Monday, March 1, 2010

"There are two educations. One should teach us how to make a living and the other how to live." --James Truslow Adams

Fairfax County, Virginia and Tippecanoe County, Indiana, like so many other counties in the nation, are facing tough budget choices this year since tax revenue is down and taxpayer spending has not made up for the difference.  Hard decisions are being made at the expense of jobs and unfortunately, childrens education. The results?  So-called "special programs" such as art, music, physical education, and guidance counseling are being dropped.  More accurately, educators responsible for teaching these subjects are being layed-off, their positions absorbed by classroom teachers.

Education in all areas: history, science, mathematics, art, physical education, etc. is incredibly important to the development of the human mind. When it comes to balancing the education of children who do not excel at math or science, topics like art or social sciences are critically important. More so, some of the best ideas, solutions to problems, and flashes of insight come when one is exploring a topic other than the topic at hand. The scene from Fat Man and Little Boy, a 1989 movie re-enactment of the secret Manhattan Project, comes to mind.  Robert Oppenheimer has a critical flash of insight while sqeezing an orange, discovering the implosion necessary to initiate a chain reaction of plutonium atom splits could be accomplished by exploding a sphere inwards on itself.  What does the orange have to do with nuclear fission?  You're right... nothing.  And while the orange isn't an art or musical activity as is being discussed herein, the point is that intelligence is the application of knowledge to topics unknown and many times the most effective intellectual insights come when working outside our comfort zones, engaging in new experiences, or learning something new.

One thing that is clear to me is the overwhelming anecdotal evidence supporting the importance of the arts in the fields of technical engineering and scientific research.  In my career in the field of product development and security engineering, anyone who is anyone has displayed better-than-average skills in the arts, music, or other such studies.  Whether math and science help one become better at arts and music or visa versa, I cannot say.  What seems likely is that these topics of study support each other, re-enforce each other, and otherwise round each other out. As so elegantly stated by Pam Stephens in her article entitled "Are the Arts Important in Education":

  • The arts empower children to communicate ideas that words and numbers cannot always adequately express.  
  • The arts provide opportunities to explore other cultures and times, teaching tolerance for other’s heritage and belief systems while valuing the individual.
  • The arts encourage multiple responses, respecting that the questions are often as important as the answers.
  • The arts teach flexibility in thinking, a mandate for success in a global society.
  • The arts teach students to continue searching for meaning and understanding.

I do not envy the administrators who must make these decisions--the school systems obviously cannot operate at a financial loss.  I also do not intend to claim the solution to these aforementioned budget problems is simple.  What I do know is that we cannot afford to lose these critical courses in our children's studies, just as we cannot afford to neglect these areas of our own studies as adults. It is one thing to realize or be told that you are not a good artist or musician.  It's a wholly different matter to not even be offered the chance to succeed or fail at it in the first place. If art is cut now, is music next?  If gifted and talented programs are cut, is special education (the other end of the spectrum) next? As a nation, I don't believe this is an answer we can sit around and wait for to find out. We must start thinking out-of-the-box.  Sacrificing these educational activities is unacceptable.

Yes, education is a right in America. But it is also a personal responsibility. If we are not getting the education we deserve as a nation, half of us should fight whatever political system necessary to correct the problem while the other half should come up with ingenious ways of addressing the issue ourselves. Short of pointing fingers or raising taxes, what out-of-the-box ideas do you have?

[1] Stephens, Pam. "Are the Arts Important in Education?" Point of View. August-September 2006. Page 10. Originally published at Davis Art (

1 comment:

  1. Well said, we don't even have to touch the issue of childhood obesity. I can only imagine the impact of not being able to run around and burn off some of the fast food and sodas served in schools will do to our future.


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