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While acknowledging the foundational role of the arts in human development, this research paper will focus on twenty-first century conceptions and manifestations of aesthetic education. This discussion will highlight key theorists John Dewey and Maxine Greene, focusing on their scholarship from the twentieth century that continues to inform aesthetic education and powerfully articulates the ongoing significance of aesthetic education for human civilization. The main portion of this research paper will review the status of aesthetic education in the early twenty-first century amid an educational culture of accountability, standardization, and global economic competition, with a snapshot focus on the United States.
- A Brief History of Aesthetic Education
- What Is Aesthetic Education?
- John Dewey: Training Aesthetic Perception for Democracy
- Maxine Greene: Releasing the Social Imagination
- Contemporary Practices in Aesthetic Education
- Status of Aesthetic Education
- Snapshot: Status of Aesthetic Education in the United States
- Reduction in Instructional Time
- Impact of Reduced Provisions for Arts Education
- Snapshot: Status of Aesthetic Education in the United States
Regardless of the waxing and waning of the presence of the visual and performing arts in formal education throughout the history of Western civilization, the importance of the arts in the development of human culture is undisputed. Ellen Dissanayake (1995) has attributed an ethological function to the arts, asserting that artistic behavior is a fundamentally human proclivity. Cognitive scientist Merlin Donald (2006) has argued that artistic behavior was part of a distributed cognitive system that influenced the evolutionary development of the modern Homo sapiens brain. This distributed cognitive system – culture – continues to shape human development. With such profound influence on human evolution, the study of the arts is certainly justified. Aesthetic education may, following this argument, be defined as engagement with manifestations of human artistic expression throughout history for mutual cultural education, both local and global. Encountering works of art from one’s own society, and the societies of others, educates individuals in the mores and values of diverse cultures, cultivating a tolerance for pluralism that has often aligned aesthetic education with ethics, democracy, and moral education.
While acknowledging the foundational role of the arts in human development, this research paper will focus on twenty-first century conceptions and manifestations of aesthetic education. This discussion will highlight key theorists John Dewey and Maxine Greene, focusing on their scholarship from the twentieth century that continues to inform aesthetic education and powerfully articulates the ongoing significance of aesthetic education for human civilization. The main portion of this research paper will review the status of aesthetic education in the early twenty-first century amid an educational culture of accountability, standardization, and global economic competition, with a snapshot focus on the United States. The focus on twenty-first century perspectives on aesthetic education is deliberate in order to underscore the ongoing relevance of aesthetic education, which has been critiqued as an unnecessary leftover from modernism (Tavin, 2007), to contemporary pragmatist, postmodern, poststructuralist, and social reconstructionist aims for education (see chapter by Costantino and chapter by jagodzinsky in Costantino and White, 2010).
A Brief History of Aesthetic Education
While an extensive documentation of the history of aesthetic education is beyond the scope of this research paper (see White, 2009), it is pertinent to begin with a brief history of the development of aesthetic education since the Enlightenment. The advent of modern aesthetic education may be considered as early as the eighteenth century when the German philosopher Alexander Baumgarten (1714–62) established aesthetics as a field of study within philosophy. Baumgarten’s emphasis on aesthetics as a study of sense-perception initiated inquiry into how aesthetic perception may be developed through experience and education. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) built on the work of Baumgarten to become the leading philosopher of aesthetics into the twentieth century, seeking to establish aesthetics in the realm of reason with his pivotal treatise The Critique of Judgment. Indeed, White acknowledges that “much of the contemporary controversy regarding aesthetics emerges from Kant’s writings” (2009: p. 27).
Aesthetic education as a component of moral education gained prominence through the seminal work of Friedrich Schiller (1759–1805) On the Aesthetic Education of Man and the concept of bildung in German philosophy of the nineteenth century. In the first half of the twentieth century the influence of bildung continued in the aesthetic theories of hermeneutic philosophers Martin Heidegger (1889–1976) and Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900–2002). In the United States in the early twentieth century aesthetic education as moral education was evident in the picture study movement entailing the distribution of fine art prints to schools for the cultural edification of students. As Efland (1990) explained, “American art educators of that period were anxious to connect art study with the acquisition of American virtues, especially for the children of immigrants” (p. 146).
