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Deasy is quick to point out that these assumptions may not have existed twenty, fifteen, or even ten years-ago, and that while these assumptions may appear to be universal, not all people within the arts may agree with them. 4 This note by Deasy wisely suggests that the core assumptions of a given field are both ephemeral and subject to individual experience.
Assumptions, as per Deasy’s suggestions, (a) are constantly up for review and revision and, (b) may be generalized over a larger population/community, but deviations will always exist within that population/community.
Building off of Deasy’s foundational assumptions for the field of arts education, my colleagues Ann Gregg, Nancy Kleaver, Heath Marlow, and I sought to further define the parameters of the field’s core assumptions by “teasing-out” the categories into which such
Strict religious beliefs likewise contributed to the maintenance of these widely held assumptions.
Richard J. Deasy. Presentation at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. April 6, 2009. Cambridge, MA.
assumptions may be considered. In our 2009 presentation at the AEP Fall Forum we delineated the core assumptions of the field of arts education into three discrete categories. We redefined the notion of “core assumptions” as the “prevailing purposes, procedures, and principles that influence leadership and practice” (Clapp, et al., 2009). In doing so, we built upon the notion that an assumption is an unvalidated truth that is up for constant revision, and that these truths stand as generalizations held over a field that may either add nuance or utterly disagree with any given assumption.
Core assumptions that address the purposes of arts education discuss why we do the work we do. These assumptions answer questions beginning with the word why. Why engage in arts education? Why advocate for arts education? Why is arts education important? These assumptions held by the field, then, are not the question of why—but
the answer. For example:
Question: Why is arts education important?
Answer: Arts education is important because it provides students with the opportunities to express their creative capacities.
Core Assumption: Arts education provides students with opportunities to express their creativity.
Question: Why advocate for arts education?
Answer: We should advocate for the proliferation of arts education because arts education experiences make our citizens more skilled workers capable of addressing the demands of the 21st Century workplace.
Core Assumption: Arts education provides students with the skills they will need to excel in the 21st Century workplace.
Procedures Core assumptions that address the procedures of arts education concern themselves with how we do the work we do, who provides these services, where should arts education take place, and what encompasses an arts education experience. These assumptions answer the question of how, who, where, and what. How do students experience arts education?
How should arts education be funded? How does arts education fold itself into broader curricular structures? Who administers an arts education experience? Where should arts education take place? What should an arts education experience entail? As with the purposes of arts education, the core assumptions surrounding the procedures of arts education are not the question of how, who, where, and what—but rather the answers to
these questions. For example:
Question: How should arts education be funded?
Answer: Arts education should be funded by the public because the cultural enrichment of a community is the responsibility of every citizen.
Core Assumption: Arts education should be publicly funded.
Question: Where should arts education take place?
Answer: Arts education should take place in public schools and be accessible to all students.
Core Assumption: Arts education should take place in public schools.
Principles Core assumptions that address the principles of arts education are related to the underlying theories that support the field. Deasy’s core assumption that “students learn in multiple ways and the arts provide multiple pathways for their doing so” indirectly assumes the importance of Howard Gardner’s (1982) theory of multiple intelligences. In the last forty years of arts education history there have been many theoretical models that have undergirded the assumptions of the field in different ways. Discipline-Based Arts Education (Getty Center for Education in the Arts, 1987), Arts Integration, “Arts for Arts Sake,” Artful Thinking (Project Zero, n.d.), Studio Thinking (Hetland et al., 2007), Visual Thinking Strategies (Housen & Yenawine, 2001), and 21st Century Skills (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2004) are amongst such theoretical frameworks.
Who’s Got Core Assumptions?
The language around core assumptions is deceptively complex in its simplicity. If I were to ask: “Do you have core assumptions about the field of arts education?” “Sure I do!” Might be your answer. “Perhaps you do,” Kegan and Lahey (2009) may say (and I would be in agreement with them), “but it’s more likely that your core assumptions have you.” Functioning as underlying truths that guide our decision-making, our core assumptions are not ideas we generally have. At least, we don’t have them in the sense that we can control them. They have us. The locus of control is with the assumptions—not with the individual.
The goal of identifying one’s core assumptions is, indeed, to take back that control from your core assumptions, to no longer be had by your core assumptions about the field of arts education, but to have your core assumptions, to hold them. Kegan and Lahey talk about this concept of being had vs. having an assumption in terms of subject and object.
