Larry Peeno is Deputy Executive Director of the National Art Education Association. From the classroom level to the national level, he has been immersed in arts education in the US for over 25 years. Here he discusses, not only what students can learn from the arts, but also what educators in other subjects can learn.
What is the National Art Education Association’s mission?
We are a teacher service organization. Visual arts teachers and affiliate groups such as museums, arts alliance agencies and others interested in the arts are members. Our main contact with teachers is a conference every year. In addition to that we do newsletters and publish an art education magazine and research journals. Another major part of our work is advocacy – one of the reasons we’re located near Washington, DC. We were instrumental in pushing the agenda for Goals 2000 to include the arts, and followed up with developing national standards for the arts, including music, theater and dance.
From your perspective, how are we doing as a nation with respect to arts education?
I was a high school art teacher for 16 years, chair of an arts department and a district coordinator. For the last ten years I was the Fine Arts Consultant for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. I have seen it from a classroom perspective, a state perspective and now looking at it from the national perspective. And what I see is that the arts are in trouble. We can’t continue to graduate high school seniors knowing only two things about the arts: that you’re either ‘talented’ or you’re not.
It’s true that the arts are not like other subjects, but we do want the same set of opportunities to educate kids in the arts as is given for math and the other subjects. That’s all we’ve really asked for, and that’s the equity that the arts don’t have that the others do have.
On the other hand, there are some encouraging trends.
For one thing, in the last ten to fifteen years there has been a movement called discipline-based arts education. It has made arts education people aware or more than just the studio end of the visual and performing arts. The fields of criticism and aesthetics and the history of the art form have also been introduced. These three areas certainly give the “non-talented” student a forum for participating in the arts that they didn’t have before.
But there’s something else going on that’s really interesting. In the four core subject areas, instead of just testing kids on what they know, now we have to test them on what they can do with what they know. Well, the arts have always done that. The arts have always been a product oriented, physically involved, mentally involved, all inclusive well-rounded curriculum in the school district. And no one has realized that until now. Now the old core areas are starting to look to the arts as, how do you do that? How do you take kids from a paper and pencil test and ask them to produce something? That’s something we have a head start on.
Are you saying that from arts education we can learn something about assessment for all subjects?
Yes, and assessment is key, because quite frankly, assessment drives curriculum and curriculum drives instruction. As long as we assess students by their ability to do mathematical operations, or their knowledge of certain science concepts, then that’s where the emphasis will be in instruction. But if we assessed students by what they can actually produce, we would find that in addition to the skills and concepts of the core subjects, students need to know something about art, because whatever they produce will have a form of some sort, and art teaches us about creating forms.
Do you think there will be an increase in the amount of arts education that is done in school?
Here’s an example: I was looking at some 20 year data in Missouri State Department of Education recently and I looked at the trend. In 1980 it was a downward trend, and then in 1990 it went up a bit and then in fact a year ago it was equal to or better than 10 years ago, and it stayed ahead with the school population. Now the school population is really growing because all of the baby boomers have entered their kids into the school system. Now there are more and more kids now entering into the arts. That’s the four art areas: music, dance, theater and the visual arts, which is good news.
What is the biggest factor in determining the quality of art education available in a district or school?
Arts programs in districts are usually very, very highly correlated with the enthusiasm of the people that teach in those districts. Whether there is money there or not, they can have a great art program, and it’s based on the sweat equity that teachers desire to put into it.
You are welcome.