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Friday, August 7, 2009

Greeley Colorado Should Not Abandon Arts in Public Schools

Greeley District 6 Schools are lagging far behind the rest of the state and fingers are being pointed at the physical assets of the school as a culprit. Indeed it may be. But it is not the only weasel lurking in the woodpile and probably not the most significant one either. I've already addressed the administration's marsupial tendencies in other posts.

Mill-Levy for Greeley's District 6
District 6 Negotiations: Just A Slice Out of the Middle
Greeley District 6 Performance Check
Greeley District 6 School Report Card is Out of Date

Now I'll head into the topic of a well rounded education, specifically, the slow, methodical, elimination of public arts programs in local schools cloaked in the name of "we don't have the funds". Out goes Baby with the bathwater.

Here are some of the ideas on why curriculum and well trained/paid teachers to teach it should come back onto the table as a funding priority. Yes, even when we all know, the Grinch has stolen Christmas and it isn't even September yet.

Emotional intelligence is a significant aspect of the overall intelligence of the individual. Emotional intelligence is the overall ability to interpret, make reasoning choices, and apply the lessons learned in math, reading, writing, and science class. In other words the tools being obtained by our children during daily classroom teachings are not powerful enough in, and by, themselves to provide the skills needed to become a well-rounded productive citizen. The ability to understand how, when, and where to apply each tool, how to combine the tools effectively, has to also be learned.

You don't get this by teaching the kids how to pass the state exam so your teacher can be better paid and the administration gets off the accountability hook. It comes, most significantly, through a well maintained and developed Arts program.

Sixty years ago these skills were mostly taught at home. Families spent significant time together working side by side in family businesses, pulling together to get dinner on the table each night, and ensuring that their children had increasingly difficult opportunities to avail themselves of to teach responsible decision making and accountability. It is why you got scolded when you were six for not getting up to feed the cows at 5 AM but got cold water thrown on you at twelve for the same. Grandma, Grandpa, siblings, and cousins, were also often within earshot to help direct. My Grandmother walked around with a bucket of ice water in her hands I think for quite a while.

In modern times we are less the nuclear family and more the community family. Each household faces a much more complex world and an increasing battle on keeping up with new complexities, such as technology and accessible travel and communications, being added every day. Of course, being an agricultural based community, the ties to the nuclear and extended family remain strong. It only takes a drive across the big prairie to understand that farming families depend on each other and close neighbors to get their work done and make it through another year. Yet, even in the farming community, the adults, themselves, have a lot on their plate to incorporate into their emotional intelligence and toolbox before they can begin to teach these skills to their children. It is the same in the more urban areas. The technology revolution and population growth has left stretch marks on all brains and all aspects of our lives.

So the burden on the educators and the larger community is to either take up the slack in education and teach more about emotional intelligence or to take up the consequences and accountability for ignoring the youth's needs. Certainly, as initially indicated in the mill levy details, technology resources, transportation, and books will help the situation but without a well rounded inclusive curricula and teachers who can teach it effectively--including music and the Arts, the improvements made by taxing the local population may be less than the expected return those taxpayers will be anticipating.

There will be hell to pay in the future whether or not taxpayers approve the tax.

Yet the emphasis should not only be on the Greeley School Board's decision. These members are supposed to represent the best interests of the community and perhaps the message coming in from the surrounding community is a little less than clear or all inclusive. When people have been left out in the cold for too long they tend not to venture out for fear of frostbite. Building a comfortable venue and inviting all parties to the table should be a priority.

I spoke to a woman the other day in Margie's Java Joint downtown. She was enjoying the tasty coffee but lamenting missing her favored Starbuck's pricing. As a parent of three she was stressing over how to get each child into the optimal private school at some point. She laughed when I asked if she had considered putting these children into local District 6 public schools. The drive to a decent private school didn't matter to her. The cost impact of private education on her middle-class salary didn't matter to her. The lack of her children growing up in their own social community didn't matter either.

What mattered is her perception that her children would receive a better education in a private school (regardless of quality oversight) than the one they could receive in public schools. In her explanation, saying how she still supported public education but clearly it was for other people's children, she focused on the hope that more charter school options would pop up under the stimulus funds. In return I explained to her how charter schools tend to create larger class and social divisions in a community unless they are properly managed. Hence some children get improvements in education but others go neglected.

"Whoosh" the vitriol that came back burned past my ears and left my own coffee swirling in its cup.

It was at this point she launched into an unanticipated tirade about how we, the public, should be educating "her" children first and not thinking about "those" kids from other cultural backgrounds. She expounded on how "those" kids take up scarce resources that "our" children should have. She particularly emphasized how much benefit her children gained from the arts and music classes integrated into the curriculum in private schools and how the influx of "others" had robbed the local schools of meaningful education. For ten minutes the woman justified the portion of the family's income going to private school to save on after school "enrichment" class expenses. Then she justified the inattentiveness to education of other mothers as the consequences for a decline in public education. The fact that, in her family, the mother was home half the day and had monetary resources for child care, health care, Starbucks, and after school education didn't appear to enter the judgmental equation on other parental abilities. Nor did it effect the direction of where the consequences of declining public education deservedly should fall.

