Business sage Edward Deming observed decades ago that an education system in which 50% of the students are below average is in serious need of a paradigm shift.
His point was that though mathematically correct, such a formulation is educationally misguided. The focus on high stakes testing perpetuates this unfortunate mindset. We "teacher proof" classroom instruction with scripted teaching devoid of the ARTS at the expense of innovative, meaningful student-teacher interaction. Young seekers are in danger of being consigned to an unimaginative wasteland, devolving into parched souls ill equipped to attain the full stature of their humanity and without the capacity to imagine, invent, improvise, re-frame problems, and transcend boundaries. In an attempt to prepare children for the "real world", we have focused on transitory facts and technology at an early age, oblivious that whole industries become obsolete overnight. Our over-emphasis on information impoverishes the very faculties and capacities that should be being cultivated in future-oriented education.
The world needs confident, creative, visionary, and altruistic individuals. I am convinced that the educational approach best able to stimulate, develop and nourish such capacities is one replete and richly permeated with the ARTS.
Twelve Essentials - the ARTS Teach Children:
1) The ARTS educate and heal senses over stimulated from television, computer games, traffic noise, i-pods, etc. We filter out the richness of the world in order to cope, damaging the ability to perceive and discriminate the subtleties of quality, yet our conceptual life is rooted in observation and the forming of relationships between perceptions, and sensory-integration is fundamental for learning.
2) The ARTS teach discipline. Practice, focus, concentration, patience, precision, fine-tuning and accepting disappointment are critical counterpoints in our attention-deficient world.
3) The ARTS promote pleasure, self-esteem and empowerment.
4) The ARTS teach us that there are not single answer solutions, but many perspectives, levels, and interpretations. Life is more ambiguous than a multiple-choice test.
5) The ARTS promote appreciation for materials - think sable paintbrushes and Stradivarius violins - and the basis for "true-value" economics to a throwaway world.
6) The ARTS teach respect for artistry, craftsmanship, creativity and ultimately "Creation".
7) The ARTS are a unique window on history, and a common language to appreciate various peoples and cultures.
8) The ARTS give us a whole, contextual vision. Design, patterning, harmony, balance, order, proportion and coherence are principles that contribute to ecological consciousness and whole system thinking.
9) The ARTS speak a language of the heart, reverse spectator consciousness and demand involvement. Passionate love for a subject leads to insight.
10) The ARTS are hygienic, bringing healing and harmony to our lives.
11) The ARTS give us a means to look at the darkness of humanity man to man. Great poetry, novels, paintings and music allow us to grapple with the unfathomable. Joseph Chilton Pearce calls criminality "a lack of imagination".
12) The ARTS cultivate higher-level thinking and stimulate creativity. They invite levity through improvisation, imagination, inspiration, and even intuition. They foster the capacity to generate the hypotheses that advance knowledge
I invite educators to imbed the ARTS fully into the curriculum both as single subjects and integrated into all courses, not just as a reward. As Morris Tannenbaum, former CFO of AT&T, has commented, "Tomorrow's scientists and engineers need grounding in the arts to stimulate their creativity, to help them perceive the world in new and different ways. If nothing else, a blending of the arts and sciences can cement a foundation for learning how to learn, a trait that is proving all the more critical at a time when knowledge simply won't stay put." For guidance in the implementation of such a program, I recommend looking to the Waldorf school movement founded by Rudolf Steiner, which has successfully practiced this approach for nearly ninety years.
Article by Gayle Davis, Educator
Gayle Davis is President and CEO of Rudolf Steiner College: A Center for Transformative Education and Arts ( http://www.steinercollege.edu ) in Fair Oaks, California offering programs in Waldorf education, Anthroposopical Studies, Bio-Dynamic Agriculture, Consciousness Studies, Eurythmy, and the Arts. She has worked at the College for over twenty-five years. Her interests include music, philosophy, educational reform, organizational development, and change management.