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Boston Public Schools as Arts-Integrated Learning Organizations

Developing a High Standard of Culture for All
An Address to the Council of Elementary Principals Meeting
Boston, MA Public Schools

May 18, 1995

Eric Oddleifson, Chairman CABC


Children come to school as integrated people with thoughts and feelings, words and pictures, ideas and fantasies. They are intensely curious about the world. They are scientists, artists, musicians, historians, dancers and runners, tellers of stories, and mathematicians. The challenge we face as teachers is to use the wealth they bring us. They come with a two-sided mind. We must encourage them to use it, to develop both types of thinking so that they have access to the fullest possible range of mental abilities.
- - Linda Williams, Teaching for the Two-Sided Mind

To learn because you have to is one thing; to learn because you want to is quite another thing. And that is my overarching criterion: school is a place a very young child enters with awe, curiosities, expectations, questions, and the desire to feel competent and recognized, and that young child should have those personal characteristics when he or she finishes formal schooling. For those characteristics to be extinguished, to go underground, to get expressed primarily in fantasy is to impoverish a lifetime. If when a child is graduated from high school that child is motivated to learn more about self and world, then I would say that schooling has achieved its overarching purpose.
- - Seymour Sarason, Parental Involvement and the Political Principle: Developing a Culture of High Standards for All

 Contrary to what you might be expecting, I am not here to simply make the case for more arts in schools. I am here to suggest that if we are ever to see the day when high standards in all academic subjects, including the arts, are not only met but exceeded by most, if not all, of our children, the way-and indeed perhaps the only way-to get there is through the arts. The adoption of this suggestion by the schools, community stakeholders, and taxpayers will require a radical shift- a contextual change-not only in how we view children, and our teaching relationship with them, but also in how we learn, and even how we view the arts themselves. Viewing the arts not as finished product but as a search for high quality which is available to all regardless of talent, by recognizing that the arts provide necessary "tools" for thinking which are unavailable elsewhere; and in understanding that a quality education requires bringing heart and hand into balance with head, we quickly conclude that high educational standards simply cannot be met by most of our children without the arts.

There are two rules in speech making. The first-never address an audience that knows more about the subject than you do. You know, of course, infinitely more about educational practice than I ever will.

The second rule is, never talk for more than 20 minutes. I have bargained for 30. If you stop listening before I have stopped talking, I do have hard copy available of my remarks, including the charts.

This talking business is interesting. On the one hand, my friends at the Waldorf schools around the country tell me the single most effective thing they do-is storytelling-both for the teachers, and the kids. So-talking is good.

But, on the other hand, talking is only one way we think, and express intelligence. The most imbedded misunderstanding about the nature of intelligence is that language is required for thought. This simply is not true. This misconception has marginalized the vastly important contribution the arts can make to education. We think in several other "symbol systems" besides language, including the use of line and color in drawing and painting, in musical notes when we sing, or play an instrument, or in physical motion when we dance. We will soon see a high degree of intelligence expressed by both the Trotter School Choir and the members of the troupe from the Art of Black Dance and Music. As Martha Graham said, "If I could say it, I wouldn't have to dance it."

Some of us cannot express ourselves easily in language, but we can in other ways-ways which are provided through the arts. And if this expression is pursued with the goal of quality, and with high standards, it becomes the highest possible expression of human thought.

We are all trying to move education from the "select and sort" model to the "success for all" model. In order to select and sort, intelligence is first measured, and then distributed on a bell curve. The fallacy in this is the assumption that things which cannot be measured are not important-that qualities are less important than quantities.

Fortunately, it is science itself which is now challenging this assumption. As a result, competence in perceptive and expressive skills which demonstrate knowledge of qualities are now understood to be as important to understanding as competence in math and science.

