Words... Words... Wonderful Words

Posted by Janet Langsam, Sep 18, 2015 0 comments

To me, words are quite wonderful. Some are even paintings in the sense that you look at the words and get an immediate visual. So the sadness and unintended consequences conveyed by the words "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB) are quite visceral to me. Initiating a movement away from the negative ramifications of NCLB on student achievement, Congress is now transforming this legislation, which had caused an emphasis on testing and an imperative to teach to the test.  This, in turn, lessened time for process-oriented subjects like the arts. Happily, the legislation is well on its way to transforming NCLB into the inspirational "Every Child Achieves" Act, which focuses on a more holistic approach to a comprehensive education for all students.  To me, that holds the promise of meaningful change in our schools and positive academic outcomes for students.

This week, we will be celebrating arts education along with arts groups around the country. The congressional resolution creating the National Arts in Education Week contains a lot of words...all good words...ones that hopefully will find their way into the conference version of the Every Child Achieves Act.  It begins: "Whereas arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential element of a complete and balanced education for all students." It goes on to cite many equally powerful "whereas"s that should be music to our collective ears.

Another word that happily still seems to be alive in word and deed is "bipartisan." That word has been so missing in action in Washington that it was striking that the U.S. Senate approved its reauthorization version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) by a wide margin of 81-17. It's not a done deal of course, until both houses reconcile their differences. But one thing is clear...on both sides of the aisle, there appears to be agreement that the misguided "testing" word is in for an overhaul, giving education reform back to the states. Imagine the glee across the nation when 13 years of "testing" to a national standard is gone. As if there really could be a one-size-fits-all way to teach children.

One of the key elements of the senate version of the bill is the reaffirmation of the arts as a core curriculum subject. That is to say simply, the arts are not a frill but are essential to a comprehensive education.  By recognizing the importance of the arts, and by connecting that creativity to existing science and math lessons, students will be further engaged, their imaginations ignited and their attention spans expanded.

Not my words, but those of U.S. Education Commissioner Arne Duncan: "A well-rounded education is simply too vital to our students' success to let the teaching of the arts and humanities erode." It's not just about keeping alive past generations of creativity. It's also about nurturing future imagination.  But don't take my word for it. Ask Albert Einstein. He said, "The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination." He got that one right!

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