At a school in Pike Township, a clogger (a kind of traditional dancer) is being used to help kids meet the new math standards mandated by our federal and state governments. Beth Niedermeyer, an assistant superintendent of the Pike Township schools, offered this as an example of the successful use of the arts in schools at a recent forum on arts education sponsored by the Arts Council of Indianapolis. Niedermeyer explained that students’ math proficiency had been tested before they met the clogger. Once the clogger was done working with them, they would be tested again. Niedermeyer said she was confident the kids’ scores would show improvement. Thanks to this form of evaluation, the presence of an artist (the clogger) in one of her classrooms would justify itself. Niedermeyer thought she was sharing a success story. But she was also describing the dilemma that arts education advocates are facing in today’s test-obsessed schools. For over 20 years now, observers have been expressing alarm over the systematic dismantling of arts curricula in American schools. The old saw that when cuts are to be made, arts classes and programs are the first things on the chopping block is still true today, in spite of a rich body of research providing ample evidence that the arts not only enhance learning, but significantly contribute to kids’ development as engaged, motivated individuals. In Indianapolis, unless your kid goes to a magnet school where the arts are emphasized, the chances are that whatever arts experience he or she receives is delivered not by certified teachers as part of the regular curriculum, but by outside service providers such as Young Audiences of Indiana. According to the Arts Council’s survey of educational arts programs, there are now 1,169 “teaching artists” participating in 91 arts learning programs in Indianapolis. But almost half these programs — 49 percent — are one-time events. This is a far cry from the vision expressed by John Edward Ryor, the president of the National Education Association, in 1977: “Quality education in its most fundamental sense cannot be separated from the culture of society. The quality of the culture is expressed in its arts and humanities. Those who say they can be removed from the curriculum are calling for the rape of education, for a return to ‘training’ at the expense of ‘learning.’” Yet training seems to be the goal our school systems are aiming for today. Though the value of an arts-informed education may be better documented than ever, this knowledge appears to be at odds with federal and state school administrators who take their cues from a political and corporate establishment that defines education in terms of last week’s job market. This establishment doesn’t like things that can’t be counted, like “learning.” And it doesn’t like teachers, most of whom belong to unions, either. How else can one account for the fact that the hours of every teacher’s week are increasingly commandeered for test-driven skills preparation. Or that teachers have less and less control over what happens in their classrooms. Or that schools themselves can be taken over or closed if they fail to meet preset improvement standards that may show little regard for the social conditions in the communities they serve. The sad fact is that arts educators and advocates are trying to make things happen in our schools at a moment when the schools are becoming more paranoid, autocratic and hierarchical than they’ve been in a long, long time. This means that the real impact the arts can have in our kids’ lives will probably be trivialized. But it also means that the presence of the arts in our schools is more important than ever. Every artist teacher in every classroom is bound to be a subversive breath of fresh air, an affirmation of individuality, a sign that there’s more than one way to learn, to think, to be. The current rage to define our kids’ futures based on the tests they’re forced to take year after year will eventually be exhausted. At some point we’re going to realize that even people who test well aren’t necessarily better able to manage an office, solve a traffic problem or meet a payroll. For jobs like those and countless others, we’ll want people who can observe and think, interact with others and solve problems in creative ways. We’ll want, in other words, people who know how to learn — and we’ll use the arts to cultivate them. In the meantime, let’s hope those kids in Pike Township get better math scores. Otherwise that clogger’s out of a job.