I won't go into my reply here. Just suffice it to say the conversation finished shortly thereafter.

Is this an isolated incident in Greeley? Maybe. Maybe not. I know I have seen it, heard it, watched it voted on, in other communities. Private schools, and charter schools, come with increases in property values around the school. They become a "snob-factor" socially for identifying those with means (who arguably care enough to get their child into the 'right' school). Which drives which, the entry of private schooling drives higher property values or higher property values drive private schooling, remains to be seen or researched in my case. But one thing that goes hidden underground underneath various forms of passive racism and social elitism is that all children need access to a quality education for America to sustain its power and advantage in the world economy.

I'd add on to that the negative long term effects of a tacit transfer of well rounded curriculum to private and charter schools, where kids still get daily access to the Arts and are tutored in the arts of emotional intelligence. This budding and building trend in creating new societal distinctions further isolates the general public access to an effective education. In turn, the availability by income, often is used for an argument to advance other needs above and beyond the basic castration of a well rounded education. The kids coming out of this public education system are our future workforce. Who is going to argue that above and beyond the teacher's being paid well and above and beyond the need for buses, books, and technology--the very essential structure that it takes to apply educational learning to real life situations has been gutted.

In fact, it would appear, the Greeley community has signed onto this political and strategic gutting in the name of "saving money" and encouraging the free market system of survival of the fit and wealthy.

Certainly the middle-class Greeleyite in the coffee house will not be arguing at the Board to look at the forest instead of the trees. Certainly the administration isn't going to go there. How politically unchaste it would be to bring up that there is a bigger problem in Greeley than just fiscal per pupil spending. A strategic design problem? No way.

So how do we get Greeley citizens to look at the forest if the authorities are political self-interested cowards? Well that self-interest is something everyone has so it would be a likely place to start the conversation. Specifically, the self-interest that it is socially impolite to talk about the real problems in public. The conversation needs to be started is the same one that the community should be having with itself behind closed doors and is already having with their neighbors. This is the one that leaders need to bring out of the closet and into the open.

Here let me put it in baser terms. Forget the Arts for the moment. Let's roll up the sleeves and take on the basics. If the argument is why should the productive individual support educating those with lesser means, including the indigent, the immigrants (legal and illegal), the solution to private self-interest is rather simple. By educating those with lesser means the community, state, and nation will produce more productive adults and results in the community leading to less support needs in the future. That is an effective control on the future cost of societal needs to all taxpayers. Invest now to save later. Education influences health, income production, and healthy interactive citizens in a community.

In my view, leaving those with less behind is rather like shooting the community in the foot today to hobble it tomorrow. It is an investment that should not be overlooked. Pay today so you pay less tomorrow and the community quality of life rises for everyone.

In the Supreme Court's decision, Brown v. Board of Education, Separate is Not Equal may have been based on race in 1954 but is it any less valid an argument for the social consequences when it is based on economic classes? Greeley historically has been very insular in its decision making process. Special interests have held power for a very long time and they are going to argue, and raise money, to keep it this way. The real question is whether Greeley Coloradoans can rise above the past to embrace the future they need to protect their families, their state, and their nation from continued decline.

Business in America will need highly trained and skilled workers to compete. The third world economies will have the competitive edge in textiles and other less skilled labor. It already does. Those jobs aren't coming back--we have to make new ones using American advantages of capital, land, and technology. That requires an educated workforce. Greeley must remain competitive or it will end up rotting from the inside out.

From Elaine L. Chao, Secretary of Labor, on American Labor Force in the 21st Century
The skills gap. Our economy is making an unprecedented transition into high-skilled, information-based industries. This has created a disconnect between the jobs that are being created and the current skills of many workers.

Our demographic destiny. In just a few decades, we will have a growing class of retirees and a shrinking workforce. In addition, there will be an increasingly diverse group of Americans entering the workforce, bringing with them the need for truly new ways of organizing and managing work.

The future of the American workplace. Anyone can tell you that this is not our parents� economy. The average 34-year-old has already worked for nine different companies in his or her brief career. Around 10 million people work away from their corporate office at least 3 days a month. As people sort out the new priorities of financial needs and family life, they all face the same new concerns: A career move that leaves behind health care coverage; abandoning pension benefits before they are vested; renegotiating with each new employer the balance between work and home.

District 6, whatever the driving forces are, is not serving the best interests of the community in creating an effective and quality learning environment for Greeley's children let alone the adults who require ongoing education. That needs to be fixed. Could that mean new taxes? Sure. Could it mean new administrators or school board members? Sure. Could it mean new leadership for the City Council? Of course. But it also means that the community has to begin to act as a living breathing dynamic community--rather than as a bedroom community relying on the more progressive communities around Greeley to service Greeley's true needs.

