Point of View Columns

Word Power

If nothing else, the right wing of the right wing of the Team Teapublican is consistent. It has sought to obstruct, delay and dismember every initiative of the Obama Administration, from the appointment of judges and ambassadors to holding this country hostage to their warped budgetary vision, the Teapublican terrorists never miss an opportunity to travel the path of negative disruption, no matter what the cost to the people of this country. And now, like a spoiled child with yet another new toy, the Teapublicans have discovered the word “scandal”.

For the past few weeks the hoots and catcalls directed at the Obama Administration from the right wing of the right wing have reached an impossibly higher and more hysterical pitch. Such masterminds like Sessions, Rubio, Issa and McConnell clearly come from the school of communication which teaches that the louder that pseudo facts are shouted the more believable they are. In other words, volume equals credibility.

By seizing upon the word “scandal”, the Teapublicans clearly believe that they can bluff the American people into a lemming-like charge over the cliff of reality. The fact that the result of their endgame would be a government that would be even more dysfunctional doesn’t seem to be a concern.

To most Americans, the word “scandal” dredges up images of the Watergate era when President Nixon engaged in a series of disreputable and probably criminal activities including an attempt to use the entire Justice Department apparatus to cover up wrongful acts. Another Republican “scandal” was the Reagan Administration’s cobbling together an arms sleight of hand device that routed arms through Iran to Contras in Nicaragua even though such a scheme was specifically prohibited by Congress.

Richard Nixon was eventually impeached and resigned in disgrace. Even though Ronald Reagan maintained his ignorance of the entire Iran-Contra scheme, even his most ardent supporters will acknowledge this seamy and sleazy move as the low point of his administration.

These presidential “scandals” were seen in the light of day as outright efforts by the White House to ignore the law and to avoid its consequences. These “scandals” most certainly jeopardized the credibility of government and provided a moveable feast for conspiracy theorists across the country.

Now the Teapublicans want to apply the “scandal” tag to the Benghazi episode of last fall. It should be noted that there was an attack on the American consulate in that Libyan city and that communications were understandably unclear and confused as buildings burned and Americans died.

With hindsight being 20/20 it is still not a certainty as to what the proper outcome would have been in conveying information about a terrorist attack that was taking place in real time while the CIA and other government agencies sought to steer attention away from the activities in which they were engaged. But this tragic event is a “scandal” only in the Never Never Land inhabited by the Teapublicans.

The Teapublicans have also seized upon the extra scrutiny by the IRS when it came to tax exempt applications by avid and sometimes rabid Teapublican groups. When deep breaths are taken by all involved, the facts are that the right wing of the right wing has regularly abused 501©(4) tax exemptions in order to pursue blatantly political agendas, agendas specifically prohibited by the IRS rules and regulations.

Once those facts are taken into account it makes all the sense in the world to make sure that the applications by so-called “social welfare” organizations are not stalking horses for multimillion dollar political action regiments secretly funded by the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other members of the Billionaires Boys Club who have sworn eternal enmity towards President Obama. In this case the Teapublicans sound like the habitual bank robbers who complain that security guards are watching them too closely every time they walk into a bank.

The right wing of the right wing is doing its damnedest to throw more sand into the gears of government and employ paralysis and well as sequestration strangulation of the government. And we have to wonder, why is the progressive wing of the Congress so silent as these transparently obstructionists tactics are pursued.

It is time for the lambs to stop being so silent.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 24, 2013

It appears that we are still at a point in human history where respecting people regardless of their gender preference is news and that is why the Boy Scouts made the news. Meanwhile the Teapublicans, ever creative in their efforts to torment President Obama have a new toy – the fake scandal machine. And all the while, supporters of the president are as silent as lambs.

Boy Scouts and History

This week the Boy Scouts of America announced that they will accept openly gay young men into their ranks as members. While this clear act of humanity and civility should not have to be news, it clearly still needs to be news.

First, it should be noted that the Boy Scouts of America have decided to slowly enter the twenty first century as it will not allow openly gay men to be scoutmasters. And, from the howls and squawks from the righteously bigoted, one would have thought that the BSA had endorsed polygamous bestiality or some other awful practice.

At some point the bigoted right and the righteously bigoted will come to the realization that respecting other people does not diminish their own humanity or endanger their own values. But clearly, they are not there yet.

The Teapublicans New Toy

In the brave new world of the Teapublican terrorists who are occupying Congress and holding this country hostage to their distinctly un-American ideology, blindly and wildly attacking the President of the United States is a useful way for the government of the United States to spend its time. And so we watch the Teapublicans lurch from birther “investigations” to Benghazi “cover ups” to an imaginary IRS “scandal”.

