Radical Educational Policy: Critical democratic pedagogy and the reinfusion of the arts in secondary schools
The education system is in the midst of intense and rapid change. Everyone wants the best possible education for their children, but cannot agree on the most appropriate mix of programs, curriculum, tests and approaches to achieve this goal. While schools struggle with how best to educate students for the future, they are also dealing with serious financial pressures. In schools all across Ontario, teachers, parents and administrators are making decisions about the skills students will need and about the best way to use scarce resources to meet competing demands. They are looking at how and what to teach, and they are deciding which programs to eliminate, and which to keep. Where does arts education fit in this restructuring of education? Will schools continue to offer arts education or are these programs vulnerable?
The purpose of this paper will be to undertake an in-depth study on whether and how to promote an increased focus on arts education in Ontario public schools. It will be argued that the use of critical democratic pedagogy with the arts, integrated across the curriculum, is a valuable educational policy tool to help re-create our schools as models of democracy and social justice. The paper will begin by examining the need for educational policy change. Secondly, it will describe the theory and principles behind critical democratic pedagogy (CDP). Thirdly, it will argue that the use of CDP through the arts can both deepen learning and increase student engagement. Further, it will be argued that in order for the full potential of the arts to be realized, a paradigm shift will be required from a conception of the arts in secondary schools existing solely as ‘stand-alone’ courses, to arts as aesthetic learning embedded across the curriculum. Finally, it will present an approach for radical policy development, which recognizes the value of a policy web metaphor in bringing together a broad and diverse group of policy actors, to follow critical democratic principles in the pursuit of educational policy change.
Why is educational policy change needed?
Policy makers around the world have used the lead-up to the new millennium, with its elevated sense of fear, anxiety and excitement, to create, what Kotter (1996) refers to as ‘a sense of urgency’ to support the need for educational reform . The adoption of a neoliberal agenda by many Western nations, initially, brought with it reform initiatives, based on market-principles, such as decentralization, privatization and standardization (Hill & Kumar, 2009). In education, policy initiatives were sold based on their potential to address economic issues, prepare students to be competitive in a global work environment, and reduce inequities (Hill & Kumar, 2009). As educational researchers have discovered, over the past two decades, these reforms are beginning to increase both literacy and numeracy levels in Canada. However, inequities still exist. In fact, many critical researchers would argue that these reforms are actually causing an increase in student disengagement and an increase in the achievement gap between the rich and the poor, particularly with respect to youth who have already been marginalized due to race, class, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation (Die et al., 1997; Giroux, 2002; Hill, 2009). Additionally, standardization both in curriculum and in assessment has also been linked to increasing student disengagement, both in marginalized youth, as well as in youth who have been identified as ‘gifted’ (Dei et al., 1997; Dei, 1995; Ferguson, 2005). The use of externally imposed standards creates a set of power dynamics in schools and classrooms and reduces opportunities for teachers and students to engage in relevant, meaningful, and critical work that draws from their own lived experiences (Apple, 1999; Fine & Weis, 2003; Freire, 1998).
What is critical democratic pedagogy?
Critical democratic theory sees education or learning as an on-going, two-way, dialectic process that is built around the experiences of the student and allows for critical thinking and action to help students grow. In a truly democratic school, students are given the opportunity to have their voices heard and to build on their previous experiences and interests to plan for their continuing growth (Dewey, 1938). Traditional hierarchies must be broken down and teachers must also be learners (particularly learning from their students) and being critically reflective about their practice to bring about conscientization (Freire, 1998, p. 55). Teachers become facilitators to help students as they: share experiences and learn from each other; undertake critical inquiry and create their own plans of action. The importance of dialogue (between students, teachers, administration, parents and community) must be stressed. Tension between opposing conditions (subject and object, the individual and world, the word and the world) is seen as impetus for growth. As Freire states “the subjectivity and objectivity thus join in a dialectical unity producing knowledge in solidarity with action, and vice versa.” (Freire, 1975, p.22).
