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Painted in Waterlogue

As the country continues to come to grips with the ravages of a pandemic and the trail of chaos and long-term destruction that it leaves behind, we will need to think very clearly about how a country deals with diminishing funds to support our lifestyle and establishing priorities moving forward. Without question there are two areas, short and long-term, that must be at the top of our list: education and healthcare. Of course – there are many other needs, and at some level these other needs are priorities as well, but few things have more substantial impact on generations to follow than the education of our youth and setting a plan in place for the health and wellbeing of a population. For the purpose of this article – let’s just focus on education.

For decades many have debated what a good education entails and where our efforts should lie. When budgets are tightened (education always seems to be in the cross hairs) the first targets appear to be in the arts and technical life skills. Having spent my professional life in that career category of falsely labeled “non-essential” I have been acutely aware of the rising desire to de-emphasize the arts and technical skills and view them as less necessary than the traditional battery of courses that lead to an entrance in a college of choice. What the decision makers oftentimes fail to recognize is that the key to a “great education” is the ability to set the stage for creative thought, dreaming, and application of those courses that seem to dominate a curriculum. This article is not intended to downplay the importance of the classics: reading, writing, and arithmetic, but rather to view them through the lenses of the arts and technology. It is, in my opinion and that of many highly successful people, that application and integration of essential skills is a preferred method of generating real learning.

Keep in mind that the word education is derived, at some level, from the Latin word: “Educo” which can be interpreted as “To draw forth”. In other words, the intent of education is to create an environment where the person who is being educated is allowed to come to an understanding rather than be simply on the receiving end of information. What better way to “come to an understanding” than to think, create, produce, embrace, feel, hear, smell, and touch what it is that is being offered?

Here are a few thoughts/examples:

WRITING: When young people are presented with an opportunity to write – the natural approach is to begin with structure, grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc. All of this is critically important, but not natural. Structure and process must be drilled in and this takes time. What comes natural to young people is the desire and ability to tell stories. As soon as a two year old begins to develop a vocabulary – he or she is anxious to tell a story. The most intriguing and engaging part of writing is the ability to express a story that is drawn from experiences and vision. Creative writing is the application while structure is an important part of polishing the story. This is something that becomes real when it is encouraged outside of the traditional “course in English Composition”, when it is something that is part of everything that a student is engaged in.

When writing becomes real, tangible, and part of a student’s normal approach towards life and learning then so many doors are opened. Writers give all of us the opportunity to dream, express, feel, embrace, think, build a vocabulary, open our eyes and minds, question, challenge, connect, and enter a story as if it were part of who we are. Writing and subsequently reading what others have written is one of the most important parts of building creative thought, converting imagination into tangible ideas and results, giving hope, challenging difficulties, and becoming a problem solver. I always feel despondent when a person states, unequivocally, that he or she doesn’t read or can’t write. What a lost opportunity.

MUSIC: To those who love a particular type of music without experiencing the opportunity to broaden learning about different styles – I would state that you are missing so much of the experience that music provides. To those who have never picked up an instrument to play or approached the process of learning to play and building a connection to scales and chords, then I say that you are missing one of the great creative joys that music brings. I would dare to say that an education void of the opportunity to embrace an instrument, attempt to sing a bar or two of music, play a solo or become part of an ensemble or band, is an education that lacks breadth. Music is tactile and deeply rewarding, music is a way of understanding math (yes math), music helps individuals to understand the importance of teamwork, and music is relaxing, encouraging, demanding, structured yet free form. Music can be a friend at times in a person’s life when others seem too distant to understand and help, and most importantly – music is joy.

CARPENTRY: It is human nature to make things. Students inherently respond well to learning foundational skills that will serve them well for a lifetime. Everyone should know how to identify the right tools for the right job, swing a hammer, operate a circular saw, use a hand drill, a level, and a square, sand with the grain, pre-drill holes, and apply a coat of paint. EVERYONE will use these skills for the rest of their lives and will enjoy the results regardless of their age. This is creative expression that is tangible and like others listed is still an art form that applies basic math skills, planning, creative thinking, and various forms of communication.

TECHNOLOGY: technological advances and the products that have been a result surround us. Students are rather adept at using technology – it is almost innate. Exposing them to the positive uses of hardware and software, the thinking process that goes into design, foundational programming, and problem solving using technology is essential in today’s world.

COOKING & HEALTH: There are few things in life more important, more gratifying, and more beneficial than learning how to cook and draw out the natural flavors of the ingredients that we have access to. Cooking is an art form that incorporates all of the human senses – no other art form is this comprehensive.

DRAMA: Isn’t it interesting that many who are gifted as actors are far less gregarious when not in character? Acting allows us to step outside of the person who others perceive us to be and become someone else, sometimes revealing an inner person who has a tough time demonstrating certain traits otherwise. Acting allows us to experiment with that inner person, to see how others react. Sometimes creativity is inhibited because we are cautious about showing others that we are flush with great ideas. Acting frees many people to be expressive.

ART EDUCATION: Painting, drawing, sculpting, design, and architecture are crafts for sure, but more than that – these are visual ways for us to tell those stories that make our lives rich and connect us with a larger audience. Art can be a way to apply the concepts of storytelling, geometry, physics, and those processes that express a connection to oneself and to others (psychology and sociology).

To starve an education by minimizing these forms of expression is to minimize those opportunities to apply the skills and aptitudes that society deems essential. Real learning takes place when the opportunity to apply concepts is present.

Support your local schools and support the arts and technology.

“An arts education helps build academic skills and increase academic performance, while also providing alternative opportunities to reward the skills of children who learn differently.”

-Gavin Newsom

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