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The Arts in Alternative Education

Part 3 - The Multiple Paths to Knowing?

by Alice Lovelace
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

This article was delivered as a keynote speech at the 1998 Fall Conference: Expressive Arts in Alternative Education at the Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education on the University of Oklahoma's Norman Campus Thurman White Forum Building, November 6, 1998. © Alice Lovelace, 1998. All footnotes and references are available in a separate browser window - click on footnote numbers throughout text.

The Multiple Paths To Knowing

Today, thanks to the on-going research at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, educators understand that the ability to memorize data or write literal text are not the only ways to demonstrate intelligence. Today we recognize that intelligence comes in multiple forms. We acknowledge that intelligence can be expressed through seven separate ways of knowing (some are now saying eight -- what is being called natural intelligence).

According to one of the pioneers in the theory of multiple intelligences, Dr. Howard Gardner:

An intelligence entails the ability to solve problems or fashion products that are of consequence in a particular cultural setting. The problem-solving skill allows one to approach a situation in which a goal is to be obtained and to locate the appropriate route to that goal. It involves a symbol system which generates within that intelligence. The creation of the cultural product is crucial to capturing and transmitting knowledge or expressing one's views or feelings. (27)

We are not limited to only one intelligence, but usually have some aspects of all. Some people are particularly strong in one area. These are doorways through which the arts have accessed children and adults for hundreds of years. According to David Lazear, our intelligence tool box might contain any combination of the following implements: (28)

  • Verbal/Linguistic Intelligence: A person who shows an aptitude for -- reading, journal/diary keeping. creative writing, poetry, verbal debate, impromptu speaking, humor/jokes, and storytelling.
  • Logical/Mathematical Intelligence: A person who shows an aptitude for -- abstract symbols/formulas, graphic organizers, number sequences, deciphering codes, pattern games, or problem solving.
  • Body/Kinesthetic Intelligence: A person who shows an aptitude for--folk/creative dance, role playing, physical gestures, drama, body language, mime, and sports.
  • Visual/Spatial Intelligence: A person who shows an aptitude for - guided imagery, imagination, color schemes, painting, drawing, patterns/designs, pretending, sculpture, and photography.
  • Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence: A person who shows an aptitude for -- rhythmic patterns, vocal sounds/tones, music composition/creation, percussion vibrations, humming, environmental sounds, singing, tonal patterns, music performance.
  • Interpersonal Intelligence: A person who shows an aptitude for -- giving feedback, intuiting others' feelings, cooperative learning strategies, person-to-person communication, and collaboration skills.
  • Intrapersonal Intelligence: A person who shows an aptitude for -- silent reflection, thinking strategies, emotional processing, focusing/concentration skills, higher order reasoning,complex guided imagery, and a knowledge of self.

The expressive arts encourage students to learn and create from a position of personal power. The expressive arts embrace the multiple intelligences, thereby providing an opportunity for every students to be successful regardless of their reading or writing level. Through the expressive arts, education becomes a dialogue that pleases the ear with its rhythm, touches the heart with its sentiment, and speak to the mind with its reason.

The expressive arts facilitate language development, reading comprehension, and communication skills. Through the medium of making art students explore the landscape of meaning that rests beyond the literal word and their conscious world; they learn to hear and decode symbolic language; and they discover new metaphors that help them to unlock the meaning of education.

The expressive arts teach us how to practice evaluation, reflection, theory, and practice in unison - - making something from nothing. The expressive arts enlarge our capacity for joy, breaks the hold that symbols and symbolic language has on our thinking and thereby expands our thinking. Each of these ways of knowing combines in the making of art, as this sixth grade students knows.

Art / Artist

Art has the freedom of the bird
Art has the weight of the limitations of society
Art with all of its colors, bright and dull
A blue could mean coolness or extreme cold
For Art has the freedom of a bird
And yet, have you ever seen a picture of
A dying fish, toxic waste in the water
Or a teacher being proven wrong
Or maybe a portrait with all of the bad
features of a celebrity exaggerated
For art has the limitations of society
Art can be a dance, a sculpture, or a song
Art is a hairstyle, a drawing, or an abstract painting
But only a true artist can fly away
and get out of the cage of the limitations of society
I draw, I sing, I sculpt, I dance, I paint,
I style in anyway I want
For I am an artist (29)

I would like t offer some insight into what we, teachers and artists, can do to help integrate the arts into the classroom. I believe, we must look to models like project CREATE from The Center For Creative Education in West Palm Beach, Florida. According to their literature, The CENTER support partnership among schools, artists, community-based organizations and human service providers in order to integrate the arts into academic curriculum. The CENTER provides coordination, technical assistance, advocacy, training and fundraising for the partnership, and endeavors to advance school reform.

