The Meaning of Transfer in the Practices of Arts Education

Article excerpt

Redressing the marginalization of the arts is often linked with attempts to redefine and broaden their cognitive structure. Recent evidence of transferability between knowledge in the arts and other curriculum domains is currently advanced as one useful approach. Taking a social realist approach to education in the arts this article argues that the meaning of cognitive transfer, including evidence of a cognitive structure shared with other domains, varies according to its representation within different values of arts educational practice. This article examines the impact of three frameworks of value on the evidence of cognitive transfer in the arts.

This study examines the role of cognitive transfer within the practices of education in the arts. Borrowing from the social realism of Searle (1996), Bourdieu (1977), and Boyd (1988) it takes an anti-reductionist approach to the explanation of institutional practice. Rather than reducing explanations of practical causation to raw evidence and theoretical ideas, social realists are more interested in the institutional terms under which evidence and ideas are applied. Understanding how evidence and ideas are put to work within a practice involves disclosing the ways in which meanings, values and intentions are ascribed to them by its institutions. Variations in these ascriptions explain how facts and theories are able to exert their influence over the conduct of practice within a domain. The value ascribed to scientific evidence by a practice is expressed as a function of its symbolic capital (Bourdieu, 1977). The symbolic capital attributed to evidence are those of its properties that can be traded in exchange for the advantages they contribute to the field. Thus the symbolic capital ascribed to cognitive transfer is redeemed through the value of the role it transacts in the arts educational "economy." It is argued here that the redeemability of cognitive transfer, its meaning for practice in arts education, varies in significance according to the terms under which the arts are valued within the curriculum.

Educational Practice in the Arts

The arts are part of a wider group of practices historically referred to as the practical arts. The practical arts include fields such as medicine and engineering (Brown, 1997). It is rare to find any of the present-day practical arts, other than the visual and performing arts, represented in the curricula of elementary and secondary schools. Because the practical arts are vocational they have been historically separated from the education of children. Their tradition of apprenticeship relegates them in most instances to post secondary education. Practical skills need to be rehearsed and coached. Practices are not easily reduced to the sequential rules and principles commonly found in school subjects. Although children learned pattern drawing and choral singing at school in the 19th century, singing and pattern drawing were regarded as general accomplishments at a time when mechanical means of reproduction were limited (Smith, 1966).

Before the advent of child psychology there was no tradition of acknowledging children's spontaneous expression in practical domains (Fletcher & Welton, 1912). The psychological repositioning of the concept of childhood early in the 20th century, however, changed the role played by subject matter in children's education (Cunningham, 1995). Subject matter began to be chosen for its contribution to the development of the child (Thorndike, 1914). This created a tension between psychological evidence and standards of specialized knowledge in the arts that continues to resonate in the literature of arts education today.

Three Claims of Value for the Arts in Education Claims of Inherent Value in the Arts

There are three contemporary arguments supporting claims for the importance of education in the arts. The first claim argues that educating children in the arts exposes them to subject content, qualities of experience, conceptual structuring, ways of life, depth of participation, and forms of subjective reasoning that cannot be gained through other subjects or by accidental exposure to the arts in everyday life (Eisner, 1972; Clark & Zimmerman, 1978). …