If we are to move from the "select and sort" model to the "success for all" model, we must understand that intelligence comes in many forms. Yale's Robert Sternberg talks of the triarchic mind, where "street smarts" are as important as linguistic, and logical, mathematical capacities. Howard Gardner has introduced us to his Theory of Multiple Intelligences. His intelligences look like this:

                                                                  A multiple intelligences pie chart
Figure 1

and come in a variety of gift boxes (Table I) .

We have been looking at intelligence much too narrowly. When viewed more broadly, we find that all children are gifted and talented. Remarkable things happen when we see all kids as assets, rather than possessed of various faults which must be corrected.

Children in schools which teach the arts as basic academic subjects do much better than other kids, in many different ways.

The College Entrance Examination Board announced that in 1993 students who studied arts and music scored significantly higher than the national average on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Students who had participated in acting/play production, music performance and appreciation, drama appreciation, and art history, scored an average of 31 to 50 points higher for the math and verbal sections. The Board also stated that students with long- term arts study (four years or more) tend to score significantly higher on the SAT than those with less coursework in the arts.

Additionally, not only do children learn the 3 R's better and faster, but they behave differently. My favorite description of what happens comes from Ron Berger, a sixth grade teacher in Shutesbury, who talks of a school culture of high standards. He writes,


The infusion of arts has had a profound effect on student understanding, investment, and standards. As a whole, students not only do well on standardized testing measures, but importantly and demonstrably do well in real life measures of learning. They are capable and confident readers, writers, and users of math; they are strong thinkers and workers; they treat others well.

I have been curious to find out why, because training in the arts is seen to be extra- curricular, not related to the serious business of educating our kids, and suitable only for those with talent. Howard Gardner told me that training in the arts develops constructive habits of discipline, and mind. Our research indicates that many other benefits are derived from study in the arts, as Figure 2 shows.

The benefits of the Arts in the Curriculum pie chart
Figure 2

Stanford's Elliot Eisner suggests that our difficulty in recognizing the benefits of the arts comes through our own fundamental misunderstandings about the very nature of mind, knowledge, and intelligence. Besides believing that language is required for thought, we think that logic is necessary to express intelligence. Not true. Poetry, which employs language, is not only not necessarily logical, but considered by many to be the highest form of thought. We believe that the senses are mere receptors of stimuli, to be mediated and "made sense of'' by intellect. Not true. Both the cognitive psychologists and neurologists (those that look at the workings of the brain) now know that the senses are direct forms of cognition, and understanding.

With their power to develop the imagination, the arts are no longer a luxury, but a necessity. I watched Bill Moyer's series on Violence in America, part of which was titled, "Does Television Kill?" One scene showed a school-aged child, sitting on his bed, on a weekend, watching television all day long. He lived in a neighborhood where it was no longer safe to go outside. A commentator observed afterwards that television has deprived our children of the use of their imaginations, and in doing so has deprived them of hope. He said we are creating a new kind of human being, one who has lost faith in the goodness of life, and embraces violence as the only available way to solve problems.

By encouraging the use of the imagination, the arts are the antidote to this terrible situation. No less a person than Albert Einstein has observed that imagination is more important than knowledge. And, in business, imaginative employees are highly sought after.

Robert Root-Bernstein, a biologist and cellist, suggests that we need what he terms "tools of thought" to give meaning to facts and to facilitate creative or transformational thinking. These tools, most of which are embodied in the arts include the use of analogy and metaphor, pattern forming and recognition, visual and kinesthetic thinking, modeling, playacting, manual manipulation, and aesthetics. He believes that the mind and senses alike must be trained equally and in tandem to perceive and to imagine, and points out that few, if any, of these tools of thought are in our standard science curricula. Without these tools of thought kids have difficulty in "connecting," or constructing meaning from an assembly of facts or bits of information.

Over the last thirty years, the arts have become marginalized, and are seen as irrelevant by many of us -- layperson and educator alike. But by teaching the arts to all children as the important academic subjects they are, children gain skills to imagine, and to achieve, what they are seeking in their lives. The arts awaken "the craving to comprehend" in all of us-as Herman Hesse so beautifully describes it in that artistic piece of literature, The Glass Bead Game. The skills our children master through the arts give them back control over their lives. The best possible gift to them from all of us would be hope, imagination, and control.