The Center For Creative Education promotes a vision of society in which creative learning and expression are integral to our sense of community life and fulfillment; where all people are valued for their curiosity and creativity; and each individual has the opportunity to exercise his or her creative potential; where the arts and humanities are accessible and diverse; and where creative use of the arts and humanities are agents of community understanding, tolerance, and improvement.

One such program is CREATE; a teacher and artist development model. CREATE trains and disseminates information about the philosophy and methods of "creative learning" to teachers from public and private systems, arts professions, human service professions, and others serving children and special needs population. CREATE provides artist and teachers with an opportunity to find new tools to help their students achieve higher thinking skills and academic success then they would through traditional paper-and-pencil methods. Another component is an annual showcase which allows participants to share with their colleagues approaches that have been successful at other schools.

At the core of their work is a commitment to work for long-term systemic change because the staff understands that any changes at the school level, must be within a process of on-going training. Specialized training is offered for teachers, service providers, and artists in arts-integration strategies and in alternative assessment and evaluation. This training is a part of a larger five-year plan designed to help arts and education professionals track and document arts integration strategies as a verified way to help students improve their performance, self-esteem, behavior, and attendance.

  • Alternative assessment is a way of evaluating student learning and understanding that encourages student involvement, student reflections, peer critique, and teacher evaluation.
  • Alternative assessment tools include portfolios, rubrics (a short commentary or explanation covering a broad subject), checklists, reflective journals, peer assessments, and self assessments.
  • Alternative assessment give an authentic measurement of students' abilities for class activities in which paper and pencil test cannot adequately reflect learning and understanding.
  • Alternative assessment effectively monitors and measures students' learning in arts projects and integrated artscurriculum.

In partnership, we must learn to develop a S.M.A.R.T. approaches to teaching with artists and teachers in collaboration. To teach S.M.A.R.T. is to be Specific, to set outcomes that are Measurable, to make learning Action oriented, to be Realistic in your expectations, and to make sure instruction is Timely. Like middle managers we must develop 2-3 approaches to achieve the learning goals, allowing students to have a choice in how they will learn, even if they can't chose what they will learn.

In the classroom we must not just talk about democracy and respect we must practice them. We must recognize and overcome our own biases. Racism and gender bias are built into many of our systems and we must be vigilant with ourselves, each other, and our students to not let it tear down the good work we do. We must recognize the effect and affect of race and identity representation in education; whether it emanates from the text, the system, or the teacher; know that the impact on the youth entrusted to our charge can be profound and devastating.

Our students are counting on us.

My Generation

My generation needs love, not money
Just like young plants need natural minerals
Not expensive instant grow mixes
My generation needs knowledge through experience
Not dry book learning
Just like young children need to fall to feel pain
instead of being told of pain
My generation expects new clothes forever
expects to be pretty as a flower
Just like a flower sheds it's petals very quick,
revealing a not so glamorous stem
My generation sees danger signs
and sees adventure beyond it
We need to fall off the cliff to live
We cannot accept new things at face value
My generation feels as warm as a kitten unaware that, curled up in front of a fire one may be burned
My generation sees the world in a thousand years
As it is now
Too short-sighted to perceive our future
If we carry on as we are
My generation dreams of expensive cars and power
We get them and w e handle them as wisely as toddlers
Using a machine gun
We seem to be vibrant flames going in the wrong direction,
leaving only a trail of windblown ashes. (30)

As we struggle to understand how to serve the growing ranks of young students being sent into alternative programs, we must educate ourselves about what others are doing in the area of arts in education. There is great potential in programs like The Center for Creative Education. I can also recommend the model of Horizons School in Atlanta, an alternative high school where I have volunteered for fifteen years.

Horizons is a school where students are expected to be active participants in the education they achieve; where labor, the performing arts, literary arts, and academics are equals. Every Friday of the school year, the entire student body assembles in an open forum that allows students to become active participants in their education as they grapple with social and political issues that affect students and their ability to succeed, with issues of discipline, or with school policy.

Perhaps you are familiar with the New Orleans based program YA/YA (Young Artists/Young Aspirations), a visual arts after school program through which young artists have become entrepreneurs, marketing their products for companies as diverse as Burger King, Swatch, and the United Nations. (31) Each has something important to tell us about satisfying the needs of the young as we prepare them to become contributing citizens and humane beings.

  • In The Center For Creative Education we have a model for artist and teachers in partnership, long-term evolution built into the system, systemic approach to change, alternative ways to test for knowing
  • From Horizons School and YA/YA comes a lesson of recognition and responsibility. Both are predicted on the premise that the student shares a responsibility for the education h/she achieves. In both models dialogue and partnership are essential to aprocess rooted in critical engagement and application of artistic aesthetics; self-affirmation; and meeting self imposed expectations.

