Cultural Literacy, Arts Education, and Our Children

By Orlofsky, Diane De Nicola | National Forum, Summer 1994 | Go to article overview

Cultural Literacy, Arts Education, and Our Children


Orlofsky, Diane De Nicola, National Forum


We all have heard, at one time or another, individuals with "celebrity status" announce that having a child has changed their perspective on the world. The statement usually is followed by a message about their involvement in some philanthropic, charitable, or environmental endeavor. With the mild cynicism of a childless academic, I used to regard such disclosures as shallow, self-congratulatory, and as a means to garner publicity. Until now. As I gaze at my one-month-old daughter, all of my own ethical, spiritual, moral, and philosophical beliefs and concerns take on other dimensions. It is as if someone were shining a spotlight behind what I thought was a deep and rich value system, only to reveal additional layers of feelings, issues, and concerns that, for the child's sake, demand some kind of response.

I want her to grow up in a culturally rich environment where the study of the arts is encouraged simply because of what they are and what they can help her to become--a thinking, sensitive, imaginative, creative, rational, and emotional human being. Yet a pervasive "bottom-line mentality" seems to relegate the arts to the margins of society. The evidence of this way of thinking can be seen in the struggle for survival by some public school arts programs as well as by arts organizations. For too long, the citizens of this country have failed to acknowledge and support arts education programs as essential to children's basic education and part of their cultural birthright.

However, two recent events have made me, an arts educator, optimistic about the future of arts education. First of all, "with the passage of Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the arts are written into federal law. The law acknowledges that the arts are a core subject, as important to education as English, mathematics, history, civics and government, geography, science, and foreign language" (National Standards for Arts Education). Inclusion in Goals 2000 did not come easily and brought a collective cheer from educators and arts advocates around the country.

The second exciting development involves the drafting of the National Standards for Arts Education. These are voluntary world-class academic standards describing what every U.S. school child (K-12) should know and be able to do in music, dance, theatre, and the visual arts. The Standards provide "a vision of competence and educational effectiveness, but without creating a mold into which all arts programs must fit." The Standards are concerned with the results (in the form of student learning) that come from a basic education in arts, not with how those results ought to be delivered . . . . In other words, while the Standards provide educational goals and not a curriculum, they can help improve all types of arts instruction" (National Standards for Arts Education).

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