. . . . In campaigning for keeping arts education, some educators say, advocates need to form more realistic arguments.
“Not everything has a practical utility, but maybe it’s experientially valuable,” said Elliot Eisner, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford University. “Learning through the arts promotes the idea that there is more than one solution to a problem, or more than one answer to a question.”
Edward Pauly, the director of research and evaluation at the Wallace Foundation, which finances arts education, said that the arts can promote experiences of empathy and tolerance. “There is no substitute for listening to jazz, seeing ‘Death of a Salesman’ performed, reading ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ seeing the Vietnam War Memorial,” he said. “Those powerful experiences only come about through the arts.”
Still, such reasoning may not be sufficient to keep arts education alive in public schools. “That’s not the kind of argument that gets a lot of traction in a high-stakes testing environment,” said Douglas J. Dempster, dean of the College of Fine Arts at the University of Texas, Austin.
In a time when President Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” policy emphasizes test results, the arts do not easily lend themselves to quantifiable measurements.
Art classes are often the first thing to be jettisoned from a crowded curriculum. As a result, Ms. Winner said, it is understandable that some arts advocates hew to the academic argument to keep the arts in the curriculum. “The arts are totally threatened in our schools,” she said. “Arts advocates don’t even think about whether they’re accurate — they latch onto these claims.”
“I am an arts advocate,” she added. “I just want to make plausible arguments for the arts.”