Arts in Education

This is not a usual TAG blog entry, but I think this is such an important subject, I just had to write about it.

This morning I sat in on the Jacksonville Leadership Breakfast where the State of the Arts – Why Arts Education Matters was the sole topic.

. The panel was composed of:

  • Nikolai Vitti – Superintendent, Duval County Public Schools
  • Jackie Cornelius – Principal, Douglas Anderson School for the Arts
  • Marcelle Polednik – Director, Museum of Contemporary Art
  • Kimberly Hyatt – Executive Director, Cathedral Arts Project

The preamble to the discussion covered how school’s orientation generally reduces the naturally creative minds of our kids, as alluded to in Pablo Picasso’s famous quote;

“Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up”

 There is also a great TED talk by Ken Robinson on the same topic.

There is lots of documentation supporting this premise, but the one mentioned here was that on a creativity test that has been developed, 98% of kindergarteners tested at the “genius” level. Five years later only 32% of the kids ranked in the “Genius” class and five years after that, it had dropped to 10%. Why do our systems drive creativity out of our kids?

This goes against the needs of our great companies. Jackie brought up four area that most of the experts that follow successful industries list a key for their success. They are:

  1. Innovation
  2. Creative Thinking
  3. Opportunities for innovation
  4. Success in the above motivates employees, requiring:
    1. Autonomy
    2. Mastery of your job
    3. A purpose

Dr. Vitti, who has only been the Duval County Superintendent of Schools for a few months, came up with some findings after visiting his schools. What he found was that our schools are not promoting creativity in our children. This is partially due to the focus on standardized testing as the sole measure of success. This drives teaching by recall, rather than critical thinking. He is getting ready to create a strategic plan that establishes four goals:

  1. Great teachers and principals
  2. An engaged group of parents
  3. The best use of available resources
  4. Focus on developing the whole child

This “whole child” concept definitely includes the addition of arts and music to be part of the standardized curriculum, not only for the gifted and magnet schools, but for all schools. His idea is to expose the kids to arts and music during the elementary school years, then when they get to middle school some differentiation can be established. By this he meant that if there was serious interest the student displayed in middle school, possibilities of supporting this inclination can be further developed in magnet or gifted schools and programs.

Marcelle was very straightforward in asserting that arts literacy is the motivation of creativity. It is not confined to the making of art either, but rather includes the thinking about arts, which is the foundation of our museums. One thing she said was very profound and that was we are developing students with little interest in arts or music, so when they grow up, they don’t foster this interest in their children. This process goes on and on until we end up further than ever away from the arts.

This discussion continued that we don’t have any such problem with sports. Many schools make success in sports a key focus of the schools and students. Sports also are an activity where the whole family can be involved. Marcelle recommended that we bring this family activity concept into the arts world by making family trips to the local museums. Many of them have free family days to help. In Dr. Vitti’s previous experience in Miami, the Parent Academy that he established helped facilitate this. He also established a Cultural Passport for the students, to make sure they were exposed to a broad range of the arts.

Once again Dr. Vitti focused on the planning process that defines what we want the kids to do and then developing the plans and budgets to make this happen.

The session was then opened to questions from the floor. There were a number of points I thought were important, including:

  1. We have established a concept of core vs elective classes in our curriculum. This establishes electives as second tier and therefore becomes the focus of budget cuts. Electives are important to the students to develop critical thinking which truly benefits industry.
  2. We need to make it easier for businesses and other groups to help bring arts to our kids. Those channels of communication are not strongly developed or are cumbersome to use.
  3. We talked about the idea of a Cultural Passport, not only for our kids, but for our city officials as well, so that they can clearly evaluate the true benefit of the arts.

My only problem with today is that virtually all the attendees were supporters of the arts already. It would be great to bring this message to those that have not found the value of the arts to help promote a constructive dialog.

 

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