Monday, September 22, 2008

EDUCATION AND THE ARTS: Is it the job of our schools to create an appreciative audience for higher culture?

LA Times Editorial

September 11, 2008 | updated Sept 22

Sung to the central theme of Franz Schubert's 8th Symphony: "This is the symphony / That Schubert wrote and never finished." That mnemonic ditty was a mainstay of music appreciation classes 75 years ago, an easy way for children to identify the so-called Unfinished Symphony. (Schubert) To some extent, such classes worked. Along with the wider availability of recorded music and public museums, music and art appreciation expanded the reach of the arts beyond a wealthy, educated elite.

Today, the arts are everywhere, but the audience for them has dwindled, especially among younger people. A new Rand study concludes that schools must expand arts education to build a new audience, which raises the question: Is it the job of schools to create market demand for arts or any other endeavor?

Ever since public education became compulsory, its goal has shifted from producing literate citizens to well-rounded citizens (thus the focus on arts appreciation) to science-oriented, physically fit citizens and then to intellectually able thinkers. In this era of the globalization of employment, the overriding though officially unacknowledged goal is to produce workers who can compete for jobs. Necessary as this is, it often means the diminishment of the arts, physical education and other areas of instruction.

Our expectations for public education reflect our closely held values. If the arts are among them, schools must produce an audience for the arts, not just artists. But if our society is placing less value on classical arts, is it proper for schools to try to change a cultural trend? If the popularity of video games miraculously plummets, few would want schools to create a market for the genre. The advent of the Internet calls into question even the future of literacy as we know it, a shift that mightily concerns newspapers across the nation.

It has been a long time since our society has articulated a set of values for itself and its schools, beyond higher test scores and better-paying jobs. The discussion is necessary; society is evolving, with or without our direction.

The referenced RAND Study: Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy

letter to the editor: Sept 22

The draw of art
Re "Education and the arts," editorial, Sept. 11

The Rand study on arts learning is about investing in the kind of arts education that teaches the young how to see, hear and find meaning in works of art.

These skills enable people to discover what the arts have to offer, a discovery that often leads to lifelong arts involvement.

Drawing more Americans to the arts is a desirable goal of public policy because the arts enrich people's lives, foster personal growth in ways that benefit society and contribute uniquely to public life.

Laura Zakaras

Arlington, Va.

The writer is coauthor of the Rand Corp. report, "Cultivating Demand for the Arts: Arts Learning, Arts Engagement, and State Arts Policy."

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