very artistic capability to imagine what isn't, create what wasn't, and transmit the essence of ourselves to others of our species who exist only in the future. This is tied to the seminal means by which we communicate with each other through the transmission of narrative, proficiency with which is more and more imperative in our hyper-connected world.

The charge then is to significantly recalibrate how we teach the arts. Common Core gives us that opportunity. Because CCSS will require a different mind set in regard to teaching and learning; one that can be developed through the arts in ways that are not arts dependent. The challenge for education's policy makers is to develop assessment tools that measure students' ability to employ those "action" terms cited above; such as analyze, evaluate, delineate, develop, or demonstrate, which are replete throughout the Common Core State Standards and Cognitive Strategies.

But we can be prepared if we combine the present focus on presenting existing artistic creations (i.e. performances, exhibitions) with a more integrated understanding and practice on how to bring such works into being in the first place, utilizing the cognitive and conceptual building blocks of our humanity in order to productively create, effectively communicate, and meaningfully collaborate with each other. Only then can we have students employ not only the essential qualities that make us …us, but will engage their emotions in the process in order for them to become engineers of their future, rather than mere consumers in it. For it is the emotional component, in one way or another, that motivates people, especially kids, to decide what they choose to learn and settle on what they want to do.

Bruce Taylor
Chicago, August, 2012


NEED: In the short term it is unlikely that learning about the arts will be thought of as required for graduation, going to college, or getting a job. Nevertheless, we are on the cusp of an unprecedented opportunity. An understanding of, participation with, and creating in the arts will eventually be seen as valuable contributions to overall student learning, a factor in collegiate achievement, and success in an arts-infused 21st century economy. Indeed, it may come to pass that creativity will be the new literacy requirement.

The reason is because Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is now the agreed upon educational currency across the country for the coming decade. This document outlines ways in which, what can be called, the "Common Core Way of Thinking" is directly related to what can be easily taught through the arts. The conceptual principle underpinning "Common Sense Core Arts Standards Workshop" is that any of the Common Core State Standards in ELA can be applied with regard to any art form; visual art, dance, music, or theatre.

WHAT: Artistic examples used to address each standard can be easily downloaded from the Internet from various websites for images, scripts, lyrics and sheet music; from YouTube and art form specific websites for clips of performances in theatre, opera, and dance along with images in all genres of visual art. DVDs can be obtained from a plethora of sources for additional content. Examples familiar to students from contemporary/popular culture sources should be considered whenever possible as well as the great works from the past. In addition, with the advent of Apple's iPad textbook and penetration by similar devices into schools, such technology can be employed in the creation of original student work, which is an essential aspect of teaching and learning through the arts.

HOW: The Common Sense Core Arts Standards workshop begins with a brief retrospective on school reform, through an explanation of 21st Century Skills, leading up to the current Common Core paradigm. Participants are then provided with a concise overview of Common Core basic principles, key concepts and critical terms. The majority of the remaining time is spent on modeling the creation and implementation of the "Common Core Arts Equation" which demonstrates how easily it is to adapt Common Core Cognitive Strategies and grade by grade standards to an arts application assisting students to become proficient on the upcoming standardized assessments to be deployed in 2015.

In small groups, attendees construct a sample "equation" from their own scope and sequence and are shown how its conceptual foundation is applicable to the response to a PARCC / Smarter Balance style performance task and correlates to similar tasks performed within the ELA framework. Every effort is made to focus on commonalities among the four major arts disciplines (visual arts, theatre, dance, and music) rather than instructional strategies that are art-form specific. Great emphasis is put on the teacher's own creativity and imagination in becoming proficient in this approach to Common Core.

Bruce Taylor

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