"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


 In a good conversation recently  about creativity and ways of making sense of the world,  we were discussing how the arts can serve as a lens---one which is cleared and put into focus through music and art and dance and creative writing.   A lens which  enriches  the lives of people whose primary way of seeing the world comes through other channels, but which is vital for those of us in the arts.

This is a  way of knowing about life  which will be far less present in our  children's lives--in  the early formal education of young people--as  arts programs are ever more stringently excised from the curriculum.  As arts programs are increasingly expected to abide by the kinds of data-driven tests which quantify concrete skills and value the accumulation of discrete pieces of knowledge---as though aggregation of information were equivalent to nurturing and expressing creativity.  

There's a  genuine need for all of us, as creative beings, to have excellent tools in our boxes, yes.   Tools which are then put into the play of creation and expression.

The state tests---which increasingly dictate every move within the education system--measure aptitude and knowledge accurately, but only for those people whose primary intelligence is best expressed with paper and pen.

That excludes many people.  It assumes that other forms of knowing-- knowledge--experience-- awareness--- are not equally valid.

All of which is not news.  All of which troubles me, and others like me.

In our discussion, C (a graphic designer-turned-elementary-art teacher) and I  wondered aloud about implementing data-driven observations as a way of justifying the inclusion of the arts in education, expressed in a form which the policy instituters can understand.

 I'd rather use any gathering of data as an engine to inform my own awareness of the efficacy of my teaching.  Sometimes it works best to simply close my classroom door on the dominant methods of teaching-and-testing, and to work with  the children who are right in front of me.  We work to give them our best, as individual teachers.

As an educational system?  The goal is present: strong learning, excellent students.  However, I think our national testing-crazed beaureacracy is on the wrong track .   In a way, the state educational system is a rusting behemoth, an engine being driven by the needs of other eras.  Packed with good drivers?  Perhaps.   But in an economy where careers which involve data-entry are being outsourced as quickly as possible, the need for creative thinkers--for people whose minds have been trained to observe, analyze and respond--is strong,  and growing.

That would be where education in the arts shines.

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