California Museums Can Help California Schools
Lionel Van Deerlin Professor of Communications and Public Policy, San Diego State University
The California Association of Museums (CAM) joined the American Association of Museums’ (AAM) Center for the Future of Museums to organize a 30th anniversary celebration aimed at forecasting the future of California’s museums, and published a discussion guide entitled “Tomorrow in the Golden State: Museums and the Future of California.” They speculated “that by 2025 California will not have enough highly educated workers to meet the demands of these new economy jobs…(and) This lack of higher education will exacerbate the income gap between rich and poor” and contribute to even higher unemployment rates.
Under one scenario, by 2022 (just 11 years from now) California’s Governor will tap “libraries, museums and community-based organizations as vital sources of learning experiences for state residents…(forcing) museums to retool their education departments, hiring more museum educators as well as retraining traditional classroom teachers, and adding edutainment and curriculum specialists.”
Well, tomorrow is here and Museums cannot wait.
Maybe the “wake-up call” they predict needs to happen has happened and now is the time to more aggressively partner with schools.
As reported earlier some schools and museums are partnering — working elementary and k-5 school — albeit without the resources they need. Others too seem to be trying as in the San Francisco area, they are being creative. At the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, for example, workshops “are offered throughout the year to introduce educators to museum collections and special exhibitions.” And as advertised on their site, “In (a) four-day program, teachers will visit and explore the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Asian Art Museum, and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.
“With a focus on observation, inquiry, and reflection, educators will develop techniques for incorporating the study of visual images in classroom and museum settings. Designed for high school teachers, the workshop includes gallery experiences, discussions with museum staff, and an education packet.”
Also in San Francisco, students at The Bay Area Exploratorium are recruited “to participate in a teaching and learning experience at the Exploratorium–a museum of science, art, and human perception. “Explainers”, as they are called, “learn exhibits, facilitate visitor-exhibit interaction and support general museum operations.”
The High School Explainer Program makes students part of the museum staff, giving them the important responsibility of being a primary point of contact with the general public. To date over 3,000 students have participated in the program since its inception in 1969 when the Exploratorium first opened to the public filling paid positions in Museum in the area.
The students get sixty hours of training conducted by museum staff and visiting professionals and are ready to maintain exhibits, and interact with visitors when they complete the program. Importantly. As the kids are trained for real jobs they are immersed in a “an interactive social environment, rich in science and the arts, in which students can explore phenomena and learn about themselves and others.”
Museums — slowly but thoughtfully — are rethinking who they are, their core competencies, and importantly, what they can do to partner with schools, libraries and others to ensure American kids have the thinking skill the 21st century so demands.
The Institute for Museums and Library Services (IMLS), which serves as the primary source of federal support for the nation’s 123,000 libraries and 17,500 museums, launched a “21st century skills” initiative assessment tool worth looking at.
Importantly, the report underscores the critical role our nation’s museums and libraries play in helping citizens build such 21st century skills as “information, communications and technology literacy, critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, civic literacy, and global awareness.”
These efforts, like others in the nation are moving museums well beyond the traditional role and helping prepare the next generation of young folks with the 21st century skills.
The IMLS said it all and said it best in their report. “The relationship between libraries, museums, and their communities is at a critical intersection. There has never been a greater need for libraries and museums to work with other organizations in effectively serving our communities; there has never been a more rapid period of change affecting museums, libraries, and their communities; and there has never been a more challenging period of economic dislocation facing the people in our communities. “