“You Do Not Have to Be Good”: De-emphasizing Product in Arts Education

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“Wow! What talented students you have!”

If you are an arts educator whose students have presented work to the public, you have probably heard something like this. On the one hand, it is a lovely sentiment. Someone has consumed the play, art show, concert, dance recital, etc. that your students made, and they have enjoyed it. And the compliment seems meant to extend to you: the students did well, and therefore, so did you.

(I don’t think people realize that by complimenting my students’ “talent,” they are treating the students’ work and learning, not to mention my teaching, as irrelevant. Which is unfortunate, because the value of the work lies almost entirely in…well, the work, the process of producing, the day-to-day exchanges of insight among students and teacher. Oddly enough, I’ve had administrators compliment my students’ innate ability at 9:00 pm and talk about how we should never do that while leading a growth mindset workshop at 8:00 the next morning.) …

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