While the formalization of education through compulsory schooling in the nineteenth century influenced the opportunity for aesthetic education for different groups depending on local resources and priorities, since the advent of the standards and accountability movement in the United States, there is documented discrepancy in the availability of aesthetic education for different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups, to be reviewed below.
What Is Aesthetic Education?
Aesthetic education is the cultivation of aesthetic understanding and the imagination through active engagement with the visual and performing arts. By engaging with works of art from diverse genres and cultures, students develop the ability to interpret and make meaning from an increasing variety of modes of expression, and through arts practice are able to communicate through multiple forms of representation. Elliot Eisner wrote in Cognition and Curriculum, Reconsidered (1994) of the importance of providing learners with different forms of representation through which they may communicate meaning. According to Eisner, “forms of representation are the devices that humans use to make public conceptions that are privately held .This public status might take the form of words, pictures, music, mathematics, dance, and the like” (p. 39). Eisner (1994, 2002) wrote extensively on the significance of this multimodal flexibility for cognitive development as students develop productive habits of mind such as attention to relationships, tolerance of ambiguity, resistance to premature closure, and feelings of self-efficacy to name a few. Eisner’s ideas about the cognitive potential of arts education was significantly informed by John Dewey’s writings on qualitative thought and his aesthetic theory of art as experience.
John Dewey: Training Aesthetic Perception for Democracy
John Dewey (1859–1952), American pragmatist philosopher and educator, sought to return the arts to everyday life in his influential work of aesthetic philosophy Art as Experience (1934). Critical of the removal of the arts from communal life into the rarefied “economic cosmopolitanism” (1934: p. 7) of museums and galleries, Dewey situated aesthetic experience as part of the continuity of the process of life. In his theory of art as experience, he gave perception a primary role in aesthetic experience. He explained the role of perception as the recognition of relationships. Simple recognition, however, is only the beginning of perception – it is the identification of elements without identifying how they are related. Perception is the interpretation of how various parts of an experience relate to form a unified whole. Discerning this relationship constitutes the meaning-making process: “The action and its consequence must be joined in perception. This relationship is what gives meaning; to grasp it is the objective of all intelligence” (1934: p. 44). The perception of relationships is what gives an experience its satisfying emotional quality. It is what makes an experience aesthetic. Dewey emphasized that the experience of art requires perception in order for it to constitute an aesthetic experience. In other words, Dewey declared that “to be truly artistic, a work must also be esthetic – that is, framed for enjoyed receptive perception” (p. 48). Dewey defined artistic as the relationship between making and perceiving: “The act of producing that is directed by intent to produce something that is enjoyed in the immediate experience of perceiving has qualities that a spontaneous or uncontrolled activity does not have” (p. 48). In essence, art requires the application of intelligence as opposed to random, disassociated thoughts or feelings; it derives from qualitative thought.
Qualitative thought, Dewey explained, is an associative process in which significant relationships are intuitively grasped in an experience “… the immediate existence of quality, and of dominant and pervasive quality, is the background, the point of departure, and the regulative principle of all thinking” (1930/1984: p. 261). Dewey described artistic thinking as an exemplar of qualitative thought. “The logic of artistic construction and esthetic appreciation is peculiarly significant because they exemplify in accentuated and purified form the control of selection of detail and of mode of relation, or integration, by a qualitative whole” (p. 251). Dewey considered the thinking required for artistic creation to be “one of the most exacting modes of thought” (1934: p. 45). Likewise, the act of perceiving a work of art requires the same kind of intelligence. It is a creative act, or an act of “reconstructive doing” (1934: p. 53), that requires cultivation. For Dewey, the appropriate end of training aesthetic perception is a richer everyday life. Dewey’s dismantling of the fine versus applied art distinction in Art as Experience brings art into the realm of everyday life, thereby democratizing aesthetic experience as something attainable for all. Dewey’s (1916) emphasis on education as a democratizing force, and his location of the arts in the midst of civilization was a critical influence for the philosophy of aesthetic education developed by Maxine Greene.