Critical pedagogy, as outlined by Freire (1998) must include critical and creative thinking, not just skills. The critical aspect must examine not only political issues, but also issues of social justice and equity. In a culture of democracy, the dialectic nature of both critique and possibility go hand in hand. Critical democratic pedagogy offers the opportunity for teachers and students to ask the tough questions about their lived experiences and the contradictions that they encounter: why?; for what purpose/goal?; and in whose interest? For the purpose of this paper, I will be using the conception of a developmental and robust democracy, which necessitates a ‘way of life’ and which holds as its non-negotiables the values of openness, respectful dialogue, serious inquiry, reason, equity and comfort with ambiguity. As a way of life, this set ‘framework of principles’ (Kincheloe, 1999) can serve to guide processes in the classroom, school, community and at the policy table.
The ‘democratic’ aspect pushes the concept of critical democratic pedagogy even further. A democratic process cannot work with an individual doing critical inquiry on their own, even though individual self-reflection is an important part of the process. The democratic process involves bringing multiple voices together, seeing things from multiple perspectives, dialoguing, discussing, debating and working together to form action plans to create a difference. The process is particularly valuable when contradictions arise. Critical democratic pedagogy welcomes the tension and accepts the possible ambiguity knowing that life is dynamic and constantly changing, and that situations or events can be viewed quite differently in different contexts. In a truly robust democracy, students need to be encouraged, supported and provided with opportunities to express their opinions and challenge policies with which they disagree, based on their lived experiences. (Hahn, 1998; bell hooks 2003)
bell hooks (2003) argues that this pedagogy of hope and social justice will help everyone to “decolonize their minds”, to challenge what they know, why they know it, and what the value of that knowledge is. This in turn can lead to unlearning racism, sexism and any of the ‘other’isms, realizing validation of personal knowledge, and developing tools of inquiry, critical thinking, and self-empowerment. Too often, there is little time or public space—at a school or on a larger scale—to be able to realize meaningful conversations about who has privilege and advantage, what the norms, values, and assumptions are that are embedded in our design and implementation of schooling, and whose knowledge and experience is truly valued. (hooks, 2003)
Neoliberalism promotes an elitist and reductionist mentality (Apple, 1999; Gandin, 2007). Students who do not fit the mold or who may be disadvantaged (due to physical, intellectual, cultural, socio-economic, or geographic factors) often hit systemic barriers which limit their ability to be successful in training for the work-force, and may be ‘left by the wayside’. Democracy in education counters this by valuing each individual, by providing continual opportunities for critical inquiry, multiple and creative opportunities for student voice, and individual growth opportunities. Critical democratic engagement is realized in the processes and relationships within which learning for democratic reconstruction occurs. Engagement is generated through the interactions of students and teachers, in a shared space, for the purpose of democratic reconstruction, through which personal growth or transformation occurs (Portelli & McMahon, 2004). In contrast to the notion of engagement as something that is either the responsibility of students, or something teachers do to students, bell hooks (2003) envisions engagement as a method of empowerment for students and teachers alike. This approach to learning supports the empowerment of student voice, and the resulting learning happens on two levels: meaningful student learning, and enhanced understanding by adults about how young people experience schooling and education (Fine & Weis, 2003; Gallagher, 2007).
Why use the arts?
In the early 1970s, the notion of aesthetic education and aesthetic pedagogy began to receive increased attention, primarily due to the work of writers and theorists such as Elliot W. Eisner (2002) and Harry S. Broudy (1972). In the early years, both thought that the problems of introducing aesthetic education into the classroom were allegedly solvable through the adequate and appropriate training of school people who are in some way involved. More recently, scholars such as Landon Beyer (1979, 2000) have argued that it will take much more than the pedagogical training of teachers to implement a serious aesthetics program that may serve, in Habermas’s (1971) terms, an emancipatory function, due to the role schools continue to play in reproducing the social and political order of North American society. He further argues that the reproductive function of the educational system may be legitimated and furthered by some of the very ideas in aesthetic theory that have influenced our notions of aesthetic education. The bridging of this conceptual gap, by specifying the role of aesthetics in aiding the functions that schools serve, is essential to understanding what it is schools do. In the following section, five examples will be given to illustrate the diverse nature and value of the arts and aesthetic education when combined with critical democratic pedagogy.
