Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Comprehensive Curricula: The Importance of Regular School-Based Fine Arts Learning Experience

After the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2002, school districts across the US responded by emphasizing data-driven instruction in math and reading. The pressure on schools to deliver higher test scores resulted in children taking a lot of standardized tests throughout the year (Nelson, 2013). In business, the bottom line is profits and losses. In schools the bottom line is high stakes test score results. Schools are now run like businesses. Sadly, this emphasis on test scores has led to a reduction of children’s learning experiences through arts education, particularly at the elementary level (Sabol, 2010). 

Over the past 14 years I have served AEAI in the area of advocacy, while awareness of the importance of fine arts learning has increased, we have continued to observe the degrading of fine arts programs in numerous ways across Indiana. The state has little information on the vitality of art programs that exist in schools under its auspices. Fine art programs can be cut out of the curricula or reduced by a thousand little cuts. Art and music teachers can be replaced by non-credentialed individuals. Children can be hauled out of fine arts classes required to do missing class-work. This situation has not gotten any better (Parsad & Spiegelman, 2012). Children’s time in schools where annual testing takes place means students are likely to spend lots of time preparing for standardized tests leaving little room for anything else. 

In order to prepare children for high stakes tests their teachers must employ a curricula that covers lots of testing content in a short amount of time. Inside the information processing structure of test driven curricula, students are told what information to learn, when to learn it and how they will learn it. Hiding behind the final test score tally is a learning experience where children are fundamentally disempowered, coerced by authoritarian fear to learn content in a behaviorist experience whose schedule and organization structure they had not consented to participate in. For significant numbers of children, this situation leads to disengagement, stultification and the school to prison pipeline.

If children’s unique developmental pathways would optimally benefit from the intensive data-driven experience they now endure, children’s school-based anxiety, the bullying crisis, and school violence dilemma would be no more. Blaming cell phones is an easy out for these crises but one has to ask the question, why are children in school affected by these issues not in love with their learning?

Human beings are hard-wired to use their hands and whole bodies, integrating the imaginative and emotional realm in their learning. My view is that more opportunities for authentic, time sensitive learning, emergent curriculum, multi-sensory learning, creative self-expression and alternative assessments should be provided in order to alleviate harmful psycho-emotional conditions correlated with the intensification of standardized testing curricula. Cognitive behavioral therapy in schools is a peripheral intervention designed to normalize the child’s response to a toxic curriculum that causes stress and anger. Expanding fine arts education, the humanities and alternative assessment is the antidote to this situation and has never been more important when considering the intellectual growth and physiological well being of children in schools. We cannot afford future failures of imagination.


Aftunion. (2014, June 26). AFT report shows the high cost of overtesting. Retrieved from

Parsad, B., and Spiegelman, M. (2012). Arts Education in Public Elementary and Secondary Schools: 1999–2000 and 2009–10 (NCES 2012–014). National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Washington, DC.

Sabol, F.R. (2010) No Child Left Behind: A Study of Its Impact on Art Education. (n.d.). 
Retrieved from:

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Indiana Youth Art Month 2018!

My sincerest appreciation to 2018 Indiana Youth Art Month Co-Chairs Carrie Billman and Shayla Fish along with AEAI President Mary Sorrels, our fabulous YAM Volunteers, the hardworking events coordinators Terry and Ned at the Indiana State Capitol, AMACO-Brent's receiving specialists Dale and J.C. and our keynotes, Indianapolis WFYI Radio Host Matthew Socey and Nashville, Tennessee based singer-songwriter Caroline McKinney!

Here are some pics of the event and my remarks to the audience:


Art class is the best way for children to experience creativity at school.

Fine Arts experience can excite the child's emotional realm and strengthen neurological systems while providing opportunities for creative self expression!.

Inside the body’s nervous system, myelin..a fatty protein that covers connecting axons between nerve cells, expands during these special learning events.

