Virtually every creativity expert concurs – all children are creative, yet we often lose our capacity for creativity as we get older and diminish our creative activities. That brings us to today’s music and arts education advocacy quote of the day:
“Creativity is like a muscle. It gets stronger with use, and withers with inactivity. If we cut music and arts education funding, where will our children exercise?”
- Craig M. Cortello
I didn’t set out to become an education reform advocate, but somewhere in the process of writing a book about the benefits of music education, my research let me to funding of the arts, which led me to the consequences of No Child Left Behind, which led me to…
The video above addresses the potential consequences of a standardized testing program in Rhode Island, but it is a representation of an education epidemic that affects all of our children:
The escalation of the reliance on standardized testing as an assessment mechanism is hindering our ability to focus on the individuality of our students, and to help them identify and prepare for their unique calling and vocation.
It is said that everyone has the ability to perform at genius levels at “something.” Our job is to help students discover what their particular “something” is. I believe that in this world there are too many square pegs trying to fit into round holes due to fear or complacency, or because they were not given the proper tools of self-discovery. The greatest productivity gains that we as a society can achieve is by realigning those pegs.
In a related note, here’s a trailer for the movie Race To Nowhere, an indie film project about the current status of our education system, driven by a concerned parent.
Tonight I watched the PBS Special Dudamel: Conducting a Life in which Tavis Smiley profiled the young, charismatic Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Gustavo Dudamel, a product of the very successful Venezuelan program “El Sistema” which exposes impoverished children to classical music. The program looked at the broader issue of music education and its role in education reform.
It’s always great to hear confirmation of the concepts and opinions expressed in this forum regarding the benefits of music and music education. Here are a few of the notable excerpts (paraphrasing) from the discussion that I found noteworthy:
- “It’s not about creating musicians. It’s about creating the sensibilities of an artist that can be used in any vocation.” (Dudamel)
- “Sometimes we focus on physical poverty. There’s also a poverty of hope and of dreams. That’s what music involvement gives low-income children.” (Dudamel)
- “There are benefits of music education and of sports. In sports, however, a lot of kids sit on the bench. Music programs tend to be more inclusive and more participative.” (Berklee Fellow participating in the program designed to replicate El Sistema)
- “I feel like the doors of heaven have just opened up to me. I’ll let out all of my emotions in those drums.” (Young boy involved in a program in the U.S. modeled after the El Sistema program)
- “Kids are like a Polaroid. They just need exposure to develop. And they should be exposed to the best in order to develop into complete adults.” (Smiley)
- “It’s going to take something radical to reform education. Shouldn’t something so universally accepted as music be a part of that education reform equation.” (Educator)
What if you could build a school curriculum from the ground up with little or no bureaucratic limitations that hamper the effectiveness of many educational institutions? What if you were armed with the lessons learned from having successfully educated thousands of artists in a unique setting and could apply those lessons to a mainstream education program.
That’s exactly the challenge that NOCCA has been presented.
NOCCA refers to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, an advanced program for young prodigies of music and the arts for high school-aged youths in New Orleans. Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Harry Connick, Jr., Terence Blanchard, Nicholas Payton, Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet, and Wendell Pierce are some of NOCCA’s esteemed graduates. Students who are accepted attend their traditional school in the morning and attend NOCCA in the afternoon, where they receive focused instruction in an artistically centered environment. For years, the faculty and staff of NOCCA have felt as though they could be more effective if they had the students in this environment all day…and that’s just the opportunity that they will have starting in 2011-12.
Dr. Robbie McHardy has been tasked with developing a traditional education program for NOCCA, but she is putting the “NOCCA DNA” into the curriculum. I attended NOCCA’s open studio day in November and was extremely impressed by their approach and by the opportunity that they have to be a model for other institutions. Here are some of the lessons from NOCCA’s artistic programs that will be staples of their academics:
1. Critique: NOCCA has determined that allowing students to receive feedback from their peers accelerates the learning process
2. Beginners Working Closely With Practicing Professionals: NOCCA will seek teachers who are passionate about their areas of expertise and models for their students
3. Teaching Attentiveness & Awareness: The key to learning is being aware of the learning opportunities around you
4. Individuality: NOCCA will spend a great deal of time doing assessments of their students early in the program to determine their strengths and interests, so that learning can be customized for their needs
5. Almost No Homework: While students will have long days at school (approx. 8:30 – 6:30), the concept is that free time should be spent relaxing and practicing their arts
6. Performance-focused: Though the academic studio will be rigorous and all students will have the same expectations of achievement that any school would require, there’s definitely a sense that teaching with a singular obsession toward passing tests is a flawed approach to education
Applicants for NOCCA must pass an audition, and they anticipate roughly 150-200 applications for only 60 spots in the full-day academic program in year one.
