Historical and Cultural Context

What subject matter is considered essential in today's curriculum?  

What is the purpose of education in contemporary society?  

Why study the arts?  

Is there a place for arts in the curriculum within this standards-based instructional system?

Answers to these questions vary according to the historical and cultural values of a particular time and place in history.  The needs of current society dictate educational goals, objectives, and standards.  Now that we have high academic performance standards that we expect all students to achieve in all subject matter, the arts often fall to the wayside.  Although it would be wonderful to dedicate time to the arts as we have in past eras, the reality is that we often have to slip the arts in through the back door!  One way to make sure our students still receive instruction in the arts is to integrate the arts into other parts of the core curriculum.  This may not be ideal for those of us who view arts as central to life.  But, the reality of classroom with its emphasis on test preparation and limited amount of time for teaching anything but the basics - or what is being tested -  presents a real challenge for the elementary teacher!   We've discussed the integration of music with literacy, math, and science, but one of the easiest areas in which to integrate the arts is social studies.  In fact, the arts are an important part of the national and state social studies and history curriculum standards. The visual and performing arts standards and the history/social science standards overlap throughout each grade level.  The areas of the California History Social Science previous framework that emphasized the arts are:

The olden days...

Below are quotes from philosophers on what was considered "essential" for education during three very different time periods. Plato valued mathematics and "harmonics." Dewey described education as "life" and all that life is, including arts and culture.  Howard Gardner, the leader of early multiple intelligences research and part of Project Zero promotes the idea that we must understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.   Howard Gardner's speech is obviously the most timely for us as teachers today.  Note that quotes Plato:

"Through education we need to help students find pleasure in what they have to learn."  

Plato's Academy - and His Recommended Course of Study

... the exact sciences - arithmetic, plane and solid geometry, astronomy, and harmonics - would first be studied for ten years to familiarise the mind with relations that can only be apprehended by thought. Five years would then be given to the still severer study of 'dialectic'. Dialectic is the art of conversation, of question and answer; and according to Plato, dialectical skill is the ability to pose and answer questions about the essences of things. The dialectician replaces hypotheses with secure knowledge, and his aim is to ground all science, all knowledge, on some 'unhypothetical first principle'.


John Dewey - 1897

If education is life, all life has, from the outset, a scientific aspect, an aspect of art and culture, and an aspect of communication. It cannot, therefore, be true that the proper studies for one grade are mere reading and writing, and that at a later grade, reading, or literature, or science, may be introduced. The progress is not in the succession of studies but in the development of new attitudes towards, and new interests in, experience.

I believe finally, that education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience; that the process and the goal of education are one and the same thing.

The Arts in Education Today

One of the most rigorous current research projects focusing on the arts in education is Project Zero, begun by Nelson Goodman of Harvard.  Howard Gardner has continued to help carry out the Project Zero mission "to understand and enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels.  The research programs are based on a detailed understanding of human cognitive development and of the process of learning in the arts and other disciplines. They place the learner at the center of the educational process, respecting the different ways in which an individual learns at various stages of life, as well as differences among individuals in the ways they perceive the world and express their ideas." 


At Home with PZ

Project Zero's Thinking Routine Toolbox

Our First 50 Years

Theory of MI Article

Edutopia Video: Howard Gardner on Multiple Intelligences


An Education for the Future:
The Foundation of Science and Values

Howard Gardner
Paper presented to
The Royal Symposium
Convened by Her Majesty, Queen Beatrix
Amsterdam, March 13, 2001


The first dilemma: What should be taught?

What should be highlighted: facts, information? data? If so, which of the countless facts that exist? Subject matters and disciplines--if so, which ones? Which science, which history? Should we nurture creativity, critical thinking? If there is to be an additional focus, should it be arts, technology, a social focus, a moral focus? If you try to have all of these foci, you would break the backs of students and teachers, even given a demanding elementary and secondary school curriculum. If knowledge doubles every year or two, we certainly cannot multiply the number of hours or teach twice as quickly. Some choice, some decisions about what can be omitted, is essential.

The second value is an appreciation of what is special about human beings. 

"Human beings have done many terrible things but countless members of our species have done wonderful things as well: works of art, works of music, discoveries of science and technology, heroic acts of courage and sacrifice. One only need walk around the Rijksmuseum or the Stedelijk, or to spend hours in and around the buildings on Dam Square to be reminded of what has been achieved over the centuries in this small but dynamic nation. Our youngsters must learn about these achievements, come to respect them, have time to reflect about them (and what it took to achieve them) and aspire some day to achieve anew in the same tradition…or perhaps even to found a new tradition. Learning about human heroism may be another clue to how to nurture youngsters who embody positive values. We should not be afraid to state our values; but of course it is far more important to embody them, to live them day in and day out. The scholarly disciplines are among the most remarkable of human achievements--and we must remember that they are much easier to destroy than to build up. Totalitarian societies first burn the books; then they humiliate the scholars; then they kill those who do not buckle under. As the events of the last century remind us, a Dark Age can always descend upon us.

We should remember that one of the most magnificent of human inventions is the Invention of Education--no other species educates its young as do we. At this time of great change, we must remember the ancient value of education and preserve it--not just facts, data, information, but Knowledge, Understanding, Judgment, Wisdom. We must use the ancient arts and crafts of education to prepare youngsters for a world that natural evolution could not anticipate and which even we ourselves as conscious beings cannot fully envision either. In the past, we could be satisfied with an education that was based on the literacies; that surveyed the major disciplines; and that taught students about their own national culture. We must maintain these three foci, but we must add two more: preparation for interdisciplinary work and preparation for life in a global civilization. And, speaking in the land of Erasmus and Spinoza, we must keep alive the important values of Responsibility and Humanity."