In discussing the value of works of art, Dewey’s (1938) argument that ‘experience is essential to growth’ is poignant. With respect to the value of works of art, “what is desired is not the object as such but the pleasure or satisfaction of possessing, using, or experiencing it…. works of art are instrumental to or a cause of a type of experience which may be called aesthetic enjoyment, satisfaction, pleasure, or some other denotation approximately synonymous” (Smith & Smith, 1971, p. 127). I would take the Smiths’ point even further to argue that an aesthetic experience through the arts may also produce feelings of anger, frustration, confusion, empathy and compassion. The arts provide opportunities for youth to inquire, to express, and to challenge dominant discourses or ideologies. Through their performative nature, they provide both youth and those around them the opportunity to see, hear and feel their artwork (Denzin, 2007). In order to deepen their learning, I would argue that critical democratic pedagogy during both the developmental and post- performance (or ‘exhibition’) phases would aid self-reflection and promote further action and growth.
Secondly, as Ernest Boyer (1988) has argued the current educational system pays little attention to the benefits of visual literacy as an important learning and teaching tool. The current conception of literacy, in most schools, has been narrowly defined and focuses primarily on reading and writing, with the majority of teaching and assessment occurring through reading and writing. I would argue that the current conception of literacy promotes a deficit mentality and further marginalizes many youth. It also contributes to the sorting and streaming of individuals, at a very early level, particularly those individuals who are already marginalized due to intellectual, language, ethnicity or cultural issues (Dei et al., 1997). The inclusion of ‘visual literacy’ broadens the whole area of literacy and offers additional modes of learning and expression. The conception of ‘multiple intelligences’ proposed by Gardner (1983) initiated the growth in new educational approaches that facilitated the inclusion of students whose talents and capabilities had not been identified through standardized assessments.
Thirdly, arts education can serve as an important tool to help increase cultural awareness. In the Early School Leavers Report (Ferguson et al. 2005), Bruce Ferguson noted racism and discrimination as one of the risk factors that affect youth. Much prejudice in our society centers on culture. In a multicultural country like Canada, the schools have an important role to play in helping people to understand different cultures and the people from these cultures. Innovative curriculum and programming, using arts as a base, can help to change attitudes and increase cultural understanding and tolerance. In a study conducted by Carol Butler (Butler 2000), she found that use of a program, which she had created, entitled Cultural Awareness through the Arts, was highly successful in helping students develop positive attitudes toward Native People. The data suggested that the arts were the instrumental factor in making the personal link between the students and the First Nations People. The most important finding was the fact that the classes who demonstrated the most significant change in attitude were those classes that involved not just the viewing of the arts but also doing the arts. This combination of viewing and doing the arts of the First Nations culture was a powerful agent of change.
In addition to increasing cultural tolerance, the arts can provide a medium in which adolescents can ‘share their stories’ and probe diverse societal issues. At the Canadian Education Association’s conference “Getting it Right for Adolescent Learners: Design for Learning” in May, 2007, Kathleen Gould Lundy spoke about her work with elementary and secondary teachers which focuses on helping them understand and advocate for the crucial role that the arts and the imagination play in every student’s education. Lundy describes the powerful teaching tool provided by the dramatic arts, particularly for youth at risk. Not only can drama be used to teach, but it can also be used to warn, lead and heal (Lundy 2007). Lundy spoke of the important voices of youth who joined together to produce a documentary which touched on topics such as homophobia, equity, race and different learning styles. In addition to presenting tough curricular topics to their peers, seeing the passion and hearing the voices of adolescent learners can often teach teachers, parents, and administrators about some of the real life challenges that youth often experience in their lives. In order to deepen the learning resulting from the performativity aspect of the arts, an opportunity for dialogue between the student artists and the audience must be provided, either during an exhibition or following a performance. Kincheloe (1999) argues that it is these interactions, dialogue and discussions and the subsequent process of self-reflection, particularly when contradictions have arisen, that help to open the spaces in which meaning-making and transformation are possible.
