Standardized Art

From Nancy Flanagan at Education Week:

There’s a wonderful quote from near the bottom:

…music educators need to ask, “Why should students care about this?”

If the answer is “so they can pass the test,” we’re not describing first-rate music curriculum or instruction.

I’ll gladly generalize that to every discipline, but I think most of you know by now that I’m against test-oriented education and against standardizing just about anything. I think that if there was some test that genuinely fairly tested everything we wanted students to be able to do in a particular subject, then teaching to that test would be incredibly sensible. I haven’t seen such a test yet, nor even heard anyone in education honestly suggest that creating one is possible. Even when I took my qualifying exam in Physics, a comprehensive doctoral-level exam spread across eight hours and two days, there was a lot of physics and a lot of procedure, creativity, knowledge, planning, etc. that wasn’t on that test.

Art teachers will probably never agree on whether creativity is teachable. My opinion is that anything teachable is testable (because otherwise, how the hell do you know you taught it?), but that doesn’t necessarily mean modern-style classroom tests, and so an entirely separate debate will continue about whether creativity is testable. It is highly unfortunate that the people having that debate are mostly art teachers, and art teachers are not the people making the decisions about whether their discipline will be next to be standardized or marginalized.

They could be, though.

These are the people with the greatest ability to raise their voices in song and protest, to paint the town with fliers and murals, to move hearts and drive emotions. These are people with friends in high places, with allies across music and advertising and computer game design. Every singer/songwriter, every computer graphics expert, every painter and designer, knows an art or music teacher who made a difference in their lives. These are incredibly impactful teachers, with a comparatively small number of hugely visible students.

If art teachers got organized, this could be a national issue within the week. You wouldn’t be able to turn on the TV without hearing pop stars talk about their favorite teachers and the freedom they need. You wouldn’t be able to go to any website without seeing the designer thank their inspirations for their individualized attentions. If art teachers wanted to stand up and fight against standardization, it would be a huge deal. There would be no question of standardization; it would be off the table.

They aren’t winning this battle solely because they have not yet begun to fight it.


About Colin Fredericks

By day I help to create online courses at HarvardX. By night I write roleplaying games.

Posted on June 27, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. I was particularly fond of this quote: “Let’s start by debunking this myth: Standardized testing in the arts should be applauded because investment in test development means arts teachers might get to keep their jobs! This is like saying thank goodness for all those infarctions, because now we can staff our high-tech cardiac unit.”

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