Soft Boundaries: Re-Visioning the Arts and Aesthetics in American Education

By Claire Detels | Go to book overview

8
Towards Integrative, Interdisciplinary Education in the Arts and Aesthetics

In 1983, cultural critic Christopher Lasch opened his speech to a conference on "The Future of Musical Education in America" with the following remarks:

I accepted the invitation to address this distinguished gathering, I confess, in the hope that it would give me the chance to talk about a number of things I have decided opinions about: Beethoven's over-use of the diminished seventh; his addiction to chords in root position; the canard that Schumann couldn't orchestrate; the critical neglect of Ludwig Spohr; the Brahms-Wagner controversy (I believe the Wagnerites were dead wrong); the need for more compositions featuring prominent but easy parts for the viola. 218

Lasch's remarks were tongue-in-cheek; he actually went on to address the need for music and humanities scholars to challenge the narrow consumeristic approach to education and life in late industrial America, instead of just participating in specialized professional debates. Unfortunately, Lasch's provocative suggestion was neglected in the discussions following his lecture. 219 In the context of a conference on music curriculum, it was easiest for the participants to focus on music alone rather than on the larger interdisciplinary challenge of rehumanizing American education and life.

The trouble is, under the single-disciplinary structure of American education today, there is almost no opportunity to consider interdisciplinary approaches or challenges in the arts, no matter how important they may be for improving that education. As discussed in Part I, the arts exist in our educational institutions as separate disciplines of art (visual arts), music, dance, and drama, in which concepts and competencies are defined and evaluated by single-disciplinary specialists. Single-disciplinary specialization in the arts has led to extraordinary levels of complexity and virtuosity in the areas of research and practice, but it has also had the effect of isolating the specialists who teach about the arts from each other and from contacts and influences from other academic disciplines.

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