The film Race to Nowhere is a provocative entrance into a conversation about educational reform and, in my role as Chair and Professor of the Visual and Performing Arts as California State University San Marcos, I’ve been invited by local PTAs to comment on the film and begin a dialogue with teachers, parents, and school administrators.
I’ve created a top ten list in response to the film and to what I see as core needs in schools. In embarking on a path to student success, I suggest reinvigorating curriculum development and policy with the following:
1. Wonder – Wonder sets the stage for learning. Children (indeed all of us) have an innate ability to imagine and create – all of which starts with wonder. Scientists, mathematicians, and artists are wonderful role models for the act of wondering and the arts cultivate wonder – engaging us, both as creators and as audience members.
2. Desire – There is nothing like desire to get us motivated to do anything, including learning. How do we create a sense of desire to learn and to care about learning? I believe an arts infused (or integrated) curriculum enables children to begin to care about their learning, invest in thinking, and desire to learn more.
3. Passion – All of us have passions, including children! Creating spaces in school to unleash children’s passions, or to encourage new passions make for wonderful learning experiences. Whether or not one becomes an artist, participating in the arts opens students to the notion of embracing passion.
4. Risk Taking – Taking risks is at the core of what artists do on a daily basis. Taking risks teaches children to think outside their boxes and encourages innovative, inventive, and creative thinking. Isn’t that what we hope children will learn in their education in addition to specific content knowledge?
5. Confidence – Children do not come to us automatically feeling confident. Confidence is something that is practiced. The arts by their nature necessitate the practice of skills, techniques, and use of the creative mind. This practice often leads a child to a place of self-confidence.
6. Complexity – Artists rarely see things as “either/or.” This view of the world enables artists to cross boundaries, try new things, and to imagine other ways of being or acting. This outlook is essential to an educated individual.
7. Engagement – Engagement is key to participation, and participation is at the heart of democratic values. School is place that can set the stage for children to learn the skills of democracy. Arts and sports are two key areas of the curriculum that at their core are about engaging participation.
8. Practicality – Education can be meaningless if it doesn’t apply to the real world or have applications in real life. Through project-based learning, which often have the arts at their core, children can engage in real life applications of their ideas, and create imaginative inventions to real life challenges.
9. Ownership - Taking responsibility for learning can lead to ownership of ideas and subject matter. If children feel ownership of their learning they will be engaged in learning. The arts enable students to have that feeling of ownership especially when putting on a play or showing a finished art piece on a school gallery wall.
10. Choice - Kids need to know and learn how to make choices The arts give students practice making choices since the very nature of making art demands decision making, reflection, and critique.
So there you have it…as well as my encouragement as you enter your own “races to somewhere” and engage in the discussions and actions that can lead your schools and students to a place of significance.