In my own philanthropy and business endeavors, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities…the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country. ~ Paul Allen
I worry about the arts.
The current political obsession with assessment testing, and accountability, has left us with public schools that, by and large, marginalize courses that emphasize creative expression. The emphasis on standardized testing, coupled with severe under funding, has forced schools to focus resources on core instructional elements (reading, writing, and mathematics) at the expense of classes that develop, or enhance, student appreciation for the fine arts. In a world in need of creative problem solvers, I think this is a potentially devastating mistake.
I sometimes struggle with the fact that my daughter (who is passionate about music, acting, and drawing) attends a school where, until this year, she has only had music class about once a week, and has never, in her elementary school career, had an actual art class, during school hours. This isn’t a knock on the school–or the leadership and staff members–but it is a black eye for an educational system that views the fine arts as expendable. Unfortunately, my junior high is not much better. Over a ten year period, as budgets have tightened, and accountability has increased — elective courses have been whittled to the bone in terms of class time, and choice. As a society, I think we have to recognize that many students have an intense interest in the arts, and when we marginalize the content students are passionate about, we also marginalize the students.
There is also an issue of equity in this dilemma. As a family, we have been able to supplement my daughter’s limited to exposure to the arts through our own efforts. I have traded attendance at sporting events, for musicals, plays, art exhibits, and concerts. My daughter takes after school art and music classes. We have the means, and access, to do that. The same is not true for all kids, and all families.
I understand, and support, the emphasis on mathematics and science, but exposure to the arts should not be an “either/or” proposition. My wife (@ideanad) has earned her PhD in electrical engineering and is a self-described “math geek,” but she is also an accomplished pianist. She would tell you that fine arts encourage students to look at things from a different perspective, developing a unique eye (and ear) for problem solving.
As usual, I don’t have an immediate solution. I know many schools that are finding creative ways to integrate the arts and expose students to this medium of learning. However, I fear that until funding improves, and the emphasis on standardized testing is diminished, fine arts will be continue to be a casualty of assessment testing.