Maxine Greene: Releasing the Social Imagination
Maxine Greene (1917–2014), Professor Emeritus at Teachers College Columbia University and Philosopher in Residence at the Lincoln Center Institute, has defined aesthetic education as “deliberate efforts to foster increasingly informed and involved encounters with art” (1995: p. 138). Maxine Greene (1988, 1995) has written extensively on how experiences in and through the arts can stimulate the imagination to provide openings for thinking of what might be. Greene has explained, “One of the reasons I have come to concentrate on imagination as a means through which we can assemble a coherent world is that imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible” (1995: p. 3). Her idea of the social imagination, “the capacity to invent visions of what should be and what might be in our deficient society” (p. 5) focuses on using the arts as entry points for dialogue that cultivates a pluralism that is the foundation of democratic communities. Through the empathic relationships constructed via aesthetic experience, schools and classrooms can become communities in which students may imagine the open possibilities of their lives, and both teachers and students may embrace the diverse perspectives and experiences of those they may consider ‘other.’
While Greene has emphasized the transformative quality of aesthetic experience in dialogue with works of art (the visual, literary, and performing arts), encouraging teachers to share art with their students as a means of releasing their imaginations of what might be, she also addresses the potential of art making for cultivating the social imagination, for creating an ‘in-between’ space where community may be built. “In thinking of community, we need to emphasize the process words: making, creating, weaving, saying, and the like” (1995: p. 39). Indeed, Greene calls for a merging of the pedagogies of art education and aesthetic education so that students and teachers are engaged in both the making and seeing of possibility:
I would like to see one pedagogy feeding into the other: the pedagogy that empowers students to create informing the pedagogy that empowers them to attend (and, perhaps, to appreciate) and vice versa. I would like to see both pedagogies carried on with a sense of both learner and teacher as seeker and questioner … reflective about his or her choosing process, turning toward the clearing that might (or might not) lie ahead (p. 138).
Greene’s work continues to inform and guide contemporary practices in aesthetic education. Stories of encounters with Greene’s aesthetic education pedagogy are memorialized in Dear Maxine (Lake, 2010), a series of letters to Maxine Greene from those who have been inspired by her work.
Contemporary Practices in Aesthetic Education
Building on the ideas of Maxine Greene, contemporary social reconstructionist curriculum theorists, such as Patrick Slattery (2013), utilize artistic forms in their research, theorizing, and teaching praxis focused on issues of social justice to create ‘sudden shocks’ of awareness (Greene, 1995: p. 36). Others build on the relational aesthetics of Nicolas Bourriaud (2002) to explore how contemporary art practice may inform K-12 art education (Irwin and O’Donoghue, 2012; O’Donoghue, 2009). Boyd White (2009) has developed a research model, the aesthetigram, informed by art criticism to map participants’ interpretive process during aesthetic experience. Aesthetics has also influenced the conduct of qualitative research in education. Drawing on the I–Thou relationship described in the philosophy of Martin Buber (1970 (1923)) and the intimacy of aesthetic experience articulated by John Armstrong (2000), Liora Bresler (2009; and chapter in White and Costantino, 2013) has explored the potential of aesthetic experience to cultivate empathy in her conceptualization of the researcher– participant relationship in qualitative research. While the examples of contemporary practice just given reflect the activity of scholars working in aesthetic and arts education, the aim of aesthetic education is typically geared toward elementary and secondary education.
Status of Aesthetic Education
While most developed nations include the arts and creativity in their national curriculum, or curricular goals in the absence of a national curriculum, the status of the arts and creativity as an educational priority varies. In 21 countries surveyed by the International Review of Curriculum and Assessment Frameworks Archive, most countries emphasize arts practice, especially when the arts subjects of music and visual art are taught as separate disciplines, rather than social/cultural outcomes of arts learning as might be emphasized in aesthetic education. However, when arts education is conceptualized as a general arts course, there is more emphasis on social/cultural outcomes (INCA, 2004) (as was articulated in the aesthetic education philosophies of Maxine Greene and John Dewey).
