Tuesday, 16 June 2015 19:45

Transitionings: from STEM to STEAM

DSC 0776

Transitionings: from STEM to STEAM
 

 

Although there's an almost ancient history chronicling the deep relation between science and art, STEAM (an acronym for science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics) as a policy shorthand for the aggregate value that results from the inclusion of arts in public education has gained more and more attention since the turn of the millennium. The discussion over the interconnectivity between different educational disciplines and how the arts in particular play a catalyst role in the development of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) is now seamlessly accompanied by more and more affirmative research coming out of fields we may not expect. And this despite the fact that, for most of us, it's not news at all to hear about the arts being an almost renewable source of innovation. Or how creative thinking is the key to putting our economy back together, or that only imaginative solutions have ever made our students and workforce leaders in an increasingly competitive global market. By this point we are also intimately familiar with the myriad ways that the arts -all of them- embody our different cultures, give rise to our complex sense of selves, determine our shared social spaces, and bring into focus an always surprising future. If all that is so, and, given the vast amount of supporting evidence, then the question becomes: why are STEAM initiatives and projects not being properly supported and how can our Latino communities experience the benefits of these initiatives?

 

And although it's almost an act of compliance/obedience to step forth and recite the value of arts to a well-rounded or universal education, our current situation nevertheless expects artists, educators, and arts organizations to make an ongoing case for its inclusion in our schools' curriculum. To this end, our constituents underscore art's potentialities and virtues. We describe how the act of learning is a keen result of our abilities to connect with other human beings (i.e. our families, teachers, friends) and together forge a shared perception with which to know the world, with which to determine what we are able to sense and how. In other words, learning is a social activity whose building blocks are the language of artistic expression. Because arts education is intimately identified  with how we develop our own individual sense of personhood and our social identities, it is also a cultural activity. More fundamentally, the endorsement of our nation as an unforeseen/unparalleled/unprecedented passage towards democracy rests on an ideal of universal education capable of living up to these/our emancipatory principles. This means that any transparent curriculum, lying beneath the core surface  of our educational structures, must prompt the emergence of open source, intercultural, and egalitarian learning environments -the kinds capable of fair inclusion and modes of conviviality.

 

NALAC believes that these educational communities are possible and that it's crucial to support such arts educational projects. One of the ways we do this is by funding teaching artists and funding arts organizations to bring in teaching artists as well. Furthermore, several of our NALAC Leadership Institute (NLI) and Advocacy Leadership Institute (ALI) alumni are truly amazing examples of why this approach to learning is so important. The Latino Arts Strings Program, for instance, was created and directed by Dinorah Marquez (NLI Class of 2014, ALI Class of 2015) in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, back in the fall of 2002. Students in this pre-college program obtain successful music training in classical genres by developing an impressive technical foundation through various forms of Latin American folk music. Angelica Durrell (NLI Class of 2013, ALI Class of 2014) is the founder and artistic director of the Intake Organization (Instrumentally Native Taking on the Classics), which is a nonprofit organization in Stamford, Connecticut, that promotes music education through multiculturalism and native instruments. The inclusion and use of different instruments that embody our diverse indigeneity is also a form of advocating for multiple Latinidades. Giselle Mercier (NLI Class of 2012, ALI Class of 2013) is the executive director of ElevArte which is a community-based organization and studio that uses the arts as a means for youth development right in the heart of Chicago, Illinois. ElevArte's vital programming includes 'After School Labs', 'In-School Art Residencies', and a strong 'Mentorship Program.' This notion of art being central to knowledge-building and a key component for a generative learning experience also influenced our decision to have an in-depth arts educational curriculum accompany our Visiones video series.

 

As part of our priorities during the Advocacy Leadership Institute in Washington DC, we ask each and every member of Congress that we meet with to join the Congressional STEAM (STEM+Arts and Design) Caucus. Co-chaired by Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY-21) -who this May replaced former co-chair Aaron Schock (R-IL)-, the bipartisan caucus originally included 21 representatives from 11 states when it was founded in February of 2013 and now includes 67 members from 27 states.

 

Part of the research that informed the initial bipartisan effort was a 2008 study directed by Robert Root-Bernstein out of Michigan State University that looked at Nobel Laureates in the sciences and considered their level of engagement with the arts. The study found that innovative and creative scientists displayed an “ability… to explore a wide range of apparently unrelated activities and to connect the knowledge and skills gained thereby into integrated networks that can be brought effectively to bear in raising and solving important scientific problems.” What's interesting is how these findings described a cognitive process that closely resembles the properties commonly found in emergent systems and the expanding science of organized complexity, an aspect we will return to further ahead. The study further noted that the "utility of arts and crafts training for scientists may have important public policy and educational implications in light of the marginalization of these subjects in most curricula". But, one might ask, why would the arts undergo such marginalization in the first place? Is it a casual symptom of our overall disinvestment in public education?

 

The STEM to STEAM Initiative, which is led by RISD (Rhode Island School of Design), is of key importance for the Congressional Caucus. Through their Office of Government Relations, a team of student research assistants work to develop ways of making art and design a focus on the national educational agenda. Their research, findings, resources, and multi-tiered efforts are made available online. One such resource is The STEAM Journal, a "transdisciplinary, international, theory-practice, peer-reviewed, academic, open access, online journal with a focus on the intersection of the sciences and the arts" -published by Claremont Graduate University, its latest issue includes an article by Congresswoman Bonamici.