Finally, given the power and impact that music has in the lives of adolescents, critical democratic pedagogy can be used to challenge students to intellectually engage with the world so that they become less dependent on external authorities and others who might not always have their or society’s best interests at heart. Many adolescents may not be aware that music is the propaganda tool of choice of politicians, corporate executives and others who would subvert democratic ideals while rendering us passive citizens and consumers. Numerous examples can be found to illustrate the way in which politicians, military personnel, and corporate executives use music and the arts to dress up and sometimes disguise their messages, such as the Right Wing Australian government recently did when it co-opted rock musician and social activist Joe Cocker’s music to help sell increased tax cuts that would be detrimental to social programs (Woodford, 2005, p. 27). Critical democratic pedagogy can be used to help youth explore and inquire about relevant social, cultural, historical, political, and ethical factors involved in music’s composition, performance, and reception.
As a preeminent philosopher and advocate for the arts and aesthetics, Maxine Greene’s work has had an enormous impact on generations of teachers, researchers, academics, and school reform activists with her reminders of the reach and power of the imagination (Ayers & Miller, 1998). Greene, (1995), joins Dewey (1938), and Freire (1998) in arguing for the importance of linking individual lived experience to critical analysis, reflection and growth. Critical democratic pedagogies provide a medium which promotes: critical analysis and probing of diverse societal issues (such as respect for differences, equity, social justice). Greene’s (1995) work on social imagination, the place of activism, the role of the arts and the meaning of freedom in the modern world, particularly social imagination, lays a strong foundation from which to argue the important role that critical democratic pedagogy through the arts can play.
Support and challenges at the local, provincial, national and international levels
Despite limitations and barriers imposed by a neoliberal educational agenda, policy approaches and initiatives are beginning to appear locally, nationally and internationally which support and encourage critical democratic pedagogy through the arts. In 2006, UNESCO organized the First World Conference on Arts Education in Lisbon and is planning to host another in 2010. One of the significant impacts of this conference was the impetus for the creation of the World Alliance for Arts Education. Through this Alliance, the International Drama/Theatre and Education Association (IDEA), International Society for Education through Art (INSEA), and International Society for Music Education (ISME) united to define an integrated strategy that responds to what they saw as “a critical moment in human history: social fragmentation, a dominant global culture of competition, endemic urban and ecological violence, and the marginalization of key educational and cultural languages of transformation” (WAAE, 2006). The WAAE hope to collaborate with governments, networks, educational institutions, communities and individuals who share their vision to accelerate the implementation of arts education policies internationally. This international leadership, particularly in its challenge to UNESCO to join with them to make arts education central to a world agenda for sustainable human development and social transformation, is a significant positive step forward.
At the national level, the impetus for the development of a set of Policy Guidelines for Arts Education in Canadian Schools began in 1997 at the First National Symposium for Arts Education in Cape Breton. Over the next seven years, through a combination of annual symposia and the work of teachers, educational administrators, artists and arts organizations from across Canada, the final Guidelines were developed and presented to the Canadian Conference for the Arts in 2003. Although little work has been done in terms of moving these guidelines forward since 2003, there appears to have been a resurgence in both interest and organization in Canada since 2006, with the revival of national Arts and Learning Symposia and the creation of the Canadian Network for Arts and Learning (CNAL). Additionally, the CNAL has been working together with the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, Canada Council and the Canadian Conference for the Arts to bring together a wide range of stakeholders in a collaboration aimed at “raising awareness of the advantages of arts and learning, informing cultural and educational policy, improving the quality of arts education programs and fostering research and exemplary practices” (CNAL, 2008).
What hurdles/challenges lie in the way?
The work at the national and international level towards recognizing and valuing the important contributions that the arts can have to a world agenda for sustainable human development and social transformation is encouraging. However, in most secondary schools across Canada, the arts still exist as ‘stand-alone courses’ with limited perceived importance to secondary school graduates. I argue that a paradigm shift is necessary which sees the arts integrated across the curriculum, valued for their ability to increase opportunities for creativity, innovation and visual literacy, and important as an avenue through which critical democratic pedagogy can create aesthetic experiences to connect the heads, hearts and hands of communities of people at all levels from classrooms to schools to communities to nations and globally. Additionally, issues related to: availability and access; funding issues and Ministry priorities; partnerships; accountability; standardization; and leadership all continue to have an impact on the achievement of this paradigmatic shift.
