Why do we teach what we teach in the Arts?

Have you ever wondered what it is that drives you to do what you do as an arts educator? On the one hand, you want to engage a class or group in artwork but the institution you are working for may have other ideas. How much of the time are you able to distinguish between what it is that the institution, curriculum or the community decide on what you do and are passionate about, and how much is governed by what you really feel about the arts, your arts discipline and what that art form can offer education?

When I was working in primary schools in London as a specialist arts educator, I was lucky to have ‘arts’ advisors who were overseeing what I was doing. This meant that I was answerable to the community, the curriculum but also to the advisory team. Luckily I had a very ambitious set of advisors who inspired my practice in devising and implementing student’s own ideas. It took a lot of work, but I was inspired. My role was one of provocateur, scribe, director and yes manager to some extent in how to rehearse and develop the student’s artwork.

Here are three reasons why I believe we do not see this kind of ambition in the arts anymore. First the arts have been debased in the curriculum structure. Time has been cut back, budgets slashed and status removed. As a result, teacher education has followed the behest of government and reduced the scope for education in the arts. With teachers only able to produce ‘quick fix’ solutions, the arts have been reduced to repetitive showcasing. Secondly the language of the arts has become ‘creative expression’, which really means no one really knowing what they are doing - due again to lack of education and dialogue amongst teachers. Thirdly, teacher educators are under so much pressure to comply with literacy skills and standards this plays into the hands of the politicians promoting education as competitive advantage. Within this discourse the arts are seen as an extra, something that isn't what school is for. This turns the gaze away from questions such as what kind of society do we want? Or what kind of communities do we want and are we getting?

It is the abandonment of the student experience, the ‘being’ of the student that concerns me and was one of the reasons why I wanted to bring together arts educators to write Art, Artists and Pedagogy. Now that the ‘educational standards’ are being seen for what they are – a means to limit education not inspire and expand children’s horizons – we need a new text, a new set of ideas, that can support teachers in opening themselves and the student’s potential for experimentation in what the arts can offer. As we’ve been saying during the recent election in New Zealand ‘let's do this’, let’s regain education and make it something worth celebrating and reinvigorate our communities through positive engagement in schools as places of vision – not mind-numbing conformity to an outdated model of the 'education industry'.

Come to the launch of 'Art, Artists and Pedagogy' - University of Auckland, Faculty of Education - see Events page for more details!

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