 

Because the benefits of creative problem solving -a core feature of the arts- are widely grasped, there are no shortage of sources aimed at making the information, effects, and promise of the interdisciplinary (almost indisciplinary) approaches that naturally emerge through the deep bond between arts and science available to a broader audience for the sake of having an informed national discussion over the future of arts education. The National Guild for Community Arts Education under the leadership of Jonathan Herman builds the leadership and capacity of those providing community arts education by providing them with the knowledge and tools to deliver quality arts education programs.  The National Guild’s work with multiple sectors helps to build equitable investments and broader awareness of the importance of arts education.

 

Americans for the Arts actively update an extensive set of Research Reports that are organized by topics and make the crossover between art education and other fields of investigation quite evident. For example, Their Arts Education Field Guide: The Ecosystem of Partners, Players, and Policymakers in the Field of Arts Education is a crucial source for understanding the interesting cartography of individuals, forms, and forces that assemble what and how our communities learn. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies has a collection of diverse research on the many social advantages of normalizing artistic expression and exploration in our students' lives. Another favorite is Doug Herbert's ever-insightful blogging for Home Room, the U.S. Department of Education's official blog site. As a Special Assistant in the Office of Innovation and Improvement, his focus is on a range of efforts that support making the arts synonymous with universal education. Earlier this year, he presented at the 2015 National Title I Conference Leading With Wonder -also a great site for informational resources- along with Ayanna N. Hudson, the Arts Education Director for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

 

Ms. Hudson's tremendous experience as a cultural advocate, particularly as director of the L.A. County Arts Commission and through her leadership on the Arts for All initiative, comes through in the recent creation of Art Works Collective Impact Grants. The purpose of this funding is to "ensure that all students across entire schools, school districts, and/or states -in communities of all sizes- participate in the arts over time", while the projects themselves must "be either for emerging new work or for sustaining and growing established networks that are proven to increase arts education for all students". An article announcing the recipients of this first round of grants accompanied a webinar discussion on current ideas about collective impact and these first set of grantees through the Collective Impact Forum (CIF) this past May.

 

The Collective Impact Forum understands itself as an "expanding network of like-minded individuals coming together from across sectors to share useful experience and knowledge and thereby accelerating the effectiveness, and further adoption, of the collective impact approach as a whole". As an online platform of member interaction and information sharing at a global scale, their site is an ideal hub for all things regarding this policy trend, including the history of its core idea and its development as an initiative of both FSG and the Aspen Institute Forum for Community Solutions.

 

John Kania & Mark Kramer -both managing directors and the latter founder of FSG, a consulting firm whose mission is to help "foundations, businesses, nonprofits, and governments around the world accelerate progress"- published two pivotal articles that have proven key determinants our latest educational policies. The first in 2011 laid bare the features of Collective Impact and its five conditions of success: common agenda, shared measurement systems, mutually reinforcing activities, continuous communication, and backbone support organizations. The second article on the subject titled Embracing Emergence: How Collective Impact Addresses Complexity was published in 2013. This more recent material sheds light on self-organizing systems and how "taken from the field of complexity science, “emergence” is a term that is used to describe events that are unpredictable, which seem to result from the interactions between elements, and which no one organization or individual can control" and that "there is no ultimate “solution” beyond the process of continual adaptation within an ever-changing environment."

 

For so many individuals and organizations that form part of our country's ongoing spectrum of social movements -be it by demanding justice and accountability, by seeking to free ourselves of the limited categories to describe the ways we inhabit our bodies, by rendering visible what many see as the failures of modern representation through de-institutionalized calls for participation, by articulating how innovation trends seem to favor uneven market development and a deeply vertical integration, or by wanting to examine the push for privatization of functions and features hard won through the tenuous work of nation-building- there's something humorous and possibly unsettling/cynical about  the resurgence and espousal of collective rhetoric by the dominant order. Sure, after the twentieth century's exit into history, which turned all its collectivist agendas into ghosts of tragic utopias, maybe it's alright for the dominating culture to now take possession of that conversation, that grammar. But, por que? To what purpose?

 



###


 

ABOUT NALAC:

The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is a legacy organization investing in the Latino heritage of this nation. For over 25 years, NALAC has built a strong foundation for the promotion of Latino arts and culture and its advocacy efforts have advanced issues of cultural equity and raised the visibility and understanding of Latino artistic and cultural expression. The National Association of Latino Arts and Cultures (NALAC) is the nation's leading nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to the promotion, advancement, development, and cultivation of the Latino arts field. In this capacity, NALAC stimulates and facilitates intergenerational dialogues among disciplines, languages, and traditional and contemporary expressions. NALAC serves thousands of Latino artists and hundreds of organizations representing a national and international community of multiple Latinidades; a network that crosses many cultures across the Latino Diaspora.

For more information visit our website at www.nalac.org or like us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Nalac.arts1.

 

Photo Credit: Union City Music Project, 2013 NALAC Fund for the Arts Grantee 

Read 3575 times