Photo Credit Scott Robinson, CC License, some rights reserved

California Arts Education

This posting is a response to fellow UC Humanities Forum blogger Satoko Kakihara´s posting “Everybody Clapped,” which was a lovely and passionate argument for the arts, arts experiences for children, and more. Given that this conversation is near to my heart, and given the length of response that developed as I wrote, I thought it might be better off as a posting all its own, rather than an over long comment.

I´ll start by saying (in direct response to the original post´s comments) that I´m excited about this conversation, and it continues to be desperately relevant. Arts education in California has taken quite a turbulent ride in recent years, and the horizon promises more of the same. Oddly, though California has more arts-related businesses and more people working in the creative industries (this includes, for example, Hollywood, the television industry, Silicon Valley CGI firms, etc) than any other state (California Arts Council), we are consistently at the very bottom of the list in terms of state per capita spending on arts education in K-12 schools. Governor Schwarzenneger was actually a pretty effective advocate for the arts (despite his part in the continuing erosion of higher education funding), and he put in place some committed funding for several consecutive years, but ongoing budget problems for the state have rolled back many of the gains (such as they were) from those years.

It’s really kind of shocking to see some of the radical changes in K-12 arts programs over the last 20 years… music programs widely gutted, dance all but non-existent, and a majority of arts instruction becoming the responsibility of classroom teachers who often have little or no training in the arts. There is some really exciting work being done, though, especially through various arts integration practices– for example using drama, music, and visual arts to teach K-12 core curriculum (math, social studies, language arts, etc).

There’s also a mounting body of research that suggests that students learn core curriculum more effectively when engaging the material through arts based learning methods-see, for example, The DREAM Project (Developing Reading Education through Arts Methods) currently being administered as a partnership between Center ARTES at CSU San Marcos (about an hour’s drive south of Riverside) and the San Diego County Office of Education. What’s more, when this process is governed by California state Visual and Performing Arts standards, research also indicates that the arts integration practices help students develop core competencies in the arts that they would likely otherwise not have the chance to learn (there is a lot of compelling research on all of these subjects and more here).

It is, I think, important that post-secondary education constituencies remain aware of the struggles for quality arts education at the K-12 levels, especially considering that we all share many of the same obstacles to moving our work progressively forward: the decreasing state funding commitments and a crisis of legitimation for disciplines that do not produce financial revenue (there are more kinds of revenue than monetary, to be certain), just to name two.


For interested parties, here are a few great places to go for info and internet activism:

National level:

Americans for the Arts


State level:

California Arts Council

California Arts Advocates

California Alliance for Arts Education


UPDATE–  2/15/12

These news stories came out in San Diego county newspapers last week, discussing some really remarkable findings from DREAM Project (mentioned above) research. Also note, at the end of the NCT story, how the student describes not only her ability to learn through the arts, but the impact of that learning on her confidence as a learner. Very moving.

SAN MARCOS: Arts education program boosts reading scores
North County Times
“Art has the power to inspire, inform, and obviously the results of DREAM show that art has the power to educate,” Cal State San Marcos President Karen Haynes said. DREAM —- Developing Reading Education through Arts Methods —- is a four-year

U-T San Diego
“By using everything from performance to puppetry, CSUSM faculty helped local elementary school teachers create lessons to boost reading,” said CSUSM

About the author

Richard Hunt is a third year student in the Department of English at UC Riverside and is currently preparing for his PhD exams. He received an MA in Literature and Writing Studies from California State University San Marcos, with a thesis on gender and values in U.S. culture and politics. Current research interests include 20th Century U.S. Literature, Ethnic Rhetorics, and traditions of African American and Afro-diasporic musics as social and philosophic discourse. More specifically, his research investigates the changing nature of experiences and representations of subjectivity in these fields, also exploring the circulation and effects, through digital media, of rhetorics of race, ethnicity, whiteness, and neoliberalism in public and political discourse.