*(An abbreviated version of this article was published in the Tahlequah Daily Press in the Friday June 1st, 2012 print edition as a guest commentary.)
”All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us should have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.” – John F. Kennedy
I’m hoping that this article isn’t a “dollar short, day late” entry, because the current “D-Day” is June 4th at Keys Schools Board of Education meeting. On the agenda, or proverbial (if not literal) chopping block, is the elimination of Music and Arts at the Elementary level and Arts at the High School level. And while I understand that cuts have to be made, the elimination of educationally integral programs is unconscionable and will have disastrous repercussions to not just the school itself, but, most importantly, the children of Keys School.
I could list study after study of why the inclusion of arts in any educational setting is important (OU Med Students Improve Skill Through Art) and how exposure to and education in the arts, particularly visual and music, at an early age stimulates not only a better sense of identity and self but also strongly and positively impacts the misnamed core curriculum, most notably science and mathematics (which is of major concern currently in education fields). I could go on ad naseum about how:
- Arts education installs a sense of success and pride in self and others, societal and cross-cultural awareness.
- The creation and rehearsal process with definite products demonstrates the importance of planning and meeting goals, of the trying of new methods and means of reaching objectives and solving problems, demonstrating that the end result of a project is not the ultimate goal but the first of many steps to improve ones self and ones society.
- The Arts is about learning how to build on prior learning, adapt seemingly unrelated material to create new and undiscovered innovations, recover from mistakes, evaluate objectively and aesthetically, when to say it is enough and when to continue on.
- Education in the Arts teaches students to look at potential and possibilities, as well as cold hard reality.
- The Arts teaches how to work within limitations and a budget, to be innovative in solving problems and that there is always multiple possibilities to any problem and that broad discussion can lead to a cooperative compromise, a solution that actually can improve a seemingly hopeless situation.
Instead let me just point out that the Arts and education in the Arts is not just making a pretty picture, or singing a song. It is, as President Kennedy said, about providing an equal opportunity to develop talents and viable means of expression. Arts education provides a vital outlet to many who would otherwise have no voice. Some people flourish in traditional ‘academic’ worlds, the worlds of math and science. Others the exploration and examination of history and languages call to them and help them understand and contribute to their world. Still others the realm of physical activity and sports gives them an outlet and an area to succeed and develop their talents. So why is it that the foundations of human expressiveness, of what it means to be human has been regulated to the ‘extra-curricular’ and therefore not worthy of support and not as important to study in our schools. Sir Ken Robinson in his famous TED talks and books (The Element and Out of Our Minds) pointed out that ever since the advent of true public education at the beginning of the industrial revolution that we have ‘benignly steered’ students away from the arts as areas that ‘you’ll never make a living or get a job in that.’ Which is very true. But it isn’t true of just the arts. If you look at the number of people who make a living in the pure area of ANY field, it will be rare to find them. How often have you ran into someone and they introduced themselves as a mathematician? Accountant, yes. But I dare you to suggest to any accountant that all they do is work with numbers. They work with people through numbers. And the same can be said of virtually every field. So why cut the very areas of education that deal with what it means to be human?
The Arts and education in the Arts is not fluff, or an extra-curricular, or dispensable. It is about nurturing and developing a human being to his or her fullest potential. It is about making a connection not just with ourselves, but also with others and helping to build, rebuild, and empower our societies The Arts is as vital to humanity as breathing. And, to some of us, the Arts has very much been the difference between choosing life and choosing death.Choose to support the Arts and attend the Keys Board of Education Meeting June 4th at 7:00PM, Keys High School Library. I am.