Complexity, uncertainty and the role of  the arts in education

Year: 2012

Author: Ewing, Robyn

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Educators, policymakers and bureaucrats talk about the need for curricula to foster flexible, creative and imaginative learners with the dispositions, skills, understandings described by Davies and Edwards above (e.g., the Melbourne Declaration, 2009). It is incongruent then, that Australian national curriculum documents are heavily content laden and that government policy places an increasing emphasis on measuring educational success using restrictive national testing regimes. If the Australian Curriculum and related assessment strategies are to connect with students of today and be futures-oriented, a broad and integrated approach to knowledge and the development of thinking skills and attributes is an imperative. Such goals align with Osberg and Biesta's (2008) emergent curriculum approach.

Maxine Greene (e.g. 1995) describes the need to go beyond the literal everydayness of our worlds, the purposeless and airless confinement in square rooms, to see different realities and alternatives, to speculate and bring as if into being. She asserts that it is engagement with an artform, be it a dance, theatrical or musical performance, a literary text or a painting or sculpture, that is the real essence of transformative experiences enabling us to take risks and to challenge the imposed walls of what we have become.  This view resonates with the concept of the Arts as critical, quality pedagogy (Ewing, 2010).

This paper suggests ways that we as arts educators can break through policy walls to ensure that teachers have the professional expertise and confidence to enable all children to engage meaningfully with quality arts processes and experiences. It will use a number of current drama and literacy projects to demonstrate the educational possibilities for teachers and children when they feel imaginatively infused: ready to ask the big questions, challenge their perceived boundaries and understand that curriculum is not just about unpacking prescribed curriculum documents. Our emphasis should be on negotiation, collaboration, flexibility and improvisational performance (Sawyer, 2004).


Barone, T. (2001). Touching Eternity. The enduring outcomes of teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.

Ewing, R. (2010). Literacy and the Arts. In F.Christie & A. Simpson (eds.). Literacy and Social Responsibility. London: Equinox.

Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on education, the arts and social change. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.

Sawyer, R. (2004). Creative teaching: Collaborative discussion as disciplined improvisation. Educational Researcher, 33(2), 12-20.

CHAIR: Christopher Naughton