Singapore’s national curriculum reflects the partnership between arts appreciation and arts practice envisioned by Maxine Greene. For example, the two main aims for the curriculum in visual art education at the primary and secondary level are for students to develop visual literacy and to appreciate art. Art practice is encompassed within the aim of visual literacy as students make meaning of what they observe in their environment as well as communicate meaning through art making. The aim of appreciating art is not exclusively for transmitting cultural values and cultural heritage, but for understanding the value of art in students’ lives and as a means of developing self-worth. The approach is similar for music education. The conceptualization of arts education in Singapore as reflective of aesthetic education is also made evident in the administration of these programs under the category of aesthetics, health, and moral education in Singapore’s Ministry of Education.
Similarly, in the Republic of South Africa, the arts fall under the curriculum category of life skills at the primary and early secondary levels, with the inclusion of craft, however in the upper secondary level the focus is on the relationship between art and culture. However, cultural literacy and creativity are not included as national education aims in the Republic of South Africa (INCA, 2013).
As an example of the arts and creativity as a priority in national curriculum aims, in 2001 the United Kingdom established the Creative Partnerships program to address concerns over a narrowing focus on mathematics and literacy in the National Curriculum. The program created long-term partnerships between schools and creative professionals from the arts, science, and industry. These programs had positive associations with student attendance rates at elementary schools and academic attainment especially at secondary schools (Sharp and Cooper, 2012); despite this the UK government stopped funding the program in 2010 as a result of the economic crisis affecting Europe and the United States. Alternatively, in a report published in 2010 by the Ministry of Education and Culture in Finland, the arts are tied to the creative economy and therefore viewed as a contributor to the growth of Finland’s national economy. Finland is highlighted here due to current international focus on the effectiveness of Finland’s educational system as reflected in Finnish students’ consistent high-level achievement on the Programme for International Student Assessment.
In the United States, the report from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, Re-Investing in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools (2011), puts creativity in the spotlight with arts education as a primary vehicle for American economic success. This goal is stated clearly in the executive summary:
In order to effectively compete in the global economy, business leaders are increasingly looking for employees who are creative, collaborative and innovative thinkers. A greater investment in the arts is an effective way to equip today’s students with the skills they will need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow (p. 1).
The report advocates for increased arts integrated curriculum in schools and a greater role for teaching-artists among its recommendations (an oft utilized model in aesthetic education). Whether this report will have an actual impact on federal and state education policy remains to be seen within a climate of Race to The Top that focuses on STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and ongoing standardization through the common core movement, especially as the current provisions for arts education in the United States demonstrate significant inequities across socioeconomic status.
Snapshot: Status of Aesthetic Education in the United States
A significant portion of this research was previously synthesized in the report by T. Costantino, “Educational Equity Challenged: Evidence of Decreased Provisions for Arts Education Since the Enactment of No Child Left Behind” printed in the following conference proceedings: E. DeBray-Pelot (Ed.) (November 2009) Critical Perspectives on Federally Driven Assessment Policy, (pp. 63–82). Athens, GA: Education and Evaluation Policy Center, University of Georgia.
