Earning a bachelor’s degree at any Texas public university demands at least one course in visual or performing arts. That is decreed by the infamous Core Curriculum, an entity that forced me to take algebra four times until I passed (with flying colors, once I rejected the tainted ”algebra” label in exchange for “puzzles” – semantics are everything).
The 2009 Texas Legislature did its part to prepare baby Texans for a successful academic career by passing a measure for more fine arts requirements in state public schools. That’s refreshing news in the age of TAKS, but Governor Rick Perry has not yet signed the state budget that allots $1 million dollars for teacher training.
On Monday, the National Assessment Governing Board released a nationwide report on arts education. Though the number of arts classes has remained the same for the past 10 years, Asian and white public school eighth-graders scored an average of 22 points higher than their black and Hispanic peers.
A few months ago, I wrote about the ArtThink program at the Dallas Contemporary, which sends trained “art ambassadors” into Dallas public high schools to teach the kids “how to look at art” using old-fashioned slides. I was an art ambassador two years ago, and I can tell you firsthand that ninth-graders at A. Maceo Smith, a predominantly black school, have much to say about art. One of the slides showed a piece by the late Robert Colescott called Feeling His Oats. It incited a huge response that led to a fine intellectual debate. Colescott was African-American, but the kids responded just as brilliantly to an untitled piece by Jean-Michel Basquiat, half Puerto Rican and half Haitian, who climbed into the New York art scene from street graffiti. These are challenging works by major artists, and these inner-city kids had no problem delving into formal analysis or symbolic content. I credit the teacher, Doranner Legington, a coach who also did slam poetry events on the weekends and loved art (and yes he is black). He enabled an atmosphere of no compromise, where jocks could also be artists. That’s the Texas I’d like to live in.
Thanks to KUT‘s Julie Moody for her radio piece “Results of Nationl Arts Report Card.”