Thursday, June 5, 2008

Sights & Sounds of the Art of choice

My eyes danced across fabulous paint strokes & creations, my ears enveloped themselves in the wonderful tones of vocal & instrumental performance at this visual & performing arts high school

What talent. Our fluctuating cohort of educator hopefuls spent its third and final day of public schools visitations at a magnet school geared towards the visual and performance arts. Four music students played pieces on the acoustic guitar for us as a welcome, to warm us up for student-led tours and classroom visits.

I was not only impressed by the talent of these students, but by the personalities and general ambition that it was so easy to see. Even more interesting, as the students involved in leading tours introduced themselves, their majors, and what they aspire to study, I noticed the disparity between their current major at the high school and their desired major at the college they were seeking to attend. I hadn't expected it. Given a special talent and focus in a secondary school, wouldn't you want to further and develop that into a future career?

Now wait a second, is this the crux of hypocrisy or what? I did not attend a magnet high school, but during my time at a suburban public high school, my passion for art was quite obvious and according to the visual art classes I packed into my schedule, it was almost as if I were "majoring" in Art to the extent that I could. Did I further that in my college studies? A wildlife conservation major would indicate no, however I did declare the art minor a year into my studies.

I asked the student panel later in the program if they felt there was a balance between the arts focus of their major and the other academic areas and if those areas suffered as a result of the arts emphasis? They said they felt the school was strong in all subject areas and that they always made time for other homework and papers. One of the administrators/coordinators of the public school programs had also mentioned earlier that research shows that this study and envelopment in the arts really helps kids to learn their academics and actually turns them on to education.

This all brings me to a question, though. Should we have magnet high schools that select children based on talent, performance, and demeanor? Does this "choice" create a biased and elitist system that leaves other children in the dark?

I was very much impressed by this magnet school. I felt almost like I was in a college classroom as I witnessed a final presentation and critique of a student's artwork in a "mini gallery" in the school. But I also felt like it did not show an accurate representation of Newark's general student population, due to the selectivity factor.

I truly do feel that the ability to dive into art and expression in high school helped me fulfill that within myself and supported my performance in other academic areas. And while studies show the effects of the arts exposure may benefit students in learning other subject areas (Sousa, pg 217), wouldn't this put other students not in magnet schools at a disadvantage? If I received this benefit at a non-magnet school (granted it was a suburban school in a better financial position than many urban schools), I think students should be able get this out of other non-selective public schools as well, even on a lower budget. Giving the students an opportunity to focus and choose a specialty school can be a great thing, but the fact is also that we are choosing them and leaving others out.

Works cited:
Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006.


visva said...

I was thinking the same thing too. If it put other students at a disadvantage to be in a magnet school like arts high school. I was an art major in college and I really think that going to a high school like Arts would have given me a great advantage over my peers. It could of helped me perfect my skills and possibly created a stronger portfolio.

MikeK said...

It is funny you highlight the art/science dichotomy. I was either going to study music or biology in college, and I decided on biology. I think that art and science have a close connection, and it is the categorization that education has put the two disciplines into that have conditioned us to think of them as opposites. art involves observation, and experimentation, and science involves creativity and invention. The two are more similar than we often realize. Perhaps this is the reason that you and I have connected with both disciplines.

Lori said...

I'm not so sure that I see the problem with the selectivity of the school. Its really no different than some colleges --- if you have what it takes you get in. Otherwise you go to the local college.

I think they are lucky to have these magnet schools where the bright and talented have a place to showcase and hone their talents and prepare for college. The selectivity of the school and the requirement to do well academically results in students that are willing to work and put their effort into all that they do.

I think the end result is that we want all children to get an education but is it correct to believe that all children are capable of an honors or an AP course? No, that's why there are levels. However all levels should get the same attention to active teaching during their class.

Christine said...

I completely agree with you and Visva. I too feel that if I am "majoring" in a specific field in HS, that would help my college career. But my thought too, is that if I fulfill my satisfaction during HS, I might choose to major in something else in college.

UrbanEveEdublogg said...

vivsa & christine - That is another thing to consider: that the students at these schools have had special training, thus increasing their chances of being accepted into a college program in that area.

mikek - So true that both science and art involve observation, attention to detail, creativity, and investigation!!

lori - I guess it just seemed too much like a college to me already, and this is not to downplay or set aside the talent of the students in the least, because I think it is wonderful that they can flourish like that.
Shouldn't we believe that all children are capable of learning it? Sure we each have strengths and weaknesses; talents and limitations; but aren't there other factors that lead to the division of students and the creation of these "levels"? Not only in the schools, but in the minds of the students.