The interdisciplinary-arts approach crosses traditional subject matter boundaries by combining them. It requires the creation of a new breed of teacher–a renaissance teacher–trained to create and deliver interdisciplinary learning experiences in multiple art forms to children. This, according the Lentczner, marks the emergence of what could become a new paradigm for teacher preparation in arts education.
On the surface, the creation of a viable cadre of interdisciplinary arts teachers seems like an important way to infuse the arts into education. After all, as an forms, dance, art, music, and theatre share many common concerns. Elementary school teachers, who teach in self-contained classrooms, are expected to prepare lessons and teach up to thirteen different subjects each day. Couldn’t we create their equivalent–a group of generalist arts teachers who have the skills and knowledge to share the arts with students in an interdisciplinary fashion?While the idea of creating linkages between and among the arts is important, the notion of training large numbers of interdisciplinary teachers who can teach the arts as one unified, holistic subject in our schools, or of training elementary generalists to attempt this mission, is problematic for several important reasons.Order now
Chief among these reasons is the role of the arts teacher. This approach reverses most, if not all, of the reforms we have undertaken in education during the last twelve years. Much of the reform movement in education has been fueled by the conclusions of the Holmes Group, the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the College Entrance Examination Board, and upcoming reports and recommendations by the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards. In the arts, reform also has been stimulated by publications from working groups comprised of members of the professional arts education associations and the Getty Center for Education in the Arts and by the recent publication of parallel national standards for the teaching of each of the arts. Without exception, each of the major reports coming from these independent groups calls for more subject-matter knowledge on the part of teachers. In fact, the Holmes Report and A Nation Prepared: Teachers for the 21st Century from the Carnegie Foundation have helped spawn a proliferation of five-year programs in teacher education that are predicated on allowing prospective teachers to attain a bachelor’s degree in a specialized subject area before they spend a fifth year acquiring the pedagogical skills they need to communicate that knowledge in their classrooms.
In essence, the thrust of these and many other calls for reform lies in intensifying rather than diluting the content of education by strengthening and adding focus to the subject area knowledge or expertise of teachers. While each of us can think of examples of individuals who possess proclivities in more than one art form, most of those in the arts find that their talents lie in one specific art form, and indeed may lie in one medium or category of that art form. To expect large numbers of individuals to function as multitalented arts teachers who can sing, dance, play instruments, read music, choreograph dances, conduct, draw, paint, sculpt, and delve into interactive media is simply beyond the scope of human capability. In this day and age, to expect less of interdisciplinary arts teachers is certainly to trivialize one or more of the arts they are being asked to teach. In addition to production/performance knowledge of several art forms, interdisciplinary arts teachers will need to be well rounded in the history, theory, criticism, and aesthetic stances of each art form they teach in the specific cultures they intend to cover. This means that interdisciplinary arts teachers will have to be trained in entirely new ways and will become generalists comparable to self-contained elementary classroom teachers who must prepare and present lessons in a wide variety of academic disciplines.
My discomfort with this approach lies in the burden on these teachers of being responsible for communicating information from such a wide variety of artistic fields. Interdisciplinary arts teachers would be required to rely on (currently nonexistent) teachers’ guides in the same way that many elementary classroom teachers do. To complicate matters even more, these “renaissance” teachers would be asked to facilitate the acquisition of knowledge in several fields during a time when new data are being generated at an ever increasing rate. It has been said that when Leonardo da Vinci was alive, it was possible for one individual to know everything that had been discovered. In other words, at that time, one human brain had the physical capacity to encompass all knowledge in all fields.
Five centuries later, it is abundantly clear that even the most brilliant and well educated in our world can never attain an encyclopedic knowledge of even one field, let alone several. Finally, because of this movement toward increased subject-matter expertise, many undergraduate colleges of education are closing their doors. Instead of majoring in elementary education, ostensibly the most interdisciplinary of all undergraduate majors, many prospective teachers now major in history or English. Even though it is still fairly common for these “specialists” to be asked to teach all subjects in school, more and more elementary schools are moving away from generalists who preside over one group of children all day toward a departmentalized situation where children encounter teachers according to academic specialties.
