In 2009, the Obama administration funneled money through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to political friends. Documentation confirmed their guilt. But the NEA did not end its efforts to use art to influence public opinion. Instead, they changed their target to kids, undertaking education initiatives, with the Department of Education and others. Arts programs are also being used to expand the scope and influence of Common Core, the increasingly unpopular national education standards in place in 43 states for math and English Language Arts.
By Mary Grabar l December 3, 2014
Photo credit/Gwendolyn Glenn
Shortly after President Obama took office, in August 2009, an invitation to a conference call sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts was sent to a handpicked group of 75 “artists, producers, promoters, organizers, influencers, marketers, taste-makers, leaders or just plain cool people.” They were asked to “join together and work together to promote a more civically engaged America and celebrate how the arts can be used for a positive change!
According to a Capital Research Center report, “The intent was to encourage the artists to think about ways to create arts-focused projects to support the President’s policies in four areas: healthcare, environment and energy, education, and community service.”
The Obama administration also funneled money through the NEA to political friends, such as a group that put on a play called Deviant Bodies.
After exposure by filmmaker Patrick Courrielche, the principals involved denied accountability for the artistic quid pro quo. Documentation, however, confirmed their guilt.
But the NEA did not end its efforts to use art to influence public opinion. They changed their target to kids, undertaking education initiatives, with the Department of Education and others. For example, in February 2011, a press release announced a roundtable and webcast on arts education and assessment with individuals from the Department of Education, the NEA, universities, non-profits, and state boards of education. That same month the agency announced that then Chairman Rocco Landesman would convene an “Education Leaders Institute” in Chicago, involving educators, state education departments, and state agencies, among others, to “put arts education at the center of discussion on education policy.” An “alumni summit” was then held in December 2012 to represent the “first step in new arts education vision for NEA.”
In 2013, a press release went out about a webinar with the Head Start director and “other federal agency representatives” on incorporating arts education into early childhood education programs.
Recent missives from the Department of Education show that the arts programs seem to be having an effect, inspiring students with prizes and honors to produce art that is politically palatable to the Obama administration. A September Department of Education “Homeroom” blog post announced days of honor for young artists at the Department of Education’s headquarters. Shortly afterward, the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards were announced. While the examples of visual art showed technical mastery, the example of a student “praise poem” revealed an anti-American agenda similar to that for the new Advanced Placement high school history standards.
Consider these featured lines:
I am strong.
I come from strong.
I come from America,
No, not America,
I come from people brought to America.
America, not America, land of the free,
For freedom did not exist,
Not surprisingly, the themes follow those of workshop leader Glenis Redmond, who describes herself as a “teaching artist” and “imagination activist.” A grantee of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, among others, she works with gang members, prisoners, and students to show them the “healing power” of poetry. Her website does not offer sample sonnets, but is filled with publicity shots and videos of her performances in the off-the-cuff “spoken word” style of grievance and identity politics.
Unfortunately, much of the “poetry” that is supported with public funding is in this vein. The 2014 NEA ceremony honoring literature fellows featured the “DC Youth Poetry Slam.”
Arts programs are also being used to expand the scope and influence of Common Core, the increasingly unpopular national education standards in place in 43 states for math and English Language Arts. Recently, the Baltimore NPR station reported that twenty teachers had paired up with professional artists to develop lesson plans that “tie the Common Core and new national arts standards together.” The “artist” enlisted to teach students how to read Eli Wiesel’s Night, a book about his experiences in the Nazi death camps, is a flamenco dancer and choreographer, who created different dances to “show the various moods the characters go through.” Flamenco is a flamboyant and vigorous dance that began with the Gypsies of Andalusia and became popular in the early 19th century as “café entertainment.”
Seemingly oblivious to the historical meaning of the death camps, the English teacher quoted in the article said that students “will have to come up with their own flamenco interpretations of moods throughout the novel [sic],” and “will have to justify what they did in their performance through writing and explaining how the mood and tone developed, which goes into deeper thinking that Common Core has.”
Think for a moment about the absurdity and horror of having students perform interpretive flamenco dances to portray the experiences of concentration camp victims!
Yet, this exercise is presented as an example of “deeper thinking.”
Whatever it is, it is not deeper thinking, or real thinking. It’s another way to lessen the “achievement gap” between those who are literate and those who are not by having students “perform” dances and describe them, rather than display real knowledge.
These educators are managing not only to downgrade the written word, but visual art at the same time. Vanessa Lopez, one of the arts instructors assisting language arts teachers justified incorporating Common Core arts standards by saying, “A lot of Common Core is about reading and text, so what the new national core arts standards have done is defined arts as a form of text. . . . For example, if I put up an example of an art work in the new standards, I’ll teach children how to read that art work as if it were text, and then writing about the painting, telling the story of the painting just like they would with any other informational text.”
Steve Goldberg, an art history professor at Hamilton College, sees that as a degradation of art: “Reducing a painting to an ‘informational text,’ completely ignores the distinctive ways in which a subject is depicted and sentiments are expressed through the formal qualities and the technical handling and materiality of the medium in which it is rendered. Apparently art is no longer meant to be experienced as an aesthetic object but ‘decoded’. . . . A little knowledge is truly a dangerous thing.”
Those running education either seem to have very little knowledge or are intentionally dangerous to our youth. And they work through seemingly innocent arts programs.
Mary Grabar, Ph.D., has taught college English for over twenty years. She is the founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., an education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents, and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is the editor of EXILED. Ms. Grabar is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.