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Being Attentive at Lincoln Center Institute

On July 17, 1982, a short notice appeared in the "Briefs on the Arts" column of The New York Times announcing two grants to the Lincoln Center Institute, enabling the replication of the Institute's program in four other cities, Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, and the Albany-Saratoga area. Already in operation, the news report stated, were operations in Nashville, Bowling Green and Toledo, Ohio, and Houston. Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit and Tulsa were said to have programs in the planning stage. The unique idea behind the Lincoln Center Institute has taken root and is thriving.

The Lincoln Center Institute was created by the Center in 1975. Its purpose is to help schools provide young people greater opportunities to encounter the world of the arts and to discover the aesthetic experience this world has to offer. "Frequently viewed only as vocation or avocation," the Institute's descriptive brochure states, "the arts all too often tend to be isolated from the mainstream of education or set aside as an area of concern only to the demonstrably talented. The Institute believes that the capacity through which people create and perceive beauty is one which young people need to explore in their formative years and that understanding and valuing this capacity in themselves and in others — is a critical part of learning and, in fact, of life itself. It is the Institute's belief that aesthetic education, as it has come to be called, should be part of the school life of every child and that artists and teachers are natural allies in bringing this about. This alliance of artist and teacher is at the heart of the concept of the Institute."

When the program began, the enrollment included 45 teachers from 11 schools. In 1982, there were over 400 teachers from 163 schools of 32 school districts in the New York Metropolitan area. Teachers enroll in all-day, three-week summer sessions held in the Juilliard building at Lincoln Center. Enrollment in a summer session is the entry to participation in the Institute's program. During this training period, teachers work with "teaching-artists" who specialize in theatre, music, and the dance. As a second step, drawing upon what they have learned in summer sessions, teams of teachers in each participating school work in partnership with the Institute's teaching-artists in planning programs for their students during the school year. In the final step, the teachers, working on their own and with individual teaching artists, introduce aesthetic education units of study to their students.

Institute Director Mark Schubart spoke of its musical aims: "We decided that what is important is not so much the activity of teaching kids about Beethoven, but teaching them how to listen, so that they can make their own decisions about what to listen to." The many performances offered by the various Lincoln Center constituents could be methodically reinforced in the regular classroom curriculum if regular classroom teachers could be involved. "The purpose of this program," Schubart wrote, "is not to train teachers, but to reach kids more effectively. And our relationships are not with individual teachers, but with schools and school systems. Each school sends us a team of four, five or even ten teachers, who go through the course and then work together developing a total program for the students in their school. We've found that most of the teachers who attend the program are English, social studies, math and language teachers, as well as those on the elementary level called 'teachers of self-contained classrooms.' Only five to ten per cent of our teachers are music and art teachers." Schubart intuited that if teachers could have a glimpse of artistic experiences themselves, their understanding of the arts would be sufficiently enhanced to make communication of these experiences to their students easier, even if the teachers themselves were not experts in each artistic field.

Also working with the teachers is Dr. Maxine Greene, Professor of Philosophy and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University, whom Schubart refers to as "our resident philosopher." Dr. Greene clearly takes the problem-solving approach, urging the teachers to notice in particular ways, to set the ordinary and the everyday at a distance, to dare to enter into illusioned worlds. "It seems so evident that we, as teachers, must keep our questions open — the thronging questions about particular art forms and about art itself and about the place of art in human life. Only if we do so are we likely to become clear with respect to what we hope to bring about in our classrooms, whether we call it enhanced awareness, heightened understanding, enlightenment, or a new mode of literacy ... the arts must be understood to be modes of sense-making. Perceiving as we have learned to do, using the symbol systems (or the languages) of the various arts, we extend our knowledge of the world."

In assessing the Institute's effects, Mark Schubart says: "You can measure in terms of whether kids go to concerts, whether they like it, whether they read books, and what they say. But ultimately there's no real measuring stick that can be used. And the important thing is that we're teaching a process, not an event. The teachers in the project who have come back year after year tell me that it was really only after the third year that they felt confident that they were being effective in the classroom. It takes a long time, and a lot of perseverance."

And back they come. Schubart points to a 60% rate of return, with some teachers having completed their fifth summer session. Some of them write about their experiences. Rita Solow, Supervisor, P.S. 85, District 10, Bronx: "Now, to the most important element of all, the children's reactions. On all levels, they have been fantastic — responsive, open — letting us, the adults, see their almost limitless potential to perceive, to understand, to move, to communicate, to go from the literal to the abstract, to interpret feelings and thoughts, to express themselves." Renee Darvin, Assistant Principal, Beach Channel High School: "We were tentative students the first year and we brought our insights back to our school in similar manner —as unsure of our youngsters' responses as we were of our own reactions. The second time around brought new understandings and confidences: we graphed a music phrase and moved our bodies through the space of a dance with assurance (and in half the time). Working with new teaching-artists refined what we had already experienced and added new dimensions to our budding aesthetic literacy, and we came back to our school with a renewed sense of direction."

About half the funding for the program comes from the schools, the other half coming from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute's own endowment fund, and various private and corporate donations. A spokesman for New York State Commissioner of Education Gordon M. Ambach recently stated: "In our view, music and the other arts are equally as important as the basics —reading, writing, math — in the overall development of the child. And where a school cannot afford a separate arts program, the Lincoln Center approach — this is, having teachers of other subjects incorporate a sensitivity for the arts in their courses — is certainly a realistic and valid approach." The grants announced in The Times must be interpreted as a sign of encouragement and support, both fiscal and philosophical.

Dr. Maxine Greene: "There can be no adequate summing up of a Lincoln Center Summer Institute. There can be no packaging of what has been experienced here, what has been learned. Indeed, the very notion of packaging — like the notion of a finished product — is antithetical to all that aesthetic education has come to mean. We have discovered that, the more informed our encounters with the arts become, the more perspectives open for us — on the works themselves and on our lives. We have not only seen more and heard more as the days have gone by; we have (almost without realizing it) discerned new shapes, new rhythms, new significances in the ordinary world. And, if we are attentive, if we are lucky, all of this will continue on."

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