Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting started

I teach "Ethics & Leadership" in the University of San Diego's Nonprofit Leadership graduate program. My students are working on a code of ethics project and their work has led me to think about the role of ethics in my own field, arts education.

To start, when I talk about ethics, I refer to Frank Griswold's definition. "Ethics is about the rules we choose to live by once we decide we want to live together." I like this frame for a variety of reasons but in part because it involves consensus and choice. I think of ethics not only as regulators (which they are and which we need) but also as inspiration, encouraging us to rise to our better selves.

Out in the field there are a few stabs at codes of ethics in arts education. This led me to wonder if there are some universal ethical principles that might guide all arts education endeavors. Are there some fundamental ethics that could guide and enhance our work in schools and communities?

So, I ask, what might an ethical framework for arts education look like? What tenets or principles might it contain?

Here are some initial thoughts on my part in no particular order. Please respond to these or provide your own.

- Freedom of artistic expression. I suggest that we have an ethical responsibility to our students as well as to our art forms to promote the freedom of artistic expression in educational contexts.

- Sufficient resources for art making and art learning These resources include but are not limited to:
o time allotted to the arts during the school day
o well-trained professionals to teach (both credentialed teachers and professional artists)
o appropriate space in which to make and learn art. The blacktop would not typically be considered an appropriate place to learn math – why would we teach dance there?
o adequate budgets

- Honesty and transparency with donors and supporters. This extends to any nonprofit but it is always good to ask, “Are we using our resources appropriately and in accordance with donor wishes?”

- Authentic criteria for learning and success. Is the use of math and language arts test scores ethical in assessing the arts? Should we consider the ethical ramifications of assessment in the arts? (For full disclosure, one of my current arts education research projects includes test scores as an indicator of student learning. This was a pre-condition of funding the project).

What are your thoughts? I look forward to the conversation.


  1. Ethics and Art Education (funding, curriculum and direction)


    I think your willingness to focus on art education as a post for ethical standards and practice to exist holds a lot of ‘water’ for me. As a ‘part-time’ continuing education instructor (animation, design and portfolio prep) working directly with high school students from the Kansas City area, I attempt to impart my wisdom, facilitating classroom discussion and developing curriculum content based on professional experience in the commercial arts field.

    This is a desire and direction that I won’t let go of, that goal, which stands to improve on the developmental process (which includes curriculum content and access to materials) for current student achievement and establish career goals prior to entering a 4-year visual arts degree. This effort is mostly demonstrated in my ‘portfolio preparation class’ for high school students, developed out of my three years as a recruiter/admissions counselor at a 4-year independent college of art and design.

    I contend that my will and desire for state standards to be more impressed on students beyond the basics, stems from visiting well over 100 high schools throughout the Midwest, reviewing 1000’s of portfolios for a visual art (BFA) application, visiting with the high school instructors directly and realizing that their students who desire to pursue a visual arts degree are bound by the material limits of these instructors, their knowledge and little if any aspirations are introduced to enter a career that is seen as ‘lofty’ at best.

    Based on your ethical ‘framework’ for arts education, you mentioned – specifically, the assessment required for measuring success (a component of a ‘funding’ effort). My assessment for my portfolio class is ‘self assessment’, evaluated by the student and discussed as a group – in the end stage of the class. I’ll email you a copy, but it is part of my ‘online’ content.

    Let’s keep the conversation going. I just recently started my educational efforts (extending to the use of a ‘blog’) and encourage that you visit these resources (which you will have to ‘copy and paste’ into your browser’s address window) :

    Alex Hamil – BFA, M.Ed.
    Continuing Education Instructor – KCAI

  2. Alex, thanks for your thoughtful post. I am in 100% agreement that self evalation is an essential part of the assessment process. It's part of the artistic process! I believe we have an ethical obligation to our students and our art forms to engage them authentically in the artistic process. I look forward to following your blog.