Sometimes the Good Old Days Actually Were

6 Sep

Prang Textbook“It is not necessary to review the history of art education in public schools, nor to present argument for the introduction or retention of drawing as an important study. These questions have been exhaustively treated, and need no fresh discussion. The school that does not offer to its community some kind of systematic art instruction is today an exception.”

The above is from the preface to Book IV of the Text Books of Art Education series put out by The Prang Educational Company. Its copyright is 1904.

This quote tends to make me babble incoherently as I struggle to come up with a response. I finally figured out that it’s because I’m looking for something smart and on-point to say when really what goes through my mind is, “Seriously?!? We’re still discussing this?”

Think about it: Despite mounting scientific evidence that arts education aids brain development, despite repeated articles about employers seeking creative employees with problem-solving skills, despite the anecdotes we can all share about the power of music, dance, theater and visual arts in the classroom, one hundred years after these text books were published we are still talking about whether the arts have a place in public education. More upsetting, it often seems as though the naysayers are getting louder.

At the base of it, I’m choosing the long view – educational theory tends to work in cycles. Eventually, there will be a critical mass of people who will be able to convince (or shout down) the naysayers, and we’ll circle back around to the idea that this topic “needs no fresh discussion”. I wouldn’t work where I do if I didn’t believe that. In the meantime, I’ll keep plugging away, doing what I can to help make sure that kids have education in and through the arts. I hope you’ll do the same.

P.S. If anyone’s curious about what kinds of projects are listed in a 1904 textbook for arts education, let me know. I’d be happy to share. They’re actually pretty good.


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