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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

How To Destroy the Arts in Education

Updated: Jan 13, 2022

Image by Engin Akyurt

The clever bureaucrat's guide to bypassing the powerful arts lobby and achieving peaceful annihilation ...

If you are an Education bureaucrat, chances are you have never heard of "The persecution and assassination of Jean Paul Marat; as performed by the inmates of the asylum of Charenton under the direction of the Marquis de Sade" ... or Peter Brook's production of Marat/Sade. So you can see it here:

I suggest all Education bureaucrats and arts practitioners have another look at this ancient masterpiece film of a theatre production by Peter Brook from a play by Writers: Peter Weiss (play), Geoffrey Skelton (English translation) and staring Patrick Magee, Clifford Rose, Glenda Jackson and Ian Richardson.

The Lessons from Clifford Rose as M. Coulmier in Marat Sade

Clifford Rose as asylum's director, M. Coulmier in Marat Sade

Aspiring bureaucrats attempting to achieve the annihilation of the Arts in Education need to study Clifford Rose's excellent performance of M. Coulmier in Peter Brook's film of Marat Sade.

The actor achieves an exceptional balance of patience, suave endearment, loyalty to the program, reassuring diction and intonation at every point. He is able to assure the guests in the Asylum that they are safe while confronted by the bizarre and erratic inmates who are presenting the play. He has an even handed approach to dealing with the potential crises points within the work. He smiles as he speaks.

One could well imagine his Coulmier being a guest presenter at a Professional Development day for teachers during downtime in a school. No doubt he might begin his session with a statement like this:

"I know how difficult it is for you sitting here today when you all have such pressing and planning tasks to do. I assure you, I really appreciate your willingness to have me. I know what it is like. I used to be a teacher like you and know how demanding your classwork can be. I thank your school administration for having the foresight ... blah di blah di blah!"

You know the speech! That one given before "sharing" pedagogical methods for all teachers to use while actually boring everyone at the session to death. Luckily that obscure PH D allowed the person to get out of the classroom and so sparing students from also being bored to death!

Artists and arts educators as irascible inmates

Coulmier is only too aware of the problematic nature of his task in encouraging creativity within the inmates of the asylum as well as controlling the situation. It takes supreme confidence in one's abilities to do this. So the aspiring bureaucrat needs to do plenty of personal and professional development workshopping and study to build this necessary confidence. Their use of language for sharing perceptions and experiences with like-minded colleagues is of utmost importance. So the implementation of training workshops providing common ground is essential. This can then apply to the aspiring underlings within the institutions which serve their needs.

The aspiring Coulmier recognizes the power that can be unleashed by emotional and neurotic artists and arts educators. Coulmier has been burnt by this power in the past and so has learnt much to harness it like electricity; seeing the arts as a conduit for personal and political power sourcing while containing it within neatly positioned power outlets, similar or analogous with power outlets in a kitchen. Coulmier knows that if the water isn't too hot, the artists would be too blindfolded and alienated to ever really identify the strategies being used for this containment.

And he lets them scream and hop about like kangaroos on hot coals; but he knows they will never emerge from their cultural and personal incarceration. Their antics become a source of jokes over drinks with his bureaucratic colleagues who share the common language and surety that goes with confidence and certainty. The surreptitious rolling of the eyes at a public forum where some crablike arts-person dares to question some bureaucratic truism. Coulmier has all the credibility and his eyes signal that the crab trying to creep out of the crab-pot is just naïve and lacking any awareness.

System of a Dalek and Dalekism

So far, we have discussed the process of annihilation strategies on a micro level. However, these will only work if supported at a systems level concerning the macro universe of arts and education processes that seem to work independently of the best efforts of Coulmier or his adherents. To really follow through in neutralising and even destroying the practices and processes of the arts and education, one has to consider policy and procedural considerations at a macro level.

The most obvious signs and notable strategies for achieving this can be seen in:

  • removing government specific "Arts" departments and ministeries (eg. The Morrison Government’s decision to abolish the Department of Communication and the Arts and merge it into a super department called the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications)

  • removing or substantially reducing funding to arts training institutions (eg.

  • amalgamating arts training departments with other areas such as cultural studies or humanities within institutions

  • downgrading arts subjects within the schools and education system

  • demolishing arts specific tertiary training of teachers in universities

  • making arts training inaccessible for potential students by increasing tertiary fees

  • merging arts subject specific areas within ever increasingly widened fields of study

  • developing processes of reduction to measure and quantify arts processes and achievements

  • making arts curricula in schools vague and controlled by bureaucrats so as to control the assessment of such programs by said bureaucrats and to limit the input of challenges ...

Oh, and Coulmier would probably list a few other points. But I note with sadness that in the ACT each arts subject once had its own framework through which courses would be developed. There was a wide range of choice within units that could be offered in ACT schools. Along with my Drama teaching colleagues, I remember developing a Drama Framework in the early 2000s that suited the particular field of study and that offered a wide range of potential differentiation. It later became a Drama and Dance Framework and recently an Arts Framework. Coinciding with this movement was a growing vagueness within the subject areas. There was a loosening of language definition and a gradual ambiguous shape to all areas covered. In effect, course definitions within the new framework have merged to the point of meaningless platitudes.

Instead of a vibrant culture of challenge and even levity, the bureaucratic strategies would seem to reduce all meaning to the level of Daleks devoid of empathy and feeling. The intelligence of feeling is long past being even a vague priority for arts education.

The Reductionist Paradox

However, the power of the bureaucracy is increased. Assessment of individual accomplishment is no longer determined by content knowledge, empathetic acknowledgement and the application of practical demonstration, but rather by semantic interpretation and postmodern stipulation. A new Arts framework in the ACT presents a number of courses without any real defining differentiation between its limited number of courses on offer; in effect exactly the same content might be used in each course while only needing to change some of the semantics and nuances that pertain to each one.

This could easily be studied as Anthropology rather than Drama and one wonders if this isn't the ultimate aim of the instigators of the frameworks. Basically Coulmier could smile and proclaim the progress being made by way of instilling arts everywhere rather than having it as an elitist academic subject. Its demise from the very notion of academic rigour in favour of more abstract and semantic codification and labelling would leave the very idea of in-depth study as an absurdity.

The mantra of "content is dead" echoes some of the thinking from the early 1970s. The vague and semantic aspect of the framework leaves all expertise open to claims of it being only culturally relevant with any attempt to broaden its context being chauvinistic and at worst culturalist and even racist. Critical and creative thinking is thus defined by imposed dictates rather than through investigation and even personal and cultural challenges.

This thinking becomes paradoxically reductionist. It deliberately fosters superfluous written detailing of even the minutest aspects of selected content to overarching semantics that would seem to quell the accountability urge that is so strong in bureaucratic circles.

Coulmier is a master of charting, graphing and sequencing. The reduction of concepts to ludicrous and time-consuming scope and sequence written evidence of business detail is simply a means to prevent the exploration of precisely what Drama, Dance and Music, along with the visual arts, can actually do. The silence engendered by time to reflect, be still and engage with the world cannot be written up as part of a sequence. It is rather an embedded existence that needs intuitive and wholistic BEING. Where can Coulmier find this?

By reducing the arts down to this reductive process, it will eventually provoke the question of WHY and when the answers become uncertain and unclear, the very question transforms into WHY NOT ... why not cut the whole thing and simply replace arts education with other areas that do the anal retentive and controlled learning much better.

So there! Prospective producers of Arts Education annihilation ... I hope this has been a valuable lesson! Mind you, I doubt there is anything here people don't already know ...

Joe Woodward

Stream or download DTC feature movie "UNDER THE LIGHT":

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