The National Coalition for Core Arts Standards (NCCAS) is currently conducting a "final public review of the draft PreK-12 arts standards in dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts."
In principle, I am not opposed to the idea of standards. However, there is something fishy about national grade-level
standards handed down by a committee and intended to guide everyone
The problem with these kinds of national standards is three-fold.
First, national education standards are overly discrete and specific for the kind of thing they are. Goals intended for universal adoption should stop at general terms. For example, it is all fine and well to state as a goal that students eventually be able to "synthesize and relate knowledge and personal experiences to make art." On the other hand, dictating that, in order to meet that general goal, all children in all places ought to "create art that tells a story about a life experience" while in Kindergarten and then "create works of art that reflect community and cultural traditions" during their fourth grade year, and so on, is just plain silly.
Okay; it's more than silly. It's demeaning and limiting to students, families, and educators. It's micromanaging. Nobody wants that.
. . . Except for those in the curriculum and assessment businesses.
Which brings us to the second problem with national education standards: They are usually linked to product for profit. Discrete, grade-level standards give publishers the scope and sequence road map for lesson plans that will be acceptable to schools operating under the standards umbrella.
Assessment and curriculum publishing is a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2012, the market-leading Pearson company sold over $9 billion dollars worth of product. The College Board, one of the leading stake-holders on the NCCAS, has an annual revenue of over $65 million.
If everyone everywhere is learning discrete goal x in such-and-such grade, then companies like Pearson can write generic textbooks for universal sales, and the College Board can sell universal testing services to see if students have done x in such-and-such grade. Whether x is worth learning or teaching to every student everywhere in such-and-such grade really doesn't come into the picture for the mega business plan.
Last, but far from least, national education standards, being pluralistic and allegedly value-neutral, are unavoidably vacuous and slanted in core areas. A review of the draft of the specific grade-level standards for visual arts (pdf) reveals an emphasis on social awareness and change. Social awareness is good. Social change can also be good. What about imitation, mastery, or acquaintance with historical masters? These terms and goals are not mentioned in the NCCAS standards draft. This is rather
telling about the values and commitments of the coalition.
Even more noticeable is the absence of any
mention of beauty. That's right. The national Core Art Standards for visual arts contain not one mention of the word "beauty."
Comprehensive art standards that have nothing to say about beauty?!? Sadly, this is not surprising, but it should be. Shouldn't it shock and disturb us that students across our nation will be taught, through a deafening silence, that art and beauty have nothing to do with each other, that beauty is no worthy artistic goal? This is what the NCCAS would have for our nation's children.
I have quite different goals for my own children.