The following is an open letter to the School Board and the Superintendent of San Diego Unified School District which is currently faced with the challenge of budget cuts. The letter calls for bold leadership in decision making processes with an eye toward creating opportunity for students to become engaged members of society and future problem solvers. The letter argues the arts and physical education are essential to an education for an engaged citizenry.
March 24, 2009
Dear School Board members and Superintendent Grier,
Opportunity is knocking loudly at your door, and you have the power to revolutionize education. No doubt these are truly tough times with regard to funding. At the same time, a significant transition is at our doorstep. In a recent editorial in the Union Tribune, County Superintendent Randy Ward called for flexibility in school funding. He is absolutely spot-on. Since the National Defense Education Act of 1958 (NDEA) (Public Law 85-864) put federal dollars toward discipline specific curriculum (science and math), and more recently the No Child Left Behind legislation which unintentionally emphasizes reading and math (because they are tested and test scores are tied to funding), educational priorities have shifted from preparing a knowledgeable and informed citizenry to an emphasis on student achievement.
It is no secret that our society desperately needs innovative and creative problem solvers. Educational leaders must respond to this need with bold initiatives which emphasize the teaching of innovation, community, and creativity along with discipline specific achievement. Education in all cultures has mirrored the needs of societies. I suggest we revolutionize education in the true sense, by returning to some of the core values upon which education in the US was created. For example, when Music was first introduced to the public schools in 1837, it was in concert with the overall goal of education of the time and it was aimed at educating children intellectually, morally, and physically.
The arts and physical education as part of the core curriculum help prepare our children to be engaged citizens. They teach teamwork, problem solving, decision making, and compassion. Yet, despite the empirical data that shows how arts in particular improve test scores, improve daily attendance, and enhance the quality of community in schools, the arts have become, like physical education, an appendage to education rather than a core subject as originally intended. According to state statistics, there are over 500,000 jobs in the arts in the state of California alone. To put that figure into perspective, if every single student and faculty member on all the 23 campuses California State University system (the largest university system in the world) were to have one of those arts jobs, we would still have 50,000 jobs unfilled. Sadly, many of these jobs go to individuals from outside of California since the schools are not preparing this particular workforce.
Be bold. Ask yourself, what are the goals of educating today’s students? Are we putting into place the curriculum that prepares students for living in our challenging times? Are we preparing students to become part of the California workforce? This is your opportunity to question and review educational values and goals. Our children deserve the best education possible – and more so, they deserve leaders who are willing and eager to make a difference, and if need be, buck the limitations of recent traditions and practice.
Merryl Goldberg, Ed.D.
Professor of Visual and Performing Arts at California State University and Director of Center ARTES
About the Author
Merryl Goldberg is a Professor of Visual and Performing Arts at California State University San Marcos (CSUSM) where she teaches courses on Arts & Learning, and Music. She has numerous publications including books, articles, chapters, and editorials. She is the recipient of many grants including a joint Spencer and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur grant, Fulbright-Hays Foundation grants, and California Arts Council grants relating to her work with arts in the schools. Prior to entering academia, she was on the road for 13 years playing the saxophone and making recordings with the Klezmer Conservatory Band.