What does this mean? It means memory systems and action impulses work faster inside your brain, improving  the mind’s capacity to learn and think.

There is an immense amount of historical and biological evidence that reveals learning through the visual arts is vital to children’s cognitive development.

Five years ago, I remember speaking with a 7 year old child.

She was stretching packing tape over her wet tempera painting.

I asked her what she was doing.

She said, “I’m making shiny surface art.”

I said, that's fascinating!

She wrote in her journal, “ Art is a part of being creative. When you’re creative, you’re doing better than you are when you’re not.”

I thought to myself, “Why is she doing better when she is creative in school, than when she is not being creative in school?”

Think about this.

During critical phases of cognitive development, mental operations are realized primarily as a result of a child's interactions with the World around them.

There is a biological reason human beings are endowed with hands.

The hands are the key to intellectual growth!

Sadly, many children in the United States don’t attend schools where fine arts exist.

Compounding matters, there are scary trends in education today.

Among certain policy makers, there is this idea that tethering young children to digital screens and tasking them to select answers on multiple choice questions... is somehow a quality education.

I am here to tell you that finger taps on a flat, two dimensional screen, hardly passes as multi-sensory experience.

A school day consisting of screen-based learning is great for collecting numerical data but blunts participation in an abundant curricula. The worst case scenario? Excessive use of digital media introduced by the state during a child's formative development will increase the likelihood that child may become addicted to digital screens.

Seven years ago the Art Education Association of Indiana surveyed its members. We found 60 instances where arts programs were cut.

In 2010, Purdue University art education professor Robert Sabol surveyed over 3400 art teachers from across the United States.

A summary of the findings?

Children’s visual arts and creative learning experiences are being sacrificed on the altar of data collection and standardized testing.

I was admiring this years Youth Art Month exhibition earlier and I have to tell you it is a spectacular visual experience.

The children's art reveals they are developing special powers of creativity.

These children are fortunate to have families, teachers, administrators and communities who support their creative development and school art experiences.

As a parent or citizen advocate you have a powerful voice! I urge you to advocate for children’s art programs when you can. Send local, state or federal policy makers a loud and clear message either face to face, by telephone, snail mail or email to adequately fund and preserve fine arts programs for all children!

We cannot afford future failures of imagination!

I thank you!

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Heroes of Indiana Youth Art Month 2016

There are so many folks to thank for participating in AEAI's annual Youth Art Month advocacy extravaganza at the Indiana State Capitol each year. First of all, to the art teachers and children who participate in the event or a local event in their community, the AEAI thanks you! To think that Indiana citizens and lawmakers are surrounded by K-12 student art work during the month of March and to ponder the importance of K-12 art education programs in the lives of children, Youth Art Month is an event that has profound implications not just for art teachers and their students who participate and attend the event but for art programs all across the State of Indiana.

I'd like to share some photos of the folks who make the event at the Indiana State Capitol possible each year.

Dale and JC of AMACO who store and care for the AEAI display boards at AMACO/BRENT on Indianapolis' North East Side!
Dave Allen set up the boards!
Glenda Ritz, Brad Venable and Margerie Manifold assessed and selected art works for recognition!
Parents and students attending the event pack the North Atrium of the Indiana State Capitol!
Parents, students and their families view the exhibit in the South Atrium!
New Palestine High School Art Student Will Burgess stands with AEAI Past President Sidney Allen and IN State Superintendent Glenda Ritz!
AEAI President Jill Sayers, President Elect Mary Sorrels and Past President Sidney Allen who are awarding student recognition awards in this photo, organized our YAM event this year!
Group photo with Superintendent Ritz!
Visitors enjoy the spectacular YAM student art work throughout the month of March.
Take-down volunteers, Ashley Toy and Mary Lou DaWald re-pack the display boards at the YAM exhibit with the help of Mark.
Robin Webb and Mark collect and sort remaining art from the 2016 YAM exhibit.