A renowned Japanese master mathematics teacher, whose nearly two million students have demonstrated incredible math ability beyond their years, was asked the following question. "What would you say is the most effective way of heightening children's mental ability at the earliest possible stages?" He answered, "The finest start for infants is to sing songs. This helps . . . to elevate their powers of understanding, and they register astounding speed in learning math and languages."

In South Carolina there is a waiting list of 1200 parents wishing to enroll their children at the arts-based Ashley River School, including those as yet unborn! Ashley River, which accepts everybody on a first come, first served basis, has the second highest academic standing in the city and county, exceeded only by a high school for the academically gifted- even though one third of the students have learning disabilities and the school is located in one of the city's poorest areas. Ashley River's test scores are 40 - 50 percent higher than county and state averages (Table 2).

The Key School, an arts-integrated school in Indianapolis, and the subject of an ABC Special called "Common Miracles," is viewed as possibly the best elementary school in the country by the National Education Association. It was started by an arts teacher who became fed up with the status quo, and wanted to offer quality education for all children.

At the John Eliot School in Needham, fourth graders when tested for critical thinking skills last year, were first in the entire state.

High schoolers at the FACE school in Montreal achieve at a rate 20 - 25 percent higher on average in hard academic subjects than their counterparts in other Montreal high schools, even though one reason they enroll at FACE is because they are weak academically to start (Figure 3).

Figure 3

In Germany students entering university are allowed to skip their freshman year, if their entrance exam scores are sufficiently high. Forty percent of over 1,000 Waldorf school students interviewed were found to have qualified, compared to a national average of only six percent. Leading educators have a high regard for Waldorf education. Ernest Boyer remarked,


One of the strengths of the Waldorf curriculum is its emphasis on the arts and the rich use of the spoken word through poetry and storytelling. The way the lessons integrate traditional subject matter is, to my knowledge, unparalleled. Those in the public school reform movement have some important things to learn from what Waldorf educators have been doing for many years. It is an enormously impressive effort toward quality education.

Thomas Armstrong, author of Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom, said,


Waldorf education embodies in a truly organic sense all of Howard Gardner's seven intelligences. Rudolph Steiner's vision is a whole one, not simply an amalgam of the seven intelligences. Many schools are currently attempting to construct curricula based on Gardner's model simply through an additive process (what can we add to what we have already got?). Steiner's approach, however, was to begin with a deep inner vision of the child and the child's needs and build a curriculum around that vision.

Finally, Robert S. Peterkin, Director of Urban Superintendents Program, Harvard Graduate School of Education and former Superintendent of Milwaukee Public Schools, commented recently,


Waldorf is healing education . . . It is with a sense of adventure that the staff of Milwaukee Public Schools embraces the Waldorf concept in an urban multicultural setting. It is clear that Waldorf principles are in concert with our goals for educating all children.

For the arts to make the contribution of which they are capable, we must reconsider the whole nature of school. This requires a contextual change, rather than tinkering at the edges, according to Renfo Manning, superintendent of schools in Orange County, Virginia, in his book Schools for All Learners: Beyond the Bell Curve. Contextual change challenges the underlying assumptions of an organization, and requires shifts in its "culture." As Karen Gallas, a first and second grade teacher in Brookline, MA, points out, the process of integrating the arts into the curriculum changes both what we study in schools, and how we study it.

In adopting a new common curriculum the Province of Ontario in Canada is doing exactly this .1

The curriculum sets forth ten cross-curricular outcomes and embraces four major areas of study; which are,


  • Language
  • Self and Society
  • The Arts
  • Math/Science/Technology

The new, integrated curriculum represents a radical, or contextual shift- from a time-based, subject-based approach to an outcome-based approach. ASCD writes,


Among Ontario educators three basic assumptions are changing. The purpose of education is no longer seen as maintaining the status quo but as ensuring success for all students,. Content is no longer the only thing considered worth knowing; higher-order thinking skills and interpersonal life skills are now also valued. And the accepted principles of teaching and learning are shifting from the traditional transmission model to an integrated, constructivist approach that is based on a whole different set of beliefs.