When you’re core assumptions have you, you are subject to them. You operate in accordance with their parameters, you take them as truth, you formulate your actions and decisions based upon the frameworks your assumptions have set for you. They are at the core of how you know, experience, and operate within the field of arts education.
When you have your core assumptions, you have moved them from subject to object. You are no longer subject to your core assumptions once you are able to step outside of them and hold them as you would any other sort of object. It is at this point, when you can hold your core assumptions as object, that you can then begin to scrutinize them, question their validity, or perhaps dismiss them altogether.
Challenging Core Assumptions
The above examples of core assumptions were not designed to be universal, but instead designed to be emblematic of what certain individuals in the field of arts education may assume to be undeniable truths. Universal or not, resorting to generalizations helps us talk about broader swaths of a population. Whether these generalizations of core assumptions ring true for all, or many, or none, is separate (but related) to the key point that, as long as these assumptions and others like them are held to be true, the system—the field of arts education—can only function within their parameters. Problems confronting the field can only be addressed with the technical expertise that these assumptions warrant. In an instance where an adaptive challenge faces the field of arts education in a way that leaps beyond the field’s core assumptions, the assumptions of the field must change—what the field understands to be true must be altered in order to meet these challenges.
Let’s take one of Dick Deasy’s core assumptions that was mentioned earlier: “Arts education is underfunded at federal, state, and local levels.” If we accept this core assumption to be true, if we are subject to this core assumption, then we must operate within its parameters. This assumption suggests to us that as a field we will always operate from a position of scarcity, we will never have the full resources necessary to live out our greater visions, and therefore we must compromise ourselves and our programming. The assumption, in essence, limits our ability to progress.
However, if we step outside of this assumption and move this assumption from having us to us having it, then we can begin to problematize the validity of this assumption. We can then ask ourselves why we believe this is true. We will certainly come up with some very good reasons. That’s the assumption protecting itself, fighting to stay at the core of our meaning making, struggling to retain its control.
The next step in our process may be to ask ourselves, “what would it take for this core assumption to no longer be true?” This is the first movement towards developing adaptive expertise geared at overcoming an adaptive challenge. By asking ourselves what it would take for arts education to operate from a position of plenty, we are not calling upon technical routine know-how, we are forcing ourselves to think adaptively about our own field. We are moving from survival-based quick-fix approaches to problem solving, to paradigm shifting visions of reconstituting the field anew.
One of the challenges facing the field of arts education that I have noted is a disconnect between how 21st Century students naturally express themselves in a digital world, and the arts disciplines that are traditionally made available to them in-school and through afterschool programs. 5 Perhaps a core assumption being maintained by the field is that the primary disciplines of arts education are visual art, dance, theatre, and music. The field is subject to this notion. As long as the field on a whole accepts this as truth, the disconnect stated in the challenge to the field will continue. It is not until we challenge this core assumption that we can begin to address this disconnect and more effectively provide students with digital arts learning experiences that better correlate with their interests and personal aptitudes. One can see that replacing visual art, dance, theatre, and music with digital media arts would indeed require a paradigm shift in the field—an adaptive change.
“Hold on a second,” one of you may say, “I don’t think visual art, dance, theatre, and music are the primary disciplines of arts education. I’ve been a digital artist for years. I don’t hold these core assumptions!” Of course you don’t! The core assumptions of the field are overarching generalizations that are not individual-specific, but are instead an amalgamation of the assumed truths held by many. You may have your own personal set of core assumptions and the field of arts education may have an entirely different set. Those with more influence than others, however, dictate the field’s greater core assumptions. They determine, based on their values and what they hold to be true, how the field will act, what the field will believe, what arts education—writ large—will hold as truth.
How does this happen?
See Appendix A: A Short-List of Challenges Affecting the Field of Arts Education.
The core assumptions of the field of arts education are expressed in a variety of ways.
When the field’s professional associations announce a theme for an upcoming conference, the field asserts its core assumptions. When the editors of the field’s professional journals publish articles discussing certain topics and not others, the field asserts its core assumptions. When the field’s largest funding bodies release an RFP for programs focused on a given topic, the field asserts its core assumptions.
It can be argued that the core assumptions of the field of arts education are expressed from the top-down. Therefore, challenging the field’s core assumptions not only requires us to shift said assumptions from having us to us having them, it also relies upon our ability to surface the values, beliefs, and visions of those on the bottom. The question then is: who’s on top, who’s on the bottom, and what’s going on in the vast middle?
Conclusion: The Great Stage Dive of Change