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Should arts learning be ‘left to the community’? How the experiences of homeschoolers are shining a light on classroom arts learning

Katie Burke, University of Southern Queensland

Although there exists a significant body of empirical evidence that demonstrates the value of the arts in education (Bamford, 2006; Ewing, 2010; Unesco, 2010), they nevertheless continue to be marginalised. More than in any other learning domain, it appears that arts educators and advocates are repeatedly asked to provide rigorous justification for their value and contribution to children’s learning (See & Kokotsaki, 2016). In a ‘crowded curriculum’ with small budgets, the arts are often seen as time-intensive and expensive, and are consequently often omitted or engaged with superficially in order to prioritise ‘more valuable’ learning (Ewing, 2010). Some go as far as to argue that home environments and community organisations can adequately provide for arts experiences, and that arts learning could be ‘left to the community’, leaving schools to focus on ‘the essentials’ (Hoffman Davis, 2008). My research into the arts teaching practices of Australian homeschoolers has produced some interesting findings which offer an additional perspective on this issue.

In my research (Burke, 2019), I sought the perspectives of 193 Australian homeschooling parents to investigate how they facilitated their children’s arts learning. Significant findings included key challenges described by participants in relation to their senses of confidence and competence when facilitating the arts. These included parents’ perceived lack of background knowledge and confidence in the arts, difficulties in sourcing or affording appropriate materials, challenges raised by a family’s context and the availability of opportunities in their area, and finding time for arts learning in busy households (Burke, 2019).

‘The challenges of delivering arts learning identified by homeschooling participants (such as lack of time, expertise and resourcing) were remarkably similar to those experienced by classroom educators.’

What was most interesting about these findings was the way in which the expressed challenges closely aligned with those experienced by generalist classroom educators. Each challenge identified by the homeschooling participants was mirrored, in broader research, by similar challenges faced by classroom educators. While homeschooling is pedagogically unique and distinct from traditional classroom education, it was most interesting to note such strong synergies between their own identified challenges and those expressed elsewhere by classroom teachers.

My research into the arts teaching practices of homeschooling parents thus makes an unexpected but important contribution to the broader issue of the role of the arts in classroom education, and the need for adequate arts support for all educators, classroom and home alike. Those challenges of delivering arts learning that are experienced in similar ways in both classroom and homeschooling contexts (such as lack of time, expertise and resourcing) have been promoted by some opponents of arts learning in the curriculum as the very reasons that the arts should not be a school priority (Hoffman Davis, 2008). These opponents argue that arts learning need not be included in classroom learning because ‘the arts will survive in the community without school support’ (Hoffman Davis, 2008, p. 41).

My own research findings demonstrate that such logic is flawed. That participating homeschoolers experienced challenges in the facilitation of arts learning that are remarkably similar to those of classroom educators reveals the naivety of the assumption that effective arts engagement can occur ‘naturally’ in the community without necessary support structures. Furthermore, assertions by opponents of arts learning in the mandated educational curriculum that community-based arts learning can provide necessary engagement with the arts (Hoffman Davis, 2008) overlook issues of access and equity. Expertise, resources and opportunity are not equally distributed across communities: this was highlighted by homeschooling participants in my research, who revealed that community arts opportunities were often limited by their context.

While the experiences of home educators and classroom educators are vastly different and should not be used for general comparison, the insights provided by my research nonetheless highlight that arts learning in any context can prove challenging because it requires time, resourcing and, often, expertise. The key, then, to ensuring that meaningful arts learning takes place is to recognise these challenges and provide adequate support to overcome them. This, of course, reveals the deeper issue: the need to priortise such support, which is the true challenge that most arts advocates continue to face.


This blog post is based on the article ‘The challenges of facilitating arts learning in home education’ by Katie Burke.

It is published in the British Educational Research Journal, and is free-to-view for non-subscribers for a limited period, courtesy of the journal’s publisher, Wiley. 


References

Bamford, A. (2006). The Wow Factor: Global research compendium on the impact of the arts in education. Münster: Waxmann Verlag.

Burke, K. (2019). The challenges of facilitating arts learning in home education. British Educational Research Journal. Advance online publication. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/berj.3546

Ewing, R. (2010). The Arts and Australian education: Realising potential. Camberwell, Australia: Australian Council for Educational Research. Retrieved from https://research.acer.edu.au/aer/11/

Hoffman Davis, J. (2015). Why our schools need the Arts. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Nussbaum, M. C. (2012). Not for Profit: Why democracy needs the humanities. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

See, B.H., & Kokotsaki, D. (2016). Context and Implications Document for: Impact of arts education on children’s learning and wider outcomes. Review of Education, 4(3), 263–265. Retrieved from https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/rev3.3074

United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). (2010). Seoul Agenda: Goals for the development of Arts education. The second world conference on arts education, Korea, 25–28 May 2010. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/fileadmin/multimedia/HQ/CLT/CLT/pdf/Seoul_Agenda_EN.pdf