This site documents the Imaginative Reinvention of Education Symposium, held at Grand Arts in Kansas City Missouri, on Friday February 25 and Saturday February 26, 2011.

It contains program notes for the event and presentations, a short essay about why the symposium was initiated and links to related materials provided by artists and facilitators. The site is also designed to provide a platform for continuing the conversation about what an excellent education might be for our region in the 21st Century.

Please use this “Discussion” posting category to initiate or continue any dialogue connected with this topic. If distinct conversation streams start to emerge, we can further divide this category into different topic areas.

School of the Future billboard manifesto by Chris Kennedy and Cassie Thornton, photo Chris Kennedy

5 responses to “Welcome

  1. First of all, I want you to know that I enjoyed the conversations around concepts of art, education, and community.
    I was, however, put off a bit with the academic approach to dealing with community issues. My experience with academia is that simple issues are made complexc, due to the desire/requirement to make things more complicated than they are, in order to justify “credibility”.
    A simple analogy: “Is you is, or is you ain’t. my baby?”
    The academic response: ” It depends on your definition of “IS’!
    Moving on…..
    I think, a simple revisit, to the not so distant past, rewards us with a possible plan for action.
    “The squeeky wheel, gets the oil”.
    Americans respond immediately, to UNREST. If you ain’t happy, say so, loud and clear!
    I truly believe that access to the arts is a “CIVIL RIGHT”!
    The arts make us happy and the constitution guarantees us the right to the “persuit of happiness.”
    So, what is the problem? We have constitutional grounds to stand on.
    I propose, and support, a public demonstration in support for our CIVIL RIGHT to the access of the arts, in the schools, as part of the normal educational process, fo OUR children.
    Politicians work for US! We CAN tell them what to do and thy have to listen.

  2. On the thought of education as a commodity I kept returning to this quote in my brain.

    “But what if we treated our perceptions as gifts rather than payments? What if we gave our attention instead of paying it? According to the law of reciprocity, the gift is returned with a gift – there is no expenditure, no scarcity, no debt against Capital, no penury, no punishment for giving our attention away, and no end to the potentiality of attentiveness.”
    -Hakim Bey, Overcoming Tourism (http://hermetic.com/bey/tourism.html)

    Similar to the difference between describing the Constitution as a “living” document and calling it an “enduring” document, the phrasing of things can have a great impact on the way intentions play out…and that’s exactly how intentions should behave, at play. We have to give of ourselves. The profession of eduction is one thing, but education is, as Leralee showed us, a movement, an impulse, a necessity within us…I realize now that what I wanted to voice this whole weekend is that education and art do not stop if there are no art jobs or teaching jobs. A person does not go uneducated if they are not schooled, there is still teaching to do and it has to be a gift. Teaching is almost always a gift, considering that even when it is a paid position it is not so heavily compensated for. All that I say we ask of the administration is to promote a D.I.Y. attitude, to give resources to parents and students to improve their own educations and lives. This is only the minimal beginnings of this string of thought, but plenty for this venue.

  3. I agree that there is a simplicity to all of this if you separate arts education from the big picture. My concern is that we tend to act in ways that reinforce the separation, and allow the larger system that dominates the economy, environment, power structures and so on to continue on their paths of destruction – deaf to our marginalized voices. I am thinking of the image of Nero playing his fiddle as Rome burned. If I were there at the end, I would certainly want to be at the concert as it happened, but I would much rather find ways to infiltrate the system and go to Nero’s performance in a flourishing city. I like the idea of speaking of the arts as a civil or even human right, because it asserts that art belongs in the center, not at the edges. But, more than a right, I see it as a need, an imperative, because without the skills that art processes teach us we can not navigate this complex, changing world without destroying it. Academic language is certainly not the whole picture, but I think it is part of it because academia is rejecting artistic process as something “crafty” that amuses the body, comforts the soul. The conversations need also to be happening that explain that art is another form of knowledge, that it completes our capacity to think. One of the intentions of this symposium was to try to achieve that breadth and wholeness, to have a sense of the different ways in which we must speak and act in order to have the complete conversation. I think we have to breed a tolerance across the population of artists and educators for all the various ways that contribute to understanding, envisioning, making, critiquing and so on, even if they are not all to our own taste. If we cannot find that among ourselves, we will have a difficult time making the case to the systems that exclude art now, allowing for it only as a pastime, a luxury, a commodity, an entertainment. I like your ideas too Drew, about having the administration allow self direction and creation, but that in and of itself requires a huge mental shift. How do we bring about/contribute to that kind of change?

  4. Nathaniel Edmunds

    Good day, I wish I could have attended the conference, though I am so very grateful for having become aware of its occurance. This is a topic I am deeply passionate about and invested in. I only hope the following comments reach their addressees. I look forward to seeing how far this discussion can be taken in such a forum.
    For Drew: “The profession of eduction is one thing, but education is, as Leralee showed us, a movement, an impulse, a necessity within us” and “to promote a D.I.Y. attitude, to give resources to parents and students to improve their own educations and lives” – these thoughts, to me, hit the heart of the issue; and they’re well and easily supported by many in all walks of life too – which we’ll need. In “Dumbing us Down,” for example, John Taylor Gatto lays down some history about the rise of mandatory public education as training for the industrial era factory-line of jobs creation. Ken Robinson addresses more the first point and champions creativity’s place in education – and his is one of the most popular TED talks ever given. So here, what do suppose would happen if teacher’s unions starting producing a better product, off the dole, the way they know they can and see what support and commitment turns up. That would shore up criticism, improve education, be more fun, and stand as a better alternative to a picket line – budget cut cycle that rides the whole profession of public school teacher toward the lemming cliff. D – I – Y.