Public education should continually strive for equity in provision and access to all of its programs. In reality, equity in both provision and access are frequently tied to funding issues. For schools in low socio-economic areas, school budgets are often stretched in order to provide the ‘basic supplies’ and arts supplies are often seen as a ‘frill’. The focus on reading and writing for both expression and assessment limits the potential for creativity and innovation for all students, and particularly for students who are gifted in the arts. At the secondary school level, it is unfortunate that many of these gifted and talented youth must leave their home schools, if they wish to attend ‘focus programs’ in the arts, and thus lose the ability and opportunity to share their gifts with their own community.
In addition to equity issues, funding cuts are creating challenges for the implementation of many policy guidelines at the provincial, district and school levels. The combination of the pressure to increase programming to meet individual needs, with recent funding cuts at the Board and school level, necessitates a re-examination of priorities, as budget deliberations occur. As in most public sector organizations, the priorities are generally associated with what is being assessed or evaluated. With the current focus on EQAO testing in literacy and numeracy, and limited attention on the arts at the provincial level, programs and program initiatives in literacy and numeracy are receiving funding while many school districts and schools are cutting arts funding (People for Education, 2004). In addition to funding issues, there are a number of other factors which have arisen related to: downsizing in administration with resulting cuts to positions of arts consultants and specialist arts teachers in schools (People for Education, 2004)
In order to support arts programming both for funding issues and for discipline expertise, a number of schools have created partnerships with organizations in their community and with artists in the community. There are a couple of cautions to be noted from a critical pedagogy perspective including the concern that most community artists have little training in pedagogy, and significantly less in critical pedagogy. Critical democratic pedagogy is based on a framework of principles through which possible actions can be discussed and analyzed (Kincheloe, 1999). ‘Artists in the community’ can contribute in valuable ways by sharing their passion, knowledge and skills with the students, however, due to the nature of critical democratic pedagogy, it is the teacher in the classroom who must be responsible for ensuring that any ‘partnerships’ and programming remain grounded in concerns for community building and social justice (Aronowitz & Giroux ,1993; Anyon,(2005; Kincheloe, 1999)
School boards and schools need to be accountable to the community for providing quality education to all students. Based on critical democratic theory, a number of questions arise: If they are accountable to the community, does the community have any voice in critically questioning or challenging the existing curriculum based on issues that they would like to see addressed or specific needs within their community? (Vibert et al., 2002) Why are they not accountable to the students themselves? If students are to be engaged in their learning, they should be given voice in the development of courses or curriculum that pertains to issues that they would like to question, critically investigate, and take action on (Dewy, 1938; Freire, 1998; Otoya-Knapp, 2004).
The dangerous combination of accountability combined with efficiency in education has led to the move towards standardization (Apple, 1999; Menashy, 2007). Standardization is antithetical to critical democratic principles as it limits the opportunity for students and teachers to critically and creatively engage in their own learning. Although much of the focus of the impact of standardization has been on the effects on students, it is equally important to examine its effects on teachers, teacher education and professional development. Due to the immense amount of pedagogical and discipline-specific material that must be covered with pre-service teachers, they received limited, if any, grounding in critical democratic pedagogy. For experienced teachers, the efficiency movement has resulted in the creation of ‘mandatory’ standardized professional development which again is antithetical to the principles of a critical democracy.
At the provincial or state level, pressures on governments to be accountable and transparent in their use of public monies has been the impetus for most of the assessment policies developed over the past three decades. Additionally, the human capital and results-based philosophy, combined with the efficiency movement has been behind the arguments for standardized curriculum and assessment based on externally-set criteria (Giroux, 1993; Menashy, 2007). In Ontario, schools are focused on provincially-developed and dictated tests in literacy and numeracy. The law requires tests for all students in grades 9–10 in literacy and numeracy, and success in the literacy test is mandatory for graduation from secondary school. In other countries, single large scale assessments are being used to illustrate adequate yearly progress (AYP), the primary measurement under No Child Left Behind. These standardized, off-the-shelf-tests provide very little, if any, information to inform learning and teaching. Due to the standardized format, the timing of the tests, and the distribution of results, they offer little in way of diagnosis but have significant weight in labeling the performance of schools and school districts. No single test can tell all there is to know. As the directors of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing emphasize, “Multiple measures are needed to address the full depth and breadth of our expectations for student learning” (Herman, Baker, & Linn, 2004, p. 2). It is encouraging to see this shift in mindset about assessment.
