Sunday, July 31, 2011


This week I had the opportunity to consult informally with a local educational leader (I would use names, but I did not ask for permission so ... maybe another time). The Discussion focused on ways to implement and measure professional development in social studies education with an emphasis on American History in elementary schools. While it has been a while since I taught history (15 yrs to be exact) the knowledge I brought to the table was actually related to the work we've done in Arts LINC. Interestingly Nancy A., my long time collaborator in Arts LINC, is now a project director in a Teaching American History Grant.
The parallels between the two domains are uncanny. In the past decade, social studies in the elementary schools have been declining, despite the fact that it was one of No Child Left Behind "Core Subjects". The bottom line was that social studies were not tested at the elementary level and thus less and less attention, time and resources were directed at them over time. Social studies curriculum leaders find themselves needing to convince others that social studies matter for all students and that understanding of history can have added benefits to other domains through integration and 21st-century learning. In short they present an argument not much different than the one we presented over a decade ago in arts integration. Luckily, I could bring to the discussion our lessons of making integration work. So here they are:

1. Partner with teachers as co-researchers.
2. Allow for leadership opportunities and encourage initiative
3. Measure teacher implementation and student achievement and provide short feedback cycles of results
4. Integrate into existing curriculum (do not add instructional units), let teachers decide where and how much
5. Set clear yet flexible criteria for quality that will become your fidelity checks
6. Develop teacher's knowledge base/ model lessons
7. Visit teachers to teach and learn

Friday, July 22, 2011

Hedonic Adaptation and the State of the Arts

In his recent book Dan Ariely discussed Hedonic Adaptation, the ability of our mind to adjust to new baseline conditions. An example of short term adaptation is a smell that initially overwhelms us but after some time becomes tolerable and eventually recedes into the background. ariely claims that the Hedonic adaptation to larger changes is about 6 months (e.g. for a new car to not feel to us new anymore). I would like to stretch the concept to the idea of societal hedonic adaptation- when our expectations as a society and culture shift and a new baseline is created. A good example that jumps into my mind is the phenomena that has always fascinated me, the semblance of "normal" life in the height of the ghetto period during the holocaust. The idea that even under horrific conditions Jewish society maintained a new normal with social events, music, art, organization and celebration of life cycle events. Against all claims that our evil nature emerges when the thin veneer of civilazation is scraped by circumstance. That ability of society to adapt through the individual ability of hedonic adaptationcan be a blessing and a curse.
When I think about education I fear the same Heonic adaptation. We get used to excessive pointlessy invalid unreliable testing (see Berliner's post on that recently). So what oes that have to do with a blog about arts integration? As I was reading Ariely's book it occured to me that we have generation growing up with very little to no art in school, heck in the elementary years there is in some places just math and literacy. The same is true for large, complex, and integrated unit of studies. If this becomes he new standard, as past students become parents that will not demand arts education and arts integration for their kids because it has never existed for them then we will be in perpetual trouble. Kaiser pointed that out in his national tour two years ago as well.
Since I do not want to be glum I would like to point to an alternative. It may be that we need the arts in a way that resists hedonic adaptation. Ariely points out that we cannot adapt in this way to eveything. It cold be that he arts are so foundamental to us as humans that we will know them even in their absence and ask for them, just like the fact that music and art lived on in the bleak ghettos. Kurt Knecht suggested in a recent blog that we finally move away from the notion hat to create art one has to suffer, I suggest that we go one step further and claim that art does need us, instead we need art. It may very well be hat it is such a deep need that it defies conditions and we cannot exist for long without it.
This may also explain how after decades of neglect teachers are still seeking opportunities to integrate the arts into their classrooms embracing the complexity of self expression.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

And What about Architecture?

Yesterday I happened to go to the Joslyn in Omaha. I was struck by the collection and the superb way it was displayed but more than anything I was struck by the architecture. I admit to having a soft spot for architecture and everyday design, but I have not payed enough attention to the potential in education. Architecture is inherently interdisciplinary part engineering, part technology, part art, part social science. It is all around us, yet we do not spend much time teaching or learning it...
In early education the urge to build is always evident. Young children often build in blocks, Lego and assortments of other toys. As they get older these urges to build and create seem to be channeled to the world of play, while school becomes the serious place of thinking and being academic using our heads but not our hands, solving all problems in the abstract giving up on the trial and error process. Yes I am channeling a bit of Sir Ken Robinson here. While I do not think he is right about everything we definitely can find common ground here!

So my thought for the day is that with some thought we can integrate design process and architecture into our curricula- enhancing them while opening new avenues of creativity and thought for our students and for ourselves!