This move does have its drawbacks, primarily the compartmentalization of learning into discrete academic categories. To address this situation, schools are working hard to provide grade-level teachers with common planning time so that they can explore and utilize linkages among disciplines. This combination of teachers’ desire for more academic knowledge with the need to build connections from subject area to subject area shows that the tendency in schools is toward integrating the curriculum rather than pursuing an interdisciplinary approach. As far as the arts are concerned, in states where specialists are not employed, it is up to the general classroom teachers to create experiences in each of the arts, a task for which they rightly feel ill prepared. After all, how many art, music, theatre, and dance courses must the average history major take during undergraduate programs of study? And how many arts courses will education majors be able to fit into a fifth year of preprofessional training that has already been heavily dedicated to teaching? Integrating-the-Arts ModelThe second approach, the integrating-the-arts model, also seeks to create parity for the arts in education. Like the interdisciplinary-arts model, this approach also has its advantages and shortcomings.
Historically, balance and equality have been lacking whenever attempts have been made to integrate the arts with different subject areas. During the late 1960s and early 1970s (during the last era of educational reform), the proliferation of humanities programs at the secondary school level endeavored to marry such disciplines as art, music, history, and literature. Unfortunately, rather than being allowed to function as equals, the arts were often used as the sugar coating that made the social studies/literature pill easier for students to swallow. Even today, art and music are often included in gifted and talented programs more for their popularity with students than for the contributions they can make as disciplines that each contain a body of knowledge in itself worthy of serious and prolonged study. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that traditional academic heavyweights like history and English literature were emphasized in humanities programs. Perhaps teachers of the arts were too optimistic during the last period of educational reform in trying to compete for equal billing during a time when cognition was so narrowly defined.
But, given the current state of affairs in U. S. education, now may be the time for a new venture into integrating the arts in education. The desire for increased subject area knowledge on the part of teachers could work to our advantage as we seek to secure positions for specialists in art, music, theatre, and dance in our schools. A ProposalAn important component of the educational reform movement in visual arts education during the past decade has revolved around arts educators’ emerging sensitivity to expanding the arts education curriculum to include content from the four disciplines of art. In many schools, multifaceted art programs have been created that elevate the arts from the position of soft, semirecreational, quasi-therapeutic respites in the school day to programs that seek to develop multiple forms of perceiving, feeling, and knowing while simultaneously providing opportunities for self-expression and transmitting a body of knowledge about art.
These aims, however, are difficult to achieve under the best of circumstances. When students spend less than 2 percent of the school week studying art, as they do in many parts of our country, it becomes virtually impossible to achieve these aims. Even in a state like South Carolina, which has been highly supportive of arts education, the question for arts educators also revolves around making our arts programs more powerful, relevant, and efficient. The last time that most U. S. students are required to study any form of the arts is in middle school.
Therefore, middle school, rather than secondary school, presents an opportunity for reaching virtually all students. During middle school, many students study art for one quarter and music for another, or some variation on this model. Some also study dance in their physical education programs, and a very few study theatre. Even though there is not a clear balance among these four school art forms, middle schools currently possess the resources, the staff, and the opportunity to attempt to integrate the arts with each other. An integrated arts program would effectively sidestep the problems that marked humanities programs of the 1960s and 1970s because the arts would be more clearly bonded to each other and could complement and reinforce each other rather than compete for student attention.
The art forms share terminology with each other, and each values feeling as a way of knowing in a way that may not be so clearly articulated in some other academic areas. Finally, each of the art forms shares the same four disciplines–art history, art criticism, art production/performance, and aesthetics–which could be used to draw the curricular linkages that are so often missing in U. S. general education. Putting Theory into PracticeWhere would such an integrated arts program find its resources? How would it be organized? How much would it cost? My proposal for creating an integrated arts program at the middle school level would be predicated upon making the best possible use of current staff and resources. In other words, as a pragmatist, I propose change that, because it minimizes increases in costs, is acceptable to education decision makers not only during a period of educational reform, when funding for such initiatives is temporarily available, but also during those long years between periods of reform.
First, this integrated arts program must be based on a team-teaching approach that utilizes the expertise of trained specialists in art, music, dance, and theatre education. Currently, middle schools in virtually all states employ specialists in art, music, and physical education. Many physical education majors have strong backgrounds in movement or dance. At some point in the not-too-distant future, teacher certification in dance may become more common. But until then, we should seek to make use of the expertise currently offered by our physical education instructors.
