Declaring October as National Art and Humanities Month, President Obama made the observation:
“Educators across our country are opening young minds, fostering innovation, and developing imaginations through arts education. Through their work, they are empowering our Nation’s students with the ability to meet the challenges of a global marketplace. It is a well-rounded education for our children that will fuel our efforts to lead in a new economy where critical and creative thinking will be the keys to success.”
More and more people in high places seem to be saying the right thing. Last April, Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, said: “The Arts can no longer be treated as a frill. Arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical for young Americans competing in a global economy.”
But we have seen too little in the way of action.
Is this because the administration really doesn’t believe what they say about the arts? Because Washington, D.C. can’t get anything done? Or because the benefits are still not obvious to most politicians.
I really don’t know, but I do know that not every parent knows his or her children may not get a job. Most politicians seem unwilling to change STEM to STEAM or correct the mistakes of No Child Left Behind. Education executives seem too busy fighting budget woes and teachers are unwilling to take the risk of collaborating with artists.
Yet, recognizing the vital role of the arts in the new economy may be the most important aspect of a 21st century education.
Globalization 3.0 is here. Outsourcing jobs, and off-shoring whole divisions of companies are commonplace. We are currently suffering what economists are euphemistically calling a “jobless recovery,” and our communities and our schools are facing challenges not well understood by politicians, policymakers, or parents.
Twenty years ago it was fashionable to blame foreign competition and cheap labor markets abroad for the loss of manufacturing jobs in the United States, but the pain of the loss was softened by the emergence of a new services industry. Now, it is the service sector jobs that are being lost. This shift of high-tech service jobs will be a permanent feature of economic life in the 21st century.
Understandably there is concern.
The New York Times, writing about the PISA tests, interviewed U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who, despite his appreciation for the arts, said: “We have to see this as a wake-up call…I know skeptics will want to argue with the results, but we consider them to be accurate and reliable, and we have to see them as a challenge to get better,” he added. “The United States came in 23rd or 24th in most subjects. We can quibble, or we can face the brutal truth that we’re being out-educated.”
Well, forget PISA, and for that matter the platitudes coming out of Washington, too.
Artists, art educators, and art and cultural organizations across the country know well that students who learn through the arts or have the personal experience of studying art, are changed forever. He or she is a different person. They see the world differently. To paraphrase Robert Kennedy, they see the world the way it could be not just the way it is.
“Most of us appreciate the intrinsic benefits of the arts — their beauty and vision; how they inspire, soothe, provoke, and connect us,” as Bob Lynch of Americans for the Arts once noted.
But important today, as Sandra Ruppert, President of Art Education Partnership observed, is this:
“Arts learning experiences play a vital role in developing students’ capacities for critical thinking, creativity, imagination, and innovation. These capacities are increasingly recognized as core skills and competencies all students need as part of a high-quality and complete 21st-century education.”
Steve Jobs once said, “People with passion can change the world for the better.”
Only artists have the passion, and the knowledge to change the world…to change so many things with what’s wrong today.
*Note: This post was originally published on the Huffington Post Education blog on November 22, 2011.