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To Be Creative Is To Be Human
Monday, January 3, 2011
Originally published: November 1, 2009
In 2008, the College Board launched the National Task Force on the Arts in Education to address the challenges facing arts education in the United States. The task force recently released its report, Arts at the Core: Recommendations for Advancing the State of Arts Education in the 21st Century, which identifies the many benefits of arts learning and details eight key recommendations for advancing the place of the arts in American education. This prompted the following Q&A with NTFAE Chair Lester Monts, senior vice provost for academic affairs at the University of Michigan and former chair of the College Board’s Board of Trustees:
Connection*: What is the goal of the Arts Task Force?
Lester Monts: The NTFAE Steering Committee established the mission, which is to develop and articulate a vision for the arts in education. To that end, the NTFAE studied and explored how to achieve and sustain an integrative vision of arts in education. Among our high priorities was the need to launch a major and newly focused conversation to develop strategies for making a profound and lasting impact on the role of the arts in education and, ultimately, the meaning of citizenship.
We discovered many shortcomings of the education system regarding the arts that cannot be fixed by tweaking or patching. Fixing the problems will require systemic change. We operated under the assumption that the current system, which segregates subjects and types of learning, splinters the effectiveness of learning by divorcing content from context and purpose. To us, exclusion of the arts experience in schools means that students miss out on valuable cultural learning experiences as well as chances to develop their innovative thinking skills. Our goal was to reverse that trend.
C: What were some of the major recommendations the NTFAE proposed to the Board of Trustees?
LM: We proposed eight recommendations, which we culled down from many more. They are all important, and you can find commentary on each recommendation in the report.[link to PDF]
C: Can you tell me about the task force’s recent report, Arts at the Core?
LM: Arts at the Core was the result of two years of extensive research and deliberations within and external to the College Board. Having collaborated with the renowned artists, scholars and leaders of arts advocacy organizations nationwide, information was compiled and the report was written by a steering committee with excellent support from the director and staff of the Office of Academic Initiatives.
C: How did the Trustees react to the report?
LM: The NTFAE report was forwarded to the Trustees as part of the material packet for the October meeting. In a 45-minute presentation, I informed the Trustees about the work of the task force and its findings. The Trustees unanimously endorsed and supported the report and its recommendations.
C: How have arts and art education organizations reacted to the task force’s report?
LM: The content and recommendations contained in the NTFAE report emerged from thoughtful and engaging conversations with dozens of arts and education leaders invited to the task force meetings in 2008 and 2009, and from the NTFAE inquiries and discussions over the past two years. The report is now on the College Board website, where it is being read by NTFAE members and others.
Other than positive yet anecdotal feedback we have received from a wide array of interested parties, we have not received official responses from these organizations. We will soon solicit these responses in order to provide the Board of Trustees and others with a framework for moving the arts in education agenda forward. As one member of the NTFAE stated, “The College Board has the ability, the influence, and the programmatic structure to carry these messages to a national and international level.”
C: What kind of impact do you think the report will have on arts education in America? What impact at the College Board?
LM: With more than 5,700 member institutions and a national and international reputation for excellence in education programming, I expect the report to have a profound impact on K–16 education.
C: Are plans under way for implementing the approved recommendations?
LM: We are now working with the leadership of the College Board to decide how the implementation plan will be structured.
C: What’s your relationship to the arts?
LM: I am a professor of music with a background in both Western classical music and world music (ethnomusicology). I am a long-time advocate for arts education and have worked in national and international organizations to promote the arts as an essential part of education. As an academic administrator at the University of Michigan, I have developed programs and units that promote the arts, including the Arts at Michigan program, the Confucius Institute on Chinese Arts, and the Center for World Performance Studies.
As a scholar, I have conducted field research in various parts of West Africa, and written extensively on the music of the Vai people of Liberia and Sierra Leone. As an orchestral trumpeter, I have performed with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Omaha Symphony, Allegheny Summer Music Festival Orchestra and the Music Festival of Arkansas Orchestra. As the past chair of the College Board’s Board of Trustees and former chair of the Academic Assembly, I felt an obligation to help launch the NTFAE.
C: Why do you think the arts are important?
LM: Simply put: To be artistic, to be creative, is to be human.
*Connection is the College Board's online newsletter