Alumnus aims to rethink education models as arts education administrator

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

M. Scott TatumWith a decade in education, there is one thing M. Scott Tatum (B.F.A., Theatre Studies, 2004) is working to change—outdated methods of educating students.

“One advocacy point for me with young people is that the 20th-century model of education — it’s not really useful in a 21st-century context,” he said.

After eight years teaching theater at McCallum Fine Arts Academy in Austin, Tatum is heading into his second year as assistant principal at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts in Dallas. A working artist himself—Austinites may recall his direction of a handful of Zilker Summer Musical shows—Tatum said he’s in his element working with teachers to take education to the next level and give students the knowledge and tools to be successful after high school graduation.

“One thing that’s really exciting is my position is focused primarily on teaching and learning,” Tatum said. “I work with all academic departments, and good practices work everywhere. The same questioning practices that work in a theater or dance classroom work in English and science.”

Because Booker T. Washington is an arts magnet school, Tatum said he helps find ways to make connections to art and academic subjects—how history influences the art created during that period and how color theory can be seen in everyday life.

When it comes to putting his undergraduate education to work, Tatum said he refers to his coursework from the Winship Drama Building often.

“B.F.A. Theatre Studies is such a good program,” he said, highlighting the continuing relevance of coursework from professors such as Joan Lazarus and Roxanne Schroeder-Acre. “They’ve done such a great job with creating an authentic experience. I like to focus on social change, and many classes at UT focused on the social change aspect of the arts—what are the conversations and questions you can ask?

Franchelle Dorn—I can’t even begin to talk about how important her work in the classroom was with us and how I work with kids on stage,” he added.

Between working at McCallum and Booker T., Tatum returned to UT-Austin for a Master of Arts in Curriculum and Instruction with a certification in Arts and Cultural Administration and Entrepreneurship from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Paul Bonin-Rodriguez, professor of performance as public practice and another influencer on Tatum’s education, recalls Tatum as an exceptional student.

“He’s just a doer,” Bonin-Rodriguez said, adding he’s excited to see his former student working at this particular school. Booker T. has diversity in its DNA. It was formed 40 years ago as part of Dallas’s desegregation efforts and is located in the heart of downtown.

“His work there is no doubt responsive to and anticipating of the massive demographic shifts we will be seeing over the next decade,” Bonin-Rodriguez said.

“When teaching directly and now guiding teachers, theater in particular and the arts in general are fundamental. Civilization exists because we decided to stop moving so much and tell stories about stuff that happens,” Tatum said. “It’s all fundamentally a part of the theater experience. The more you can gear your choices as artists and arts educators toward asking students, ‘How can this work be your voice for change?’ the better.”