I wish Dr. McHardy and the faculty and students great success in the year ahead. Exciting times for a wonderful institution!
Here’s an overview of the academic studio from Dr. McHardy:
In this video, Education and Creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson discusses a topic we’ve visited here previously – the need to reassess the traditional categorizations of learning (subjects) and assessing their relative importance in the 21st century.
A fellow music education advocate recommended the film Race to Nowhere. I must say that I haven’t had the opportunity to see the film, but the trailer echoes many of the frustrations with the direction of education that we’ve discussed here previously. The film is being screened in selected markets and will be released this fall.
The film website also has links, resources, and tools to get behind this message. It’s also important to note that testimonials indicated that the movie leaves you with a sense of hope rather than just taking the easy route of bashing education and leaving the viewer frustrated.
While we generally discuss music education in this forum, many of the themes addressed in this documentary are questions we raise in that debate including:
- Personalized approach to students’ needs
- The importance of a well-rounded school experience (educated vs. informed students)
- The pressure to perform on standardized tests (schools, students, and teachers)
- Developing the ability to think rather than memorize
- Redefining success
As I’ve stated previously here in a letter to the Aspen’s Institute on No Child Left Behind, “Our ability to meet performance metrics is meaningless if those metrics are not a true measure of the needs of our students.” Any thoughts from those who may have seen this film would be appreciated.
Diane Ravitch is the research professor of education at NYU and the author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010). In “Just Say No to the Race to the Top” she discusses how although standardized state tests are considered inadequate and a poor representation of the effectiveness of an educational institution (even acknowledged by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan), educators are held hostage by test-based methods in terms of allocation of dollars, teacher evaluations, and classroom priorities.
It’s interesting that there are several dozen comments to this very articulate blog post, mostly from educators who share her frustrations. Schools have been demoralized by these standards, and studies indicate that the greatest prerequisites of effective education are a motivated teacher and a motivated learner.
If teachers, parents, and students are fed up with the obsession on standardized tests, who’s steering the ship?
Link to “Just Say No to Race to the Top” by Diane Ravitch
I discussed in a previous post a report by the Center on Education Policy (CEP) regarding the effect of the No Child Left Behind Act on the classroom that discussed the shift in education resources toward subjects that are assessed via standardized tests. CEP also provided recommendations based on their findings, one of which was to encourage the states to “Consider including measures of knowledge and skills in art and music among the multiple measures used for NCLB accountability,” based on their research that indicates “What gets tested gets taught.”
That brings up a touchy subject that gets debated in the academic world – How do you implement tests for the arts that truly capture artistic aptitude and competence? By definition the arts are about creativity, and standardization can discourage creativity. How would Charlie Parker or Pablo Picasso have performed on a standardized arts test? My fear is that standardized testing for the arts would drive the move toward memorization of facts rather than creative application, which is essentially what the arts are all about and the greatest benefit of arts in our schools (see item #5 of the 9 Common Lessons of Music Education that Translate into Success).
These thoughts led me to the emphasis on memorization in education. As a parent of a 12 year old, I can say that education today is similar to my education experience in that regard. Let me preface my remarks by saying that I believe that unless we find a way to transfer artificial intelligence to human beings in real time, memorization will always be a part of the education experience. But Social Studies, Science, and Religion (in private schools) are almost exclusively an exercise in memorization at the elementary school level. Math and grammar are of course a hybrid of memorization and application.
My point is that as the access to information becomes closer and closer to instantaneous with mobile devices that can access the web, the importance of memorization is diminished. Our schools are doing a relatively good job of addressing the importance of technology and familiarizing our children with computers and the web, from what I can gather. They are not, however, addressing the “creativity/memorization ratio” in terms of time spent on these skills in the classroom relative to their importance in the 21st century.
Interesting article by James Carlini regarding the outdated nature of the “3 R’s in education. The author suggests a F-A-C-T approach instead for the new, post information-age economy (Flexibility, Adaptability, Creativity, and Technology). The article is entitled The Re-Education of Education.