CABC proposes an integrated, constructivist approach based on a whole different set of beliefs, namely, that the senses and the intellect, or our perceptive, intuitive, emotional selves and our rational, logical, mathematical selves be educated equally and in tandem, and that the arts become the core of the core curriculum. Only in this way will schools move beyond the bell curve, from the "select and sort" model to the "success for all" model where high standards in all subjects are met, and exceeded, by most students.

We propose a new context for American education, namely, arts-integrated learning, for both students, and teachers. This new context requires a paradigm shift, from viewing the arts as suitable for an elite few, to necessary manifestations of our multiple intelligences, available to all teachers and all children.

Figure 4

It requires us to redefine the arts, from product (the painting, the performance) to a process, or search, for high quality. Robert Pirsig, the author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, observes, "The arts are high quality endeavor. That is all that needs to be said."

When viewed in this light, the arts engender a schoolwide culture of high standards, as Ron Berger will indicate.

An arts-integrated school (Figure 4) will have the following characteristics:


  • It recognizes that all children are gifted and talented, and success for all is possible. In recognizing diverse learning styles, students' multiple intelligences, and the need to integrate head, heart, and hand, an arts integrated school embraces education both in and through the arts. Its goal is to awaken a "craving to comprehend" in all children. Its overarching purpose is to insure that when a child is graduated from high school that child is motivated to learn more about self, and world.
  • It is a school where teachers, administrators, parents, and students believe in the value of the arts for their own sakes, as forms of cognition, as well as for their ability to illuminate other academic subjects, and as ways to exhibit understanding.
  • A meaningful part of the school day is devoted to teaching the arts to all children as basic disciplines with high standards. In this manner the arts form the core of a schoolwide culture of high standards.
  • Additionally, an arts-integrated school teaches curricular material around themes or units where the arts illuminate other subjects. It allows time for arts educators, and general classroom teachers to work together to develop and teach an arts-integrated, project-based curriculum.
  • An arts-integrated school supports the use of exhibitions which draw on various art forms, such as theatre, the visual arts, and dance to demonstrate knowledge.

Teaching the arts as primary subjects during the school day-in effect reversing the current educational paradigm which consigns them to "extra" curricular status-has enormously powerful results. They teach both the process of learning and discipline; they motivate; they awaken the imagination; they address strengths, not weaknesses; they teach cultural respect and require meaningful interaction between students, and students and their teachers. They increase the yield from knowledge, as they teach the ways knowledge is applied in the real world.

The Boston policy in support of schools as arts-integrated learning organizations is already in place. The school committee has adopted the recommendations of the Arts in Education Task Force, which were prefaced by this statement:


We believe the arts-inclusive of music, visual arts, theatre, dance, and literary arts-are central to the education of every student. We recommend that this philosophy be embraced by the Boston Public Schools.

The Task Force suggests that the school committee support two parallel foundations for learning through the arts: sequential arts curriculum accessible to all students, and opportunities to learn many subjects through arts infusion.

It recommends that all five disciplines of the arts be established as a part of the core curriculum, K-12, and that, over the five year period of 1995- 1999, curriculum be phased in, and professional and staff development be provided.

It further recommends that,


Parent and community understanding and involvement, investment, and support for arts in education in the Boston Public Schools be broadened. This policy recognizes the need for considerable emphasis to be placed on informing administrators, funders, parents, and the general public as to the many outcomes and value of arts in education.

The Task Force also recommends creating an equitable, system-wide funding mechanism with a budget of $88 per child for arts discipline instruction, and $40 per child for arts infusion into other curriculum areas. Art supplies will be an additional $15 per child.