In the United States, arts advocates had to lobby forcefully to have the arts included in the Goals 2000 legislation of 1994. One of the main goals of this legislation was the development of a challenging curriculum based on rigorous content standards that states were encouraged to develop. It was only at the eleventh hour that the fine arts were considered a part of the core curriculum in this legislation. Again in 2001, when the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation was enacted, arts advocates had to lobby for the fine arts to remain part of the core curriculum for which content standards were now mandated. When NCLB was signed into law in the United States, there was considerable concern that the accountability emphasis on reading and math would result in a detrimental narrowing of the elementary school curriculum. In a review of research on the influence of this law on the implementation of curriculum in American schools, two trends emerged. The first trend is a narrowing of the curriculum showing decreased instructional time for art and music, and even greater decreases in instructional time for social studies, resulting in minimal cultural education for students. The second significant trend is that these instructional time decreases were more pronounced in schools serving a majority of low-income and minority students and schools designated as failing according to NCLB guidelines. The nonprofit organization, Center for Education Policy (CEP), has published a series of reports tracking NCLB, but theirs is not the only research to demonstrate these trends, including the nonprofit sector (CEP, 2007, 2008; von Zastrow, 2004), the federal government (Government Accountability Office and National Assessment of Educational Progress), and from the arts education arena (Mishook and Kornhaber, 2006). Building on this trend, correlational research has also been conducted examining the relationship between arts engagement and positive social and academic outcomes for adolescents and young adults of low socioeconomic status (Catterall et al., 2012). Beyond the K- 12 arena, a survey on arts participation in the United States reinforces the implications of this trend for arts participation (Rabkin and Hedberg, 2011).
Reduction in Instructional Time
In a nationally representative survey of 349 responding school districts conducted in 2006–07, a report by CEP (2008) showed that 16% of responding districts cut art and music by 57 min per week, which represented a 35% decrease in weekly instructional time. However, more districts reduced time for social studies (36%) and for a greater duration at 76 min per week. For those districts that both increased time for math and English language arts, and decreased time for other subjects, these districts cut weekly instructional time for the arts by 35% (from 154 to 100 min).
The Council for Basic Education (CBE) is a nonprofit organization concerned with the status of a liberal arts education for K-12 students in the United States. The CBE surveyed a stratified random sample (urban, suburban, rural, elementary, and secondary) of public school principals in Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico, and New York about the status of liberal arts subjects in their schools’ curriculum (von Zastrow, 2004). The survey had a 32% return rate (956 principals). In addition to asking about existing changes in instructional time since 2000, the CBE survey asked principals about their expectations for changes in the next 2 years.
Unfortunately, the report does not specify results according to the elementary or secondary level, so findings are aggregated for these two groups, unless there is a notable difference between the two groups. For all data, the report does present findings according to low or high minority schools, as this reflects an alarming trend that the CBE report identified and intends to highlight. Specifically, the CBE study found that 25% of all responding principals reported decreases in instructional time for the arts, with 36% of high-minority school principals reporting decreases. A large percentage of high-minority school principals anticipated future decreases (42%). For one-third of the high-minority schools reporting decreases, the principals reported large decreases and also expected future decreases to be large. The report summarized, “we found that the greatest erosion of the curriculum is occurring in schools with high minority populations – the very populations whose access to such a curriculum has been historically most limited” (p. 7).
A study by the United States Government Accountability Office (2009) reported similar findings to that of the CEP and CBE, although to a lesser degree. At the request of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) conducted a study of whether student access to arts education had changed since the enactment of NCLB and if so, how. Congress also wanted to learn about current knowledge of the impact of arts education on student learning outcomes. In other words, how might changes in provisions for arts education in the curriculum affect student learning? Congress also wanted to know what school district officials were doing to provide arts education since NCLB and their challenges in this regard (pp. 1–2). The GAO used data collected by the Department of Education’s National Longitudinal Study of NCLB, which surveyed elementary school teachers about changes in instructional time for all subjects between school years 2004–05 and 2006–07. It also surveyed arts officials in state education agencies in 49 states and the District of Columbia and conducted interviews with school district officials and site visits to individual schools in Illinois, Massachusetts, Florida, and New York. These states were chosen for their large numbers of schools not meeting Annual Yearly Progress and for a diversity of school districts with varying household income levels and rural and urban populations.
