Following the publication of Art for Art’s Sake by the OECD’s Education Directorate, we asked Frances McGarry, PhD, host, producer, and blogger at First Online With Fran to describe her personal experience as a teacher.
The Arts continue to be cut from school curriculums across the nation. Despite arts advocacy groups’ efforts to prevent the decline of arts inclusion, the arts are perceived as extra-curricular and disposable when budgets are decided. Nothing is farther from the truth: the Arts challenge us to not only dare, but also explore the myriad of possibilities of “What if…”.
As a k-12 (primary and secondary school) English and Theater classroom teacher for over 30 years, Educational Theater scholar, and Director of Instruction for Arts Education organizations, I have witnessed firsthand the efficacy of an arts integrated curriculum.
Among the various experiences I’ve had as a theater education practitioner, perhaps the best illustration of how an arts-integrated curriculum works is the nationally acclaimed Theaterworks & Theaterworks Troupe program. Under the aegis of the Northport-East Northport High School English department, a team of innovative teachers created the Theatreworks program, a collaboration of 4 disciplines whose objective was to teach the intersecting terms: line, color, and texture through play production for grades 9-12 (ages 14-17). As the English staff member I introduced them as dramatic literary analysis terms; Home Economics translated them as costume design applications; Visual Arts scenic/lighting applications, and Music/Dance offered interpretations of vocal technique.
Through a hands-on approach students learned not only the skills associated with play production: casting, directing, rehearsing, designing, fabricating, sewing, producing, but also a practical work ethic: being on time, meeting deadlines, balancing responsibilities, working as an ensemble. Did I mention, that as an English teacher it was the best tool to get students to read and study and memorize lines from a piece of literature more than the typical cursory glance? I’ll never forget when Theatreworks students could cite verbatim lines from Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest for the New York State English Regents Exam.
But, perhaps, the most valuable skill was to have the freedom to fail: to understand that risk makes us learn how to be all that we can be. There are endless stories I can share as can so many of my capable colleagues: Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Edie Falco insists on crediting me for her career path. Hardly.
For me, it was those “closet-kids” like the perky blonde ninth-grade cheerleader Erica who we discovered could not read! She was able to hide behind her beauty until we rotated her into the acting cycle and she refused to read for a part. That was quickly remedied and she was immediately placed in a special program. Or the lone Hispanic student in a 90% white population who found his place as a Stage Manager? I’ll never forget the deaf student J.J who danced in the after-school musical Brigadoon. Or my son, who credits Theatreworks as the source to pursue an engineering career: it was the only high school course where he was given a job (one that he was unfamiliar with like lighting), had research the topic, get a team together to get the job done, by a deadline, under budget (or suffer the wrath of his director/mom).
Incorporating drama strategies across the curriculum also enhances learning. For example, to introduce To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee to my tenth grade English students, I lined up shoes that characters from the story might have worn. Using creative drama techniques students stepped into those shoes, shared, interacted with others thereby allowing them to create a foundation for their journey of understanding. I teamed up with the American History law class program to provide an historical framework.
Selected writing exercises from Young Playwrights Inc.’s Write a Play! curriculum were used with writing classes for high school students who would not even hold a pen, never mind write a one-act play. The popular “match” exercise where students talk for as long as the flame burns was the introductory lesson with Composition classes at Nassau Community College, a requisite entry level writing course. It’s about finding your voice: the Arts encourage students to think for themselves. These are all marketable skills vital for 21st Century employment.
Fast forward twenty years, adjunct stints, student teachers, training teaching artists, working with young playwrights, conducting professional development workshops across the nation, I continue to marvel at the lack of connect to what seems to me the most valuable global treasure we have.
The Arts have impacted the lives of so many people young and old and yet budget cuts continue to be the spiraling trend. Utilizing testimonials, interviews, and videos First Online With Fran, a talk show/blog was created to serve as the sounding board to give sustainable national attention to the Arts by inviting people from all walks of life – ordinary people doing extraordinary things to make our world a richer, deeper, better place to live.
Upset over the slashing of arts programs in schools I decided to do something about it. So, I got a bunch of kids from Brooklyn Theatre High School and asked them to respond to the statement: “The Arts are extra-curricular and disposable”.
Please take 6 minutes and listen to what they have to say…
My goal for episode 2 is to receive as many views as possible to pitch to a network TV station; ultimately, to air it as a public service announcement (PSA) commercial. The message is clear, accurate, and it’s straight from the horse’s mouth: kids! Who better to express the transformative powers of the Arts?
I am asking for any of the following means of support (none of them require money!): your endorsement as a website comment, the click of your finger on the episode link, social media sharing, any kind of professional networking that you feel would benefit from viewing this episode. Or not. This is where my passion lies and this is my way of raising awareness and advocating for an arts inclusion education.
As a dedicated arts advocate I am committed to raising awareness of how the Arts rejuvenate. The arts restore. The Arts are our supernatural gift, the force that unites us as a single, breathing, living entity that connects every human being to be all that is good and pure.
Share your stories of how the Arts transformed lives and why we have a responsibility to ensure the Arts will continue to be a staple of our humanity. Bring it on!!
Arts education in innovation-driven societies by Art for Art’s Sake co-authors Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin and Ellen Winner on the educationtoday blog
The Impact of Arts Education report examines the state of empirical knowledge about the impact of arts education.