The task force recommends working with a consortium of Boston funders to create pooled funds to support various partnership and special initiative projects.

Two of these initiatives are already under way. One is called "Arts Are Academic." It is a joint venture between ' three public schools and selected members of the Boston arts community, and places appropriate emphasis on teacher professional development. The other initiative is the "Boston Music Education Collaborative," with plans to reach 6,000 children in the public schools.

Another model is one operating in Chicago called the Chicago Arts Partnership in Education (CAPE) funded by Marshall Field's, and the MacArthur Foundation, among others. Planning grants of $60,000 were made available to Chicago schools, and operating grants of $30,000 per year for six years for implementation. Forty-two schools are participating in this program, which draws together teachers, parents and the Chicago Arts Community. Again, its focus is on teacher professional development, so that when the funding stops, the benefits remain.

In inviting me to speak, Dale Kalkofen suggested I help develop a more thorough understanding of what an effective arts education and arts integration program actually look like. I have included in your handouts information on Ashley River's schoolwide goals, primary goals of the classroom teacher as well as the arts specialist, a description of the features unique to Ashley River, and a class schedule for the arts.

Additionally, in mandating 200 minutes of the arts per week for all children, the Province of Saskatchewan has developed an entire curriculum, K-9, for the visual arts, music, theatre and dance that can be taught either by the general classroom teacher, or the specialist. This curriculum is available to you and your teachers, either in hard copy or on disk.

The costs of designing and implementing this program in Saskatchewan have been modest. The startup cost of developing the curriculum was approximately $60 per student, and teacher training, $1,000 per teacher. Implementing the curriculum through the use of specialists is estimated to cost $200 per student, and only $12 per student if the general classroom teacher is asked to teach it.

Finally, in the handout material you will find extensive information on the Waldorf schools, including their success with a school for juvenile offenders in California, as well as descriptive material on the summer Waldorf Teaching Institute in Sacramento.

To effectively implement the farseeing Boston school committee's policy will take more than words (and even money). It will take teacher, and community buy-in to the whole idea of establishing Boston schools as arts- integrated learning organizations, or "success for all" schools. This cannot happen overnight. Apart from teachers getting comfortable with the idea of teaching artfully, we have the problem of selling the idea of school as arts- integrated learning organization both to parents, and the broader community.

We believe this will require a lengthy community discussion of fundamental school reform issues, including the move towards constructivist classrooms and approaches to, as well as the costs of, teacher professional development. The examination of the arts' role in the curriculum, together with the issues surrounding teacher learning, could be the catalyst for broad systemic or contextual change within the Boston school system. The arts policy adopted by the school board provides the entry point for such a dual examination.

In the April issue of Phi Delta Kappan, Ann Lieberman observes,


The two conflicting assumptions about the best way for teachers to learn- either through direct instruction by outsiders or through their own involvement in defining and shaping the problems of practice-stem from deep-rooted philosophical notions about learning.

Teacher (and community) buy-in to the case for the arts will require examination of deep-rooted assumptions about learning, and about the nature of mind, knowledge, and intelligence.

We suggest that a starting point for such an examination be the idea that all Boston Public Schools become, over time, arts-integrated learning organizations-so that high educational standards can be met, and that all children will leave school motivated to learn more about self and world. Such an examination may take several years. There are no quick fixes. Yet at the end, Boston will have a community-based, high-performance school system-one which will lead the nation. The community resources are here; the desire is here; the policy is in place. There is now only the need to carry it forward, and to find the tools for you to use.

If we can awaken the "craving to comprehend" in all our children, and give them back the use of their imaginations, and hope, we will have done our job.

More on this Topic:



1. Scott Willis. "Making Integrated Curriculum a Reality". Education Update. ASCD. Vol. 37, No. 4. Many, 1995.


Copyright © 1997 CABC
Center for Arts in the Basic Curriculum

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