31 July 2008 09:01 AM

NCLB versus Arts Continued...

by Dr. Rick

The study out of Boston also identified “habits of mind” that the arts teach. “Habits of mind” is a phrase we educators like, knowing the importance of sound and healthy habits for sound and healthy bodies, lives, and, yes, minds. These habits include such qualities as

- Persistence: helpful to keep on going in the face of adversity;
- Expression: crucial in communicating one’s thoughts and values;
- Innovation: especially significant in today’s challenging and challenged world;
- Self-evaluation: a talent arguably in sad deficit for those of us who insist on repeating the same mistakes; and
- Observation: the ability to see beyond our prejudices and preconceptions.

These are powerful skills that go beyond the important mastery of subject matter. Of course students need to know tested reading and math skills. They need to know them with “automaticity,” another teacher-word, meaning without thinking. Ask a kid what nine-times-nine is, and she should say “eighty-one,” without thinking. Automaticity in action. But isn’t there more to education than that? Aren’t we interested in widening and deepening students’ thinking, in giving them plenty of occasions to persevere, innovate, and succeed?

Especially our brighter students, who it can be argued, are often left behind or, at the least, left to fend for themselves – as teachers concentrate on less-able, needier students.

We all know youngsters who have difficulties in the classroom but who bloom when they’re involved in one or more of the arts: creative writing, playing a musical instrument, singing, acting, painting, drawing, sculpting, dancing, photographing, performing, or any other of the myriad arts. These kids show talents we never knew they had. They become disciplined, focused, passionate.

Want relevance? You could make comparisons to athletes who find the same outlets in their sports and teams. What’s an orchestra’s or a play’s cast if not a team? What’s a conductor or director if not a coach? How’s the discipline needed for arduous scrimmage different from that needed for arduous rehearsal? What athlete doesn’t know the importance of persistence, self-evaluation, and observation?

Want more relevance? You could make similar comparisons to the workplace, where people work in teams to solve problems, where they call on their discipline, perseverance, and creativity to produce results, where they’re called on daily to innovate and improve.

Instead of defensively pleading that education decision-makers please find remnants of time and finances for the arts in our schools, we should be arguing forcefully that the skills and thinking required in the arts should be a part of all curricula. That would take No Child Left Behind to another, more human level, beyond mounds of often contradictory data to students’ hopes, dreams, and lives.

Know of a student who was “saved” by the arts? Were you one? Or are the arts just one more intrusion into the “real” subjects students should be learning? I’d love to hear your ideas.



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