An alternative approach, which would support the use of critical democratic pedagogy, and has recently been piloted in a number of school districts and schools in the U.S. uses growth models. These models, which support Dewey’s conception of ‘education as growth’, enable schools to show individual student achievement gains over time as a valid measurement of learning (Fuller et al., 2004). Dewey (1939) adds his caution though, when defining ‘growth’, or as he would argue ‘growing’, arguing that this development is not only physically, but intellectually and morally.
The final challenge that will be presented in this paper is also one of the greatest. The success of any reform initiative or social movement is often the result of a number of separate but interrelated movements (Anyon, 2005). However, I would further argue that if the goal of this educational reform is a paradigmatic shift which recognizes the importance of critical democratic pedagogy and a new conception of education in and through the arts, then it will require critical democratic leadership. Given the complex governance structure of education in Canada, combined with the diverse and complex web of policy actors who have an interest in or would be affected by this type of educational policy reform, I would argue for the use of a radical policy approach.
What is radical educational policy? Why is this method needed?
Traditional, rational or managerial policy development approaches are generally linear, staged and state controlled or state centered. A radical policy approach, in contrast, recognizes both the complexity and the value of having a broad and diverse group of stakeholders or policy actors acting at many different levels. The use of the metaphor of a policy web (Goldberg, 2006; Joshee, 2008) helps to understand how the policy process is shaped by circulating discourses. Using this metaphor, policy is designed as an ensemble of multiple discourses that interact in a complex web of relationships that enable or constrains social relations. It is a fluid arrangement of discourses existing at a given moment in time, emerging out of the struggle between multiple discourses from multiple voices in a given context. The discourses circulate in different policy actors such as government, education officials, NGOs, CNAL, teachers, artists, parents, students and arts advocates who participate in disseminating and creating discourses. As such, while this definition recognizes the important role of the state, it highlights that the state is not the only player as multiple actors can participate in the policy process.
I would argue that a radical policy approach, which builds on the work done by the NSAE, utilizes critical democratic principles and includes the active participation of a much broader and diverse set of policy actors, has the potential to create an exciting future in educational reform and gives hope for a re-focusing of the goals of education from an economic focus to a focus on democracy and social justice. As Anyon (2005) and Freire (1998) have argued, the success of many social reforms in the past have stressed the importance of the involvement from the grass-roots level (community participation). The teachers who will be delivering this curriculum, are incredibly important policy actors, as are the youth their parents and other stakeholders. Their voices need to be heard through the dialogues, debates, policy development process and to continue to ask the critical questions of : Why?; For what purpose/goal?; and In whose interest? (Anyon, 2005; Apple, 1999; Fine & Weis, 2003).
Realizing the vision of using critical democratic pedagogy through the arts, across the curriculum in secondary schools in Canada would be no quick and simple feat. It would necessitate a paradigm shift with respect to the role of arts education in secondary schools. However, the greatest challenge lies in the need for a much larger paradigm shift with regards to the role of public education itself, from an economic, market-based model to one of democracy and social justice. I would argue that the ‘sense of urgency’ is being felt, not just in Canada, but around the world, as growing inequity resulting from the failures of our current educational systems become increasingly apparent. As many critical theorist have argued, it will take a concerted social movement to create a disruption in the current Western, hegemonic model of education (Anyon, 2005; Apple, 1999; Giroux, 2002; Greene, 1995; hooks, 2003; Kincheloe, 1999). It must be remembered, however, that throughout history, many of these social movements were successful because of community organization and the centrality of youth (Anyon, 2005). If democracy is more than rhetoric at the educational policy table, it is time to bring the voices, passion and creativity of our community members and youth to the table. I have argued that the use of a radical policy approach which: understands and utilizes the interrelationships and interdependencies in the policy web; incorporates critical democratic principles; and values and promotes the active involvement of a broad and diverse group of policy actors, can further develop the work that has already been accomplished through the NSAE . However, as I have further developed the argument, the need for a pedagogical shift towards a critical democratic approach, in classrooms and in schools, is essential if we wish to use the arts to pursue democratic goals and education for a democratic society.