    Julia: this to me – what you’ve outlined – is the golden ticket of art-making. This little niche question of how art helps us think and so forth – this is the brass ring that keeps me interested in making. Because it’s pretty clear that we humans have evolved lots of different thinking and a few standard types have come up and we’re not all masters at all of them. So rather than be a part of the group saying, Yeah but what can art do for me? we who seem blessed with the curse of thinking by making or however else we can call it, really seem to have little choice but to approach the issue as, Since we do think this way and it is useful to us, how may those gifts be treasured by others? And yes (as Nedra mentioned) happiness is no doubt a very important part of life – something all living being seem hardwired to desire – but I must argue that 1) when we see that all beings in our whole human family desire happiness and seek to avoid suffering, it is both morally wrong and pragmatically unwise to seek our own happiness without consideration of that goal for others. (The Dalai Lama, How to see yourself as you really are) – all of which means that all of the amusement the body gains and the comfort that the soul enjoys, rejected by academia in the above critique, is all short-lived and worth little compared to what those processes can potentially yield in their benefits to others. Perhaps a finer achievement of what is yielded would serve to undermine the dismissiveness of those less-insightful academics that may be missing the creativity gravy train. 2) People gotta eat. Food means money; money means jobs; and jobs – here’s the good part – means doing things that people value. Find the value, find the support. If art were more ‘useful’ – not in the Oscar Wilde, “all art is useless” sense – if people saw how it helped them, if they valued it higher through what it does for them personally, there would be no Why Art? gap to speak of.

    Finally, I’ll just say that, as a current Peace Corps volunteer writing from former Soviet Union Ukraine, studying my fourth foreign language, I have recently been visited by the idea fairy that helped me put together one of my most important art questions: Why make art? I vetted a lot of answers – and there are plenty to choose from – but the latest seems to have actually put my mind at ease and that’s a good way to know a question is answered. The reason I mention it here is because of what Julia wrote: “more than a right, I see it as a need, an imperative, because without the skills that art processes teach us we can not navigate this complex, changing world without destroying it.” And this may trump or complement me. I finally understood why that imperative would never leave me alone – art is language and language are the terms in which we think. More and more research is showing how language forms our thoughts. We do have lots of other brain activity of course but we tend to reserve that special and important verb, think, for the actions of the mind that are language. It is no coincidence that art is discussed in terms of ‘vernacular’ and ‘vocabulary’ and expression – even the critics are reaching out for terms to help them acquire what they are experiencing in the work. Artists, I suspect, are a kinaesthetic subtype who become dedicated to the expanding study of their fluency – and the key again is really not they possess some idea that needs to get out for others to take in, but that those vocabulary are unique to that process and those vocabulary are the terms in which that artist is thinking. And the beauty is that this is the only language with vocabulary that you can learn as soon as see – hear – touch – and so on. Hence all the ‘universal language’ kind of praise it has long held. But with all this new research, artists can stop and say, No guys, like really; it really is working the same as a language; and we’re communicating and sharing thoughts here and it’s valuable – both to be able to share in thinking that language and to be able aid the expansion of its capacity – because that’s what advancement of the arts is all about.

    • Hey Nathaniel, Thanks for your thoughtful input. I think you touched on many of the more difficult issues we are thinking about, individually and together. No single person can do everything on all fronts, and so it is important to have many people approaching an issue as vital as this one from many different angles, each contributing in the way they know best. The purpose of coming together is to feel supported by the knowledge that others care as deeply as we do, to share ideas and tactics, and to find ways we can collaborate for larger scale interventions and transformations.

      I think the small scale and independent is important too, especially in times like these when a multitude of small resistances can find ways of building a larger sense of cohesion through exchange of information on social media. I am personally drawn to actions of this kind – I call this developing “magnetic alternatives” – but I am also concerned at the speed with which our “official” school systems are falling apart and leaving us with the legacy of a great body of disinterested, unloved and disempowered youth. I feel that we need to address this disaster as soon as possible because people with undeveloped minds and limited emotional range will not be able to respond to the rapidly growing planetary problems we are facing.

      I agree that one of the most crucial things to do right now is to find ways to explain the “usefulness” of art, despite resistance from both non-artists and often the art world itself. It is hard to talk about the processes of art – which as you say are often physical rather than mental ones – but we must find ways to do that, to bridge the gap. There is a widening divide that exists between what artists do and the kind of culture that has developed – both in a broader sense and in our schools in particular. My deep belief is that the processes that are involved in making art are the key to excellent teaching in every subject, and that the fact that these methods and insights have been gradually excluded from the classroom is at the root of many problems we currently face. This is a much broader conversation than “should we have arts education in our schools?”, but this is where much of the debate ends up being channeled.

      I hope that this site will serve as a place to generate specific, wildly creative ideas about HOW we can start to talk about/demonstrate these issues more persuasively…

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