A New School Year Means New Opportunities for Arts Education in Schools and Communities
As the new school year has officially begun across the country, I feel a renewed sense of possibility for the role the arts can play in learning, in all subjects, in the year ahead. Even greater, I feel a new sense of opportunity for the role the arts can play in cultivating new awareness and understandings for students of all ages, across our communities.
Imagine in classrooms everywhere, Pre-K children learning about the cultures and languages of their new classmates through the sharing of music and dance, or re-enacting stories whose core themes are reflected in multiple other cultures. Imagine Muslim children in elementary classrooms sharing stories of family traditions through storytelling residencies with a local theater company, alongside their African-American, Asian-American, and Caucasian peers. Imagine high school students performing one-acts for each other based on personal stories written about an important holiday celebration unique to their family or culture, then sharing deeper reflections among classmates of their memories and feelings about the celebrations.
And then imagine if these artistic offerings were shared at Parent Nights, providing new opportunities for understanding and discussion. One thing most all parents have in common: they love to see their children perform!
This leads me to believe in the greater value of the arts in promoting community dialogue in a way that can transcend the current climate of civil discourse. As Sally Peters wrote in The Art of Building Community: The Role of the Arts in Community Development, “The enjoyable nature of the arts makes them perhaps the most promising, if neglected, means of building social capital” (Bettertogether, n.d.). These events give community members the opportunity to interact with one another, to share common experiences, and to engage in dialogue. The arts provide a non-threatening entry point into conversation, exploration and the sharing of ideas and opinions. The arts also provide a safe space for risk-taking, even if that “risk” is sharing one’s thought or idea.
Those who follow this blog are likely already members of the same choir. We all believe in the power of the arts to transform students’ lives, to strengthen teachers’ teaching, and improve the overall school ecology. Let’s consider, too, how the arts build a sense of community, in an age of growing public discourse, where the differences seem to outweigh the similarities. Let’s find opportunities to utilize the arts as a starting point for finding common ground.