The GAO study found that the majority of elementary school teachers surveyed (90%) indicated that instructional time for the arts had not changed from 2004–05 to 2006–07. The teachers came from a range of school demographic characteristics. However, 7% reported a decrease, and there was a statistically significant difference in school characteristics in this group compared to the majority response of no change. “Specifically, teachers at schools identified as needing improvement and those with higher percentages of minority students were more likely to report a reduction in time spent on the arts” (p. 3). Also, the decrease in instructional time for the arts was greater at schools with high percentages of low income or minority students, a 49-min decrease per week compared to a decrease of 31 min weekly. Although the 7% finding is almost half as much as the 16% of districts reporting decreases in instructional time for the arts found by the CEP, the GAO survey studies just a two-year time span, which occurred a few years after the enactment of NCLB. Indeed, the decreased instructional time may have occurred before 2004 and then remained unchanged through 2006–07. The CEP study asked survey respondents to indicate instructional time changes since 2002. Findings from the interviews conducted in the GAO study indicated that changes in instructional time were due to state and district mandated requirements to meet NCLB proficiency standards.
Research conducted within the field of arts education found similar trends. Jacob Mishook and Mindy Kornhaber (2006) were interested in learning how high-stakes accountability was affecting curricular provisions for arts education. Dissatisfied with the snapshot offered by survey studies such as those described above, which do not explain the kind of arts education practice occurring in schools as a result of high-stakes testing, they conducted a qualitative study focused on the state of Virginia, chosen for its strong accountability system. They conducted an interview study centered on 10 arts-focused schools and 8 nonarts-focused schools matched by district, school level (elementary and secondary), and demographics including student income level and minority status, interviewing school principals and occasionally arts coordinators. They found that integration was a prominent strategy for accommodating arts education in the curriculum. They further analyzed the participants’ conceptions of arts integration, using Liora Bresler’s (1995) categorization of arts integration typically found in schools, the coequal, cognitive approach or the subservient approach (as cited in Mishook and Kornhaber, 2006). In the coequal approach, the art discipline is given equal weight in the lesson with the nonart discipline, maintaining the integrity of art content, skills, and ways of thinking. In the subservient approach, the art discipline is used as a tool in service of the nonart discipline, typically in a superficial manner. Mishook and Kornhaber found that the arts-focused schools were more likely to use a coequal, cognitive approach, while the nonarts schools typically used a subservient approach Secondly, they found that the schools with a higher student poverty level were more likely to use a subservient arts integration approach, often in the service of test preparation, and that coequal arts integration was less available in high poverty schools. They acknowledged that these findings come from a small sample, but asserted, “If this holds true for a larger sample, this would align with research indicating a greater pressure toward using direct instruction for test preparation among high poverty schools.” (p. 7).
During the 2009–10 school year, the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences and National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) (Parsad and Spiegelman, 2012) conducted a study of the status of arts education (music, visual arts, dance, and drama) in public elementary and secondary schools through surveys to principals, classroom teachers, and arts teachers. While this is a substantial report with comprehensive and extensive findings, due to space restrictions I will highlight only a few of the findings here. The report provides comparisons with the previous NCES study conducted on the status of arts education in the United States a decade earlier (1999–2000). While instruction in music in public elementary schools remained consistent, there was a drop from 87 to 83% for visual art instruction in responding elementary schools. Instruction in dance and drama dropped from 20% of schools in 1999–2000 to 3 and 4% for dance and drama, respectively. For schools in which dance and drama were integrated into other subjects, there was a decrease of 5% for dance and a slight increase for drama. Similarly in secondary schools, the percent of schools providing music instruction remained consistent over the decade, while the percent of schools providing visual arts instruction decreased from 93 to 89%. Among the small percentage of secondary schools providing dance and drama education, there was also a decrease over the decade from 14 to 12% for dance and 48 to 45% for drama. On a positive note, the percent of secondary schools requiring arts coursework for graduation rose from 52 to 57% over the decade.