I don't think the woman in the coffee shop is what all of Greeley is about. It would be nice though to see the rest of Greeley turn out and take an active interest in building an education system for the entire community and demanding accountability from the one they already have. The rest of Greeley isn't talking much in public. You don't have to have a child in school to understand the long term impact on quality of life in Greeley Colorado if improvements are not cultivated now.

Debating the District 6 Board on the use of the mill levy proposal would be a good beginning to raising the level and quality of debate on these issues.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, discussing the importance of Art in the curriculum. Well maybe I'll have to leave my special interest discussion go for another day.

Below is the interview that started the hamster turning the Jane brain wheel and some clarity on statistics about education and poverty. I have no explanation why the wheel went off course and landed on my "It Takes a Community" track. Maybe someone slipped a carrot into Hammy-Love's pellets.

Derek E. Gordon, Executive Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center and former senior vice president for the Kennedy Center, discusses the place of the arts in a comprehensive education.

ARTSEDGE: Why Arts Education Matters
Q: How can one defend the role of arts in education when so much emphasis is placed on standardized test scores?

A: It's always interesting to look at the schools that have the highest test scores on standardized tests. Generally you will find that the arts are a part of their curriculum. Now, is that just a coincidence? Or is it part of the environment that makes the students more successful in their efforts to learn and compete on standardized tests?...

And he continues:
Q: The Kennedy Center's Arts Education Vision Statement asserts, "The arts are a critical and essential part of the education of every young person in America." Why is this true?

A: The arts are an essential part of American culture as a whole. It is very important that every young person comes into direct contact with the arts—not only as a passive observer, but also as an active participant.

The arts are also a great equalizer in terms of economic and social discrepancies. They have a way of leveling the playing field, allowing individuals to progress in life more effectively. There is also a lot of research that addresses the impact that the arts have on cognitive learning skills. For example, learning to play the piano can aid in developing mathematical skills. Visual arts and dance can affect the spatial perception of students—particularly young students.

Q: What value does arts-based learning provide to students?

A: The arts encourage learning as a process of discovery. We want every student to be a researcher who is asking probing questions—not only demonstrating their knowledge, but also testing and defending the assumptions that they are making. This is something that artists do all the time.

Also, when you look at early education practices, you see that they are filled with arts activities, because they offer the most basic and immediate ways to connect to a young mind. The arts challenge students of all ages, and engage them in a way that is often more kinesthetic, and perhaps more emotionally satisfying, than the "traditional" approach to teaching a text.

Elliot W. Eiser is a professor of education and art at Stanford University and the author of The Arts and the Creation of Mind.

The arts also teach that neither words nor numbers define the limits of our cognition; we know more than we can tell. There are many experiences and a multitude of occasions in which we need art forms to say what literal language cannot say. When we marry and when we bury, we appeal to the arts to express what numbers and literal language cannot. Reflect on 9/11 and recall the shrines that were created by those who lost their loved ones- and those who didn’t. The arts can provide forms of communication that convey to others what is ineffable.

Some enlightening statistics from

Children in low-income families fare less well than children in more affluent families on many of the indicators in this report.31 Compared with children living in families that are not in poverty, children living in poverty are more likely to have difficulty in school, to become teen parents, and, as adults, to earn less and be unemployed more frequently.32,33 This indicator is based on the official poverty measure for the United States as defined in Office of Management and Budget Statistical Policy Directive 14.34
  • In 2007, 18 percent of all children ages 0–17 lived in poverty, an increase from 17 percent in 2006. Compared with White, non-Hispanic children, the poverty rate was higher for Black children and for Hispanic children. In 2007, 10 percent of White, non-Hispanic children, 35 percent of Black children, and 29 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty.2,31
  • As was the case for all children, the percentage of related children with family incomes below the poverty threshold was higher in 2007 (18 percent) than in 2006 (17 percent). The poverty rate for related children has fluctuated since the early 1980s, reaching a peak of 22 percent in 1993 and a low of 16 percent in 2000.
  • The poverty rate for children living in female-householder families (no spouse present) also fluctuated between 1980 and 1994; it then declined between 1994 and 2000 by more than the decline in the poverty rate for all children in families. In 1994, 53 percent of children living in female-householder families were living in poverty; by 2007, this proportion was 43 percent.
  • Children in married-couple families were less likely to live in poverty than children living in female-householder families. In 2007, 9 percent of children in married-couple families were living in poverty, compared with 43 percent in female-householder families.
  • Related children ages 0–5 were more likely to be living in families with incomes below the poverty line than those ages 6–17. In 2007, 21 percent of related children ages 0–5 lived in poverty, compared with 16 percent of older related children.

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