This rant was spurred by the conjunction of several recent news items.
- Our state is currently under court order to improve education which means our legislature is wrangling on how to fund smaller class sizes, improve instruction, etc.
- Then there’s the whole furor over the efficacy of the national standards of achievement testing. Is it truly a measure of learning or is it merely a measure of how well we’ve prepped students to take the test?
- There’s a never ending battle over teacher pay, tenure, seniority and how to determine what constitutes a “good teacher”. (HINT: It’s probably not the result of a customer satisfaction survey. Sometimes, the people who cheese you off the most are the best teachers.)
- And, how do you fund needed educational reforms? Budget cuts? Salary cuts? Tax levies? Charter schools? Never mind what needs done about an increasingly outdated or even dangerous infrastructure.
All of these things cause my head to ache – a lot! I keep remembering a friend who (quite some time ago) described an organization’s approach to similarly complex problems as, “They’ve got the space shuttle hitched to the 40 mule team and are ready to pull onto the information superhighway.”
Now, our beliefs and opinions on these thorny issues are not the thrust of this blog post. Rather, we want to raise an issue that has largely been abandoned in the rush to demonstrate competency, performance, reform, fiscal responsibility, and more.
With all this focus on measurability we’ve lost sight of the vital role of creativity in education. We don’t mean figuring out new ways to convey information. We mean the including the arts as integral parts of an educational curriculum. Art is often the catalyst which make self expression and self confidence possible.
In public education (and let’s be honest here, public education still comprises the majority of preK – 12 instruction), arts programs have been consistently diminished over the past few decades. After all, you can’t measure the benefits of creativity in fuzzy pursuits like painting, drawing, collage making, woodworking, music, etc. Unlike subjects such as science, mathematics or even reading and composition the arts just have too much room for subjective interpretation.
But a recent article on cnn.com suggests that there could be long term benefits to be had from creative pursuits. They may actually help preserve memory. While the article specifically discussed this possible benefit as it relates to staving off Alzheimer’s disease, we can’t help wonder if it might not have broader implications.
Think about this for a moment. If you are a crafter, gardener, woodworker, artist, or whatever – don’t you find that as you are pursuing your creative endeavor, you frequently mull over issues, things you’ve heard, or problems? And just as often, don’t you find that new opinions, thoughts, and solutions present themselves when your subconscious is free to work on them? The mind benefits from cross training as much as the body.
Consider the possibilities for opening new avenues to difficult subjects which might be available through teaching the arts. Music is mathematical. That is a given. But painting can open the door to the chemistry of color or the physics of light. Woodworking and the properties of different woods can lead to inquiring about forestry, agriculture, soil chemistry, environmental effects, climatology, and so forth. Sewing, beading, and crafting can lead to questions of surface tension, material composition (geology, chemistry, thermodynamics, etc), or even to social science issues and the exploration of diverse cultures and communities.
We don’t intend this rant to be exhaustive but rather suggestive so we’re cutting it very short. However, as we weigh the issues of how to reform our approach to basic education, we would all do well to consider how much we are giving up by leaving creative education to privately funded sources or the “after school clubs”. The caprices of private funding and the economic and logistical limits of clubs may be robbing some of our best and brightest of the opportunity to shine through. And, in the long run, that may be just as perilous as failing to improve performance in core competency subjects.