“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing knowledge.” -Albert Einstein
Ideally, the role of a teacher is to guide students towards intellectual individualism. Student success cannot be determined upon one unit of measurement. In fact, that is an ‘uncommon sense’ approach to teaching. If we want students to be intellectual, then they need to thrive as thinkers. It is imperative that education does not become a vehicle for compromising intelligence and surrendering potential. The current state of many public schools across the nation suggests we are refusing to acknowledge budget cuts mean that schools are providing less and less quality education to students.
One of the problems public schools are facing is that as more professional platforms arise for students to be independent thinkers and creators, schools are being forced to cut programs that generate intuitive, independent thinking. Art and music curriculums unleash creativity and productivity. According to Elliot Eisner, an art curriculum broadens problem solving skills and teaches students to surrender their fixed perception of a solution in exchange for various solutions. It also speaks to the ability to communicate without language. Many great innovators articulated that their ideas needed to be visual before they could prescribe words to their concepts. If so many great thinkers express that art and music led them to their success, then why are schools cutting arts and music programs? This action incites the question, what do we want our students to learn in school? What is considered a valuable education? Are parents and communities apathetic to the growing financial distress that public schools are facing?
Teachers often recognize that music and arts programs may keep the otherwise disenfranchised or non-traditional students in school. Engagement in these core subject areas can build confidence and skills that promote achievement in other subjects. But it is also equally true that these programs thrust students who are already academically successful to new levels of aptitude and creativity. Students who have had continuous art and music classes perform better on standardized tests, exhibit stronger critical thinking skills, social tolerance, and historical empathy. A public education should honor and advocate for what inspires and heightens intellect. Leigh Klonsky, the digital art and photography teacher at East Side Community High School, reminds students that prior to words and numbers people communicated visually and that there is power in the ability to draw as a means of communication. Her students create a multitude of projects that require them to reflect and comment on what they think, feel, and value about the world around them. Music and art facilitates both abstract and concrete thinking. Apple is perhaps the most noteworthy and global example of innovation that is generated when art, science and technology interact. Art programs teach students that with imagination, anything is possible. And that is the American definition of success; if you can imagine it, then it is possible. We are in a world that demands that students have a complete education balanced with fine arts, science, math and humanities. Removing art and music is quite simply robbing them of core subject areas that will expand their minds, abilities, and successes.
East Side Community High School, a District One school, has been burdened with budget cuts and is working diligently to ensure their students have an art and music program. Currently students can take art, dance, and music. The music program was built on the passion that adults had for music and wanted to share with children. In 2009, The East Side Band Project began; they had a $5,000 budget and none of the students owned instruments. Their space was in a corner in the school’s basement and classes were held after school. In the last few years, band membership has increased and students who were marginalized have become school leaders. Perhaps that is because they talk about what they learn, which again transcends and reaches far beyond common core standards. This summer, the basement was flooded and all the band equipment destroyed. The director, Peter Da Cruz, is currently working to salvage equipment and piece together the band that he has worked so diligently to maintain for the last six years. The reality is not every teacher can or will be able to initiate and maintain an arts and/or music program. There are many administrators who want these programs but don’t have the money to pay for it; parents have to advocate for them. An arts curriculum in schools represents an understanding that school leaders and parents recognize the importance of teaching students different ways to think. We must ensure that education is dynamic, fluid, and reaches as many minds as possible.
Educators often refer to The Harlem Renaissance as a pivotal moment because it infused art, science, and music. It inspired and motivated people to move in a direction that they had not previously seen before. We must commit to teaching our kids to imagine something beyond the realm of the here and now. If we want our students to excel and prosper in schools, then we should support creativity and imagination alongside science and math. Demand that schools reinstitute and/or continue with their arts and music programs. The biggest mistake Americans can make is believing that the arts are frivolous endeavors and continue to treat it as such.
Albert Einstein was known primarily as a scientist and genius but he was also a musician. And when he found himself perplexed, he turned to music to help him unpack and express himself. He believed that his imagination and intuition were inherent in his own success. If you want students to intellectually evolve then they must have the space and platform for that degree of development; they need to have the skill set to create.
If you’d like to learn more about or support the East Side Community High School or donate to the cause, follow this link: https://www.nycharities.org/give/donate.aspx?cc=3101
Photography by Adriana Porras, Veronica Vasquez, and Peter da Cruz
Stock photos from Google Images
Video via www.ted.com/talks