In 1996 Linda Frye Burnham published a list of questions she hoped would spark a dialogue between artists and educators. Linda is editor of High Performance Magazine, a publication that no longer appears in printed form, but continues as an on-line publication were I serve as a contributing editor. Her twenty three questions were drawn from the writing of teachers in "Writing Within School Reform" a publication series of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, funded by the Coalition of Essential Schools.(32) I draw upon my experiences and Linda's questions to offer some areas of collaboration and partnership that might prove fruitful for artists and teachers.

  • Create A Team Vision -- Artists regularly work in teams- What can they share about team-creating that can be applied to the classroom?
  • Learn to be a part of the group not apart from the group -- how can artists help teachers bring their life experiences and passion forward and give teachers the confidence to talk about what they love.
  • Learn to share the power, involve others in the process, take your lead from the artist, create a partnership between yourself and your students. Develop your deep listening skills - - hear what is being said, not what you want to respond to.
  • Artists often work in collaboration with divergent community groups and interest. What can they do to help teachers develop projects that will take the students out of the classroom and into the world to test what they are learning? What lessons can we take from the Institute for Community Research and their applied research skills project?
  • The expressive arts are about human communications on a personal level and can help teachers learn ways to trust that they will get what they expect and to expect success. Learn to trust your students so they can learn to trust you.
  • Eliminate the vocabulary of failure -- help students build on what they know -- create a new vocabulary out of your shared vision - - inventory the resources and map the knowledge in your class room.
  • Find a reason to praise each student every day.
  • Find alternative ways to test for knowledge retention ... can you dance the meaning of pride ... write a poem to demonstrate an understanding of the concepts fought for in the Revolutionary War ... paint a picture to illustrate the ecosystem in a lake.
  • The process of production, whether a book, an art exhibit, a dance or drama performance, embodies many of the basic skills we seek to instill in our students through education: research, planning ability, setting goals, communication skills, alternative ways of seeing a body of knowledge, critical thinking and resourcefulness. Could they substitute for a term paper or a final exam?
  • Don't be afraid to experiment! When something unexpected happens -- a moment of discovery, make it a learning moment.
  • Tell them, show them, involve them so all learning styles are addressed. When it comes to the expressive arts, it is the process that offers opportunities for transformation within the individual and the institution.
  • To make art is to use the imagination as a means of self liberation and conscious raising.
  • To make art is to place your personal awareness within a social context.
  • To make art is to give recognition to others and to receive recognition from others.
  • To make art is to accept that we have the power to change our minds and our situations.
  • To make art is to engage in moral growth within a holistic system of analysis and self directed education.

The making of art satisfies our human needs to have meaningful work; for self-consciousness and freedom; and is transformational, expressing self determination and positive human development. In the words of the youth:

My Generation

My generation dreams:
People of all nations holding hands
No murder. No crime.
No cops. No wars.
Immortal lives, living forever.
My generation loves:
Kids to enjoy themselves
People wanting to learn
Courageous leaders leading us from danger.
Silent listeners, loud speakers.
Laughter and joyful sounds from all over the world
My generation wants not :
Kids killing kids
Adults behaving like helpless children, lazy and screaming
Television news speaking of horrifying tales.
My generation expects:
Kids striving, wanting to learn
People respecting themselves and others
Humans giving help to the endangered--
Not to be endangered
My generation believes:
People sharing are people caring
My generation wants:
Clear blue skies. Crystal waters.
High mountains, low valleys.
This is my generation. (33)

When used as the foundation for learning within the alternative school setting the expressive arts help to create a sense of community where students and teacher draw from the strength of each other; where each individual is acknowledged as worthy of help at times and at other times capable of giving help to others; where the task of leadership is shared; where everyone is responsible for encouraging each other; and finally " We must stand by one another in difficult times and help the one who has dropped out regain his place." (34)

Before I close, I return once more to the slightly modified words of Mr. Ellison:

"If (we) can show (them) how (to) cling to that which is real to (them), while teaching (them) a way into the larger society; then and only then will (they) drop (their) defenses and (their) hostility, and (they) will sing (our) praises and help (us) to make the desert bear fruit."

We are called to embrace the strength, the courage, the endurance, and the promise as well as the uniqueness" of these students. (35) Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this great experiment. I look forward to speaking to each of you to share ideas and insights about this vital undertaking as we struggle to help those who have "dropped out regain their place" in society.

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The 1998 Fall Conference: Expressive Arts in Alternative Education at the Oklahoma Center for Continuing Education on the University of Oklahoma's Norman Campus Thurman White Forum Building, November 6, 1998 was sponsored by: the University of Oklahoma College of Continuing Education, Oklahoma Arts Council, the Art therapy Association of Oklahoma, The Oklahoma Technical Assistance Center in cooperation with the Oklahoma State Department of Education.

Published in In Motion Magazine November, 1998.