Theatre, also, is not adequately represented at the elementary and middle school levels, but until there are more theatre specialists, creative writing could be substituted for theatre, particularly if significant time is spent in the class studying, writing, and performing plays. How would such a program be organized? Instead of attending art classes every day for six to nine weeks and then switching to music every day for six to nine weeks, then to theatre, and finally to dance, “block scheduling” students would allow them to attend art, music, dance, and theatre for a double period on four successive days each week of an entire semester and then to meet together with all four arts teachers in a large group on the fifth day of the cycle for the semester (see table 1). As you can see, the total length of the program remains the same–one semester–and the staffing, with the exception of theatre or creative writing, is also the same. The major differences lie in the team-teaching approach, which allows the arts teachers to plan together and reinforce the students’ learning experiences in the arts program. For the first time in the history of arts education, opportunities for developing the abilities to respond, produce or perform, appreciate, value, and create a cultural/historical context for all the arts become attainable. The content for the integrated arts program would be drawn from the four artistic disciplines and sequenced so that the themes, concepts, styles, cultures, and periods covered in each of the visual arts would also be covered and reinforced in the others.
The cultural, critical, social, historical, and aesthetic implications of such in-depth study are enormous compared to the piecemeal way in which we currently cover the arts. At present, we can only guess at how much more powerful and efficient our arts programs would be. But the thought of middle school students studying the works, mastering the techniques, and examining the aesthetic beliefs of the impressionist painters while listening to and performing the music that was being played, seeing and dancing the ballets and folk dances that were being performed, and reading and performing excerpts from the literature and theatre of Western Europe at that time is more than a bit enticing. Indeed, how much more relevant would schooling become if an equal amount of time and effort was spent in exploring the culture of native Americans or African Americans through an in-depth examination of their art works, while listening to and performing the music they played, seeing and dancing the tribal and folk dances that were part of the everyday lives of their ancestors, and reading and performing excerpts from the oral histories that have been passed down from generation to generation by members of these or many other American and non-Western cultures? Arts programs in our schools have been based on gifted and talented models of education. Traditionally, as children passed through our educational system, we have tended to encourage those who could produce or perform and discourage those who appeared to be less physically or overtly dexterous.
In short, we have tended to concentrate on developing the gifts of a talented minority rather than creating generations of connoisseurs of the arts. Our programs have suffered accordingly. Integrating the arts with each other could well begin to reverse this trend by providing multiple opportunities for achieving success while studying the arts. How many new avenues for success in studying the arts could be uncovered in addition to producing or performing is an open question that begs to be investigated. Finally, you may think that my vision for an integrated arts program is overly broad, lacking clarity or definition.
In part, I must agree. These musings are meant to stimulate, not prescribe. There is no one right way to achieve the kinds of aims I have placed before you in this brief article. One cannot and should not attempt to “teacher-proof” a curriculum by creating a curricular cookbook bursting with can’t-fail teaching recipes. Teachers must tailor their curricular, and their pedagogical, efforts to meet the needs of their students, and the approach outlined here is an attempt to encourage the kind of unified thinking and curricular bridge building that we so desperately need in our educational system.
If we can integrate the arts with each other, we can accomplish two vital goals. We can once again serve as a model for the rest of the curriculum (as we are currently doing in the areas of evaluation and assessment), and we can make it possible for arts educators to participate significantly in the restructuring of general education with the arts at its core. Integrating the Arts with the Rest of the CurriculumHistorically, we have failed to carve out a niche for the arts in education that makes us equal partners in the educational process. Perhaps the leap from frill to essential, from fluff to requirement, was simply too great a vault for any field to make. However, once the arts have been successfully integrated with each other, there is a very real possibility that they may be able to document their academic relevance and intellectual discipline to prove that they merit full partnership in the educational system.
The question for us as individual teachers of the arts and as teachers in related fields, therefore, is not simply, How do we get better at doing what we do? Rather, we should ask, What must we do to move our fields into the educational mainstream? As efforts to refine and strengthen the general school curriculum continue, infusing the arts into general education is a goal we must accomplish. This goal, however, will not be realized through the creation of a new breed of interdisciplinary arts teachers who, I fear, could never hope to do justice to the art forms they seek to teach. A more reasoned approach to making the arts more central to education is to eliminate the isolation that arts teachers encounter in their teaching situation and to make it possible for arts teachers to work together, to exchange ideas, and to plan in teams as we look to guarantee the future of the arts in education. The goal of integrating the arts with each other and then with general education certainly merits serious exploration.