Monday, November 3, 2008

Failing our Children

(This is a long one...you might want to grab a cup of coffee or a Diet Coke. Or, you could just skip it. It's just a bunch of rambling about one of my pet issues. But if you have kids who will one day be publicly educated, I implore you to read on.)\

Last week was conference week at Randall's school. I did not expect to get a glowing report on him, though he is exceptionally bright. Yes, I know every parent thinks that their progeny is the next Steven Hawking, but I actually have documentation to substantiate my claim. And yes, that sounds just as pretentious when I say it out loud.

But my children think "outside the box". They learn and process through experimentation, manipulation and sensory stimulation. They are extremely creative and hunger for visual and tactile sustenance. Public school does not know what to do with my children, and so, they are compartmentalized within the very narrow definition of "gifted" and farmed out a couple days a week to harried accelerated learning specialists who have too many students and not enough resources. The rest of the time, they must fend for themselves; technicolor thinkers in a black and white world.

During my second grader's conference, the very timeworn issue of "lack of focus" came up, as it always does. The teacher, who is actually exceptionally well suited to her job and infinitely more patient with my child than I am, slid a worksheet accross the table with lips pursed and waited expectantly for me to comment. The front of the sheet you see, was utterly pristine. There was not one pencil mark upon it. The back however, was completely covered in graphite...a riot of shapes and shading that upon closer insepction revealed a very detailed and richly embellished medieval battle scene. This is how my darling 8 year old spent the morning, while his classmates dilligently filled in the blanks on their worksheets. The problem then was not lack of focus, but that which my son chose to focus on.

Randall has art instruction once a week, and obviously, this is not enough to slake my child's thirst. He was simply seeking another outlet for his creative energy, worksheets be damned. Anyway, it was quite clear that she expected me to be as outraged by this as she was. Try as I might, I simply could not summon the kind of indignation that I knew any conscientious mother would should be feeling. Here is why:

Since the dawn of time, man has used the arts to communicate, to create a tapestry of the human experience, and to give meaning to his existence. In the ancient world, a civilization possessed of a strong artistic culture was thought to have a citizenry superior in intellect and inventiveness.Unfortunately, as our world becomes more technologically oriented, with great scientific advances and medical marvels, emphasis on and interest in the arts has waned to the point of being deemed almost inconsequential. Sadly, only 36% of American students receive the recommended minimum of one hour per week of art instruction, despite the fact that the benefits of arts education are well documented.

Numerous studies have shown that a comprehensive arts education helps children:

Learn more effectively in all areas of the school curriculum, including math and science.

Experience greater understanding of what they learn

Score higher on all aspects of the SAT.

Acheive higher levels of academic success in college.

According to research by Professor Shirley Brice Heath of Stanford University, young people who practice the arts are:

Four times more likely to win an academic award

Eight times more likely to receive a community service award

Three times more likely to win a school attendance award

Four times more likely to participate in a math or science fair.

Public schools are failing our children. As funding becomes increasingly scarce, and more and more emphasis is placed on standardized testing, our children are becoming one dimensional and creatively stunted. Classroom learning is tailored to those who are "normal" or "average", and those who fall above or below that designation are left to swim against the current in the vain hope of making it to shore. They either dog paddle in place, placidy treading water and waiting for their peers to catch up, or they are dragged beneath the waves and held there while the rest of the school swims effortlessly by.

Parents, wake up. Other developed nations are surpassing us at every level of education. Their children are more well-rounded, more intuitive, more able to compete in a global marketplace because they are provided with artistic, literary, musical and theatrical instruction as part of their everyday curriculum. If we don't take a page from their book, our kids will soon be absent from the pages of history. If we cut physical education programs, our kids get fat. If we cut enrichment programs, our kids get flat. It's really very simple.

(Yes, I got a bit long winded. Forgive me. It's one of my passions and it's important.)

2 comments:

Karen said...

your post saddened me. I get angry when hearing of funding cuts and which programs get them, but had no idea to the extent of the problem. Now I understand why more and more families choose to home-school their children.

SongbirdMama said...

Yup, and why hubby and I are increasingly serious about looking into private schooling.