In relation to the trend of less instructional time in the arts for low-income students described above, the NCES report adds more evidence (Parsad and Spiegelman, 2012). Compared to 94% of public elementary schools without a majority of low-income students offering music instruction, 89% of schools with majority low-income student populations provide weekly music instruction. The comparison is greater at the secondary school level, with 81% of secondary schools with a majority of low-income students offering music instruction compared to 91% for those schools without a high percentage of low-income students. The decrease over the decade, however, is more significant, with a 19% drop in secondary schools with majority low-income student population offering music instruction. For visual arts education in elementary schools, there has been an increase in the percentage of schools with majority low-income students providing art instruction over the decade (from 74 to 80%). However at the secondary school level, there has been a decrease in the percentage of schools with a majority low-income student population providing visual arts instruction over the decade, from 93% in 1999–2000 to 80% in 2008–09. It appears that provisions for arts instruction have been most impacted at the secondary level across the decade.
Impact of Reduced Provisions for Arts Education
The results of the 2008 National Assessment of Educational Progress for the arts (visual arts and music) indicate a difference in performance among ethnic groups and poverty status. While overall, the aggregate performance in both music and art by eighth grade students was in the midrange on the 0–300 scales used for responding in music and visual art and for creating in visual art, it was less for minority and low-income students. Related to aesthetic education, low-income students scored 28 points lower on the music responding scale and 29 points lower on the visual arts responding scale than those not eligible for free and reduced lunch (National Center for Education Statistics, 2009). The creating scores in the visual arts (creating in music was not assessed) for Black and Hispanic students were lower than the scores of White and Asian students as were the scores lower for low-income students.
In addition to student achievement in the arts, a study by Rabkin and Hedberg (2011) infers what decreased arts instruction at the K-12 level might mean for participation in the arts as adults. Responding to a finding in the 1992 Survey of Public Participation in the Arts (SPPA) that arts education was the strongest predictor of most types of arts participation (excluding arts performance), Rabkin and Hedberg analyzed data from four administrations of the SPPA (from 1982, 1992, 2002, and 2008) to explore that finding. They found that across the four administrations, there was a positive correlation with childhood or adult arts education and attendance at ‘benchmark’ arts events (classical or jazz music concerts, plays, opera, and dance performances). Arts participation tended to be higher among Americans who also experienced childhood or adult arts education. The analysis also documented a decrease in school-based arts education in childhood from 1982 to 2008, with the peak of the percentage of Americans receiving arts education in childhood in the late 1980s and a sharp decline subsequently. The time period of the decline coincides with the advent of the standards-based and heightened accountability reform movement in the United States. The report also documents the decline in school-based arts education across the four survey administrations to be more pronounced for Black and Hispanic students. The report clearly states that childhood arts education is the most critical for adult arts participation, as most Americans who pursue arts education as an adult had some arts education as a child. They also emphasized that,
Although there are some free programs and some scholarship programs for needy students, children generally require both a financial commitment from their parents and additional parental support to attend non-school programs. While non-school arts education programs are vital resources in communities all across the country, schools are the only institutions that have the potential to deliver arts education experiences to virtually all children (p. 20).
The significance of this trend is heightened when one examines the correlational research of Catterall et al. (2012) who examined four longitudinal databases to investigate the relationship between arts engagement and positive social and academic outcomes for adolescents and young adults of low socioeconomic status. A sample of their findings include that the majority of youth from low-SES backgrounds but with arts-rich experiences attended college after high school. Also, students from both low and high-SES backgrounds with rich arts experiences are much more likely to show civic-minded behavior such as voting, volunteering, and engagement in local or school politics.
In a democratic country such as the United States that asserts equality as a core value, the uneven provisions of arts education for low-income, Black, and Hispanic students undermines the social reconstructionist philosophies of John Dewey and Maxine Greene that continue to guide aesthetic education in the twenty-first century. While this research paper provided a focus on aesthetic education in the United States, more research is needed on the status of aesthetic and arts education internationally. Efforts currently underway through the International Society for Education through Art focused on visual art education (http://www.insea.org/), and research agendas presented by the arts education area of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will contribute to this effort, presenting cross-cultural comparisons that may provide models of robust aesthetic and arts education for diverse cultural contexts.
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