What should we teach?  

What should students know and be able to do? 

What is the impact of the arts on history and culture?

Our standards give us a guide to the content of knowledge we must consider important in our curriculum planning.  

The National Standards for the Arts (1994)

What students should know and be able to do in the arts....

  • They should be able to develop and present basic analyses of works of art from structural, historical, and cultural perspectives, and from combinations of those perspectives. This includes the ability to understand and evaluate work in the various arts disciplines.
  • They should have an informed acquaintance with exemplary works of art from a variety of cultures and historical periods, and a basic understanding of historical development in the arts disciplines, across the arts as a whole, and within cultures.
  • They should be able to relate various types of arts knowledge and skills within and across the arts disciplines. This includes mixing and matching competencies and understandings in art-making, history and culture, and analysis in any arts-related project.

The Importance of Arts Education

Knowing and practicing the arts disciplines are fundamental to the healthy development of children's minds and spirits. That is why, in any civilization—ours included—the arts are inseparable from the very meaning of the term education. We know from long experience that no one can claim to be truly educated who lacks basic knowledge and skills in the arts. There are many reasons for this assertion:

  • The arts are worth studying simply because of what they are. Their impact cannot be denied. Throughout history, all the arts have served to connect our imaginations with the deepest questions of human existence: Who am I? What must I do? Where am I going? Studying responses to those questions through time and across cultures—as well as acquiring the tools and knowledge to create one's own responses—is essential not only to understanding life but to living it fully.
  • The arts are used to achieve a multitude of human purposes: to present issues and ideas, to teach or persuade, to entertain, to decorate or please. Becoming literate in the arts helps students understand and do these things better.
  • The arts are integral to every person's daily life. Our personal, social, economic, and cultural environments are shaped by the arts at every turn—from the design of the child's breakfast placemat, to the songs on the commuter's car radio, to the family's night-time TV drama, to the teenager's Saturday dance, to the enduring influences of the classics.
  • The arts offer unique sources of enjoyment and refreshment for the imagination. They explore relationships between ideas and objects and serve as links between thought and action. Their continuing gift is to help us see and grasp life in new ways.
  • There is ample evidence that the arts help students develop the attitudes, characteristics, and intellectual skills required to participate effectively in today's society and economy. The arts teach self-discipline, reinforce self-esteem, and foster the thinking skills and creativity so valued in the workplace. They teach the importance of teamwork and cooperation. They demonstrate the direct connection between study, hard work, and high levels of achievement.

The Benefits of Arts Education

Arts education benefits the student because it cultivates the whole child, gradually building many kinds of literacy while developing intuition, reasoning, imagination, and dexterity into unique forms of expression and communication. This process requires not merely an active mind but a trained one. An education in the arts benefits society because students of the arts gain powerful tools for understanding human experiences, both past and present. They learn to respect the often very different ways others have of thinking, working, and expressing themselves. They learn to make decisions in situations where there are no standard answers. By studying the arts, students stimulate their natural creativity and learn to develop it to meet the needs of a complex and competitive society. And, as study and competence in the arts reinforce one other, the joy of learning becomes real, tangible, and powerful.




National Standards for Music: 1994

Archives: https://nafme.org/my-classroom/standards/national-standards-archives/

8. Content Achievement Standard: Understanding relationships between music, the other arts, and disciplines outside the arts

9. Content Achievement Standard: Understanding music in relation to history and culture


California Music Standards

The myths and religions of many cultures depict music as a gift of divine origin. The word music comes from the Greek Muse, any of the nine sister goddesses who reigned over the arts and sciences in Greek mythology. Existing in every culture and generation, music embodies the distinctly human need to organize sounds to express the dimensions of human feeling.  Music is a powerful manifestation of cultural heritage. It occurs in a wide variety of styles and types in cultures around the world. Studying music helps students learn about the traditions and modes of thought of their native cultures as well as those of other cultures.  Because music can promote harmony between cultures in a pluralistic society, mutual cross-cultural understanding is a goal of music education.

Quotation from the Introduction to Music in the California Visual and Performing Arts Standards http://www.cde.ca.gov/standards/vpa/ 



Understanding the Historical Contributions and Cultural Dimensions of Music

Students analyze the role of music in past and present cultures throughout the world, noting cultural diversity as it relates to music, musicians, and composers.

Responding to, Analyzing, and Making Judgments About Works of Music

Students critically assess and derive meaning from works of music and the performance of musicians according to the elements of music, aesthetic qualities, and human responses.

Connecting and Applying What Is Learned in Music to Learning in Other Art Forms and Subject Areas and to Careers

Students apply what they learn in music across subject areas. They develop competencies and creative skills in problem solving, communication, and management of time and resources that contribute to lifelong learning and career skills. They also learn about careers in and related to music.

Other State Standards for Music Education - http://www.educationworld.com/standards/state/toc/index.shtml#arts 

Social Studies and History Standards - Integrating the Arts into Curriculum

California History and Social Science Framework Goals and Curriculum Strands

Historical Literacy

Cultural History

Geographic Literacy

National Identity

"America, as a nation, unites as one people the descendants of many cultures, races, religions, and ethnic groups. The American story is unfinished, and the outcome rests in the students’ hands."

National Council for the Social Studies

National Standards Thematic Strands in Social Studies

Look for connections to the arts in the National Thematic Strands for the Social Studies.

Ten Thematic Strands in Social Studies

History and Social Studies Websites

Websites for Arts Integration

Copyright 2003 by Carla Piper, Ed. D.