Education: Posts

Routledge Education September Author of the Month: Merryl Goldberg

Merryl Goldberg is a Professor of Visual and Performing Arts at California State University San Marcos, USA. She is founder and director of Center ARTES, an organization dedicated to restoring the arts to education, author of numerous publications, and recipient of many grants relating to her work with the arts in the schools. The fifth edition of her book, Arts Integration: Teaching Subject Matter through the Arts in Multicultural Settings, is now available.

I can’t remember a time when arts were not a part of my life (witnessed by this photo of me before I could even walk – happily playing the bongos!). I am fortunate in that the arts have been an integral aspect of my own life since childhood. My father was a painter and graphic artist. In his later years he dedicated himself to acting in Community Theater and even became the director of the theater program at my childhood high school, Somerset High School, in Massachusetts. His father, my grandfather, was a musician who played viola and violin with many big bands including Duke Ellington and Paul Whiteman. Pop was also in the Boston Pops, and I have wonderful memories of watching him play on the Esplanade in Boston. My mother makes amazing cards, crafts jewelry, has worked with stained glass, and is one of the most amazing knitters I know!

From 1980 through to the mid-nineties, I traveled throughout the world as a professional musician with the Klezmer Conservatory Band playing the saxophone in a variety of settings including the Adelaide World Music Festival in Australia, jazz and folk clubs, weddings, and radio shows such as Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor. At a certain point in my performing career, I decided to give up the stage and applause as a full-time profession and turn my energies to education.
Though I continue to perform, my greatest moments are now spent in working with teachers, artists, and students and creating the open spaces for engagement, and “dissolving margins,” (as novelist Elena Ferrante writes in her book, My Brilliant Friend) with and through the arts. For me, not much compares to being able to spend time with individuals as practice being imaginative and creative, or while they are taking risks and engaging in a sense of wonder. And, when all is said and done, there is absolutely no limit nor shortage to the potential and possibilities within all of us.

What made you decide to write this book?

The first edition of this book came out shortly after I finished up my doctorate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. I was bursting with the energy of a young practitioner/writer, and researcher. Being in classrooms especially motivated me. I was among incredibly capable teachers and students who were in settings where the system was holding them back, and where arts were all but eliminated. When we partnered to bring the arts into the curriculum, I was fascinated by the power of the arts to engage, motivate, and inspire kids and teachers, especially as they utilized the arts as pedagogy for teaching other subject matter (math, science, social studies, language arts). I knew I had to start telling the stories of the classrooms. And, I knew I needed to make a case for arts integration as an especially significant tool for learning in multicultural and multilingual settings. The book has seen several updates and changes over the years and I’m super excited about this edition. It includes many more examples of students grappling with learning including several featuring the amazing and poignant work of my own students.

What is the one thing you hope readers take away from this book?

Arts education and arts integration are vital to educating students for success, careers, and perhaps most importantly, being empathetic human beings.

Is there something you think it’s important to highlight about this topic?

Arts integration opens worlds to teachers and students to delve deeply into thinking, creating, and reflecting. For teachers, the arts open worlds for all learners as they open languages of learning, ways to motivate students, engage them in deep learning, and as a tool to evaluate their understandings. For example, children who are reluctant speakers (maybe they are learning a new language, have a speech impediment, are keenly shy) can embrace the arts as their language. More often than not I have heard from teachers, “my ‘low students’ are the ones shining when I incorporate the arts.” What this tells me is that the “low students” are not low at all! They simply needed a language to shine and show their abilities. The arts enable us to stand on our tiptoes to reach all learners.

What is a common misconception about this topic that you would like to clear up?

A common misconception about the arts in general is that they are fluff, or something to add to the curriculum on Friday afternoon! Nothing could be further than the truth. Today’s most important skills for successful careers and life include the ability to work cooperatively in groups, think creatively to solve problems, and be flexible. The arts teach us all that and more, they teach us about we are as people, and how to communicate and express ourselves. The arts are what we sound like, look like, act as, and are as humans. They are an expression of our global (and micro) humanity. Who wouldn’t want arts to be central to learning?!

Arts Integration
Teaching Subject Matter through the Arts in Multicultural Settings, 5th Edition
By Merryl Goldberg
270 pages