Given the arrogant mendacity of the Bush-Cheney years, one would think that the supporters of that besmirched administration would be a bit hesitant is using the word “scandal”. But, if nothing else, the Teapublicans are brash, arrogant and without shame.

We have actually heard some Teapublicans calling for a special prosecutor to “investigate” all of these “scandals”. Presumably the Teapublicans think that a special prosecutor can do a better job of obstructing the Obama administration then they have been able to do with their record number of filibusters and their very sad record of meaningless protest votes (see the 37 times that the Teapublicans have futilely voted to repeal Obamacare).

I fully expect that if the special prosecutor tactic does not work the Teapublicans will turn to their old standby – torches and pitchforks.

Silence of the Lambs

As the recent Teapublican attacks on Barack Obama have seeped into the mainstream media, like sewage sometimes seeps into the water supply, there has been remarkable silence on the part of representatives of his strongest constituency. The silence of these lambs is a mystery indeed.

Every member of the Congressional Black Caucus represents a district that voted overwhelmingly for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. It does not require a great deal of insight to conclude that the voters in these districts cannot be pleased with the unremitting barrage of fact-deficient charges that are leveled against the president on almost a daily basis.

Yet, it is a rare sight to see one or members of the CBC step up to a microphone and take on their Teapublican colleagues and call them out for what they are – neo-terrorists who are holding the country hostage while they seek to nullify the results not one, but two national elections.

The silence of these lambs is all the more curious because it is hard discern the political risk that the CBC members are taking by coming to the defense of President Obama.

I am certain that the members of the CBC do not think of themselves as lambs, but as Bob Marley once said, “If the cap fit, let them wear it”.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Trial and Error American Style

Two tragedies during the past few days point out the misguided direction in which public policy discourse in this country is heading. Last Friday there was a two train collision in Connecticut that resulted in at least 70 injuries and the snarling of road and rail traffic in the region. Just yesterday a huge tornado tore through the states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa leaving at least 24 people dead an incalculable destruction in its wake. What do these tragedies have to do with public policy discourse? A lot.

While the reports are not conclusive, it appears that the Connecticut train disaster can be attributed to a broken rail. That would of course relate to issues of the maintenance and repair of the rail infrastructure and by extension the maintenance and repair of the entire infrastructure of this country.

The main elements of rail system in the Northeast corridor of the United States were essentially built over 150 years ago – before and during the Civil war. The key rail systems in Europe and Japan were all built after World War II and now feature high speed trains that is only the stuff of dreams in the United States. China’s rail system is so advanced that American engineers would do well to go there to learn about what they are never going to be able to build in today’s political climate.

That is because in today’s political climate the emphasis is being placed on budgetary austerity rather than on government playing its most important role – establishing and maintaining a society in which people can pursue opportunities to fulfill their lives. The natural role of government is to maintain national security, civil order, salutary health conditions, education and………a viable and reliable infrastructure.

Every infrastructure proposal that President Obama has made during his five years in office has been met with steadfast and unyielding opposition by the Teapublican wing of the Congress even as the infrastructure of this country frays, breaks and crumbles before our very eyes. And, as a result, the governmental response at the local, state and federal levels has been a makeshift patchwork of emergency repairs. And somehow the Teapublicans will try to make us believe that the estimated $33 trillion dollar infrastructure deficit in this country is not true – just like global warming.

The tornado tragedy in the Midwest is even more appalling. Every state that has been impacted by the recent tornado – Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa – voted for a presidential candidate (Mitt Romney) who stated that the federal government should not play a role in disaster relief. Yet, as the sad victims of this latest disaster sort through the rubble of their broken dreams and shattered hopes every single elected official in those states is welcoming with open arms the federal assistance that is already on its way.

The congressional delegations from these states are overwhelmingly Teapublicans who have stood proudly in support of a sequestration process that is slowly strangling the same federal government from which they now rightfully expect support and assistance. These same intransigent Teapublicans who proudly proclaim the need to shrink the size of government and cite government as “the enemy” now understand the importance of a strong central government with the resources necessary to help the citizens that it serves.

The forces of nature are stronger than any one community, city or state. Today it is tornadoes in the Midwest. Tomorrow it could be floods in Pennsylvania, forest fires in Oregon or drought in Texas. Hurricanes, blizzards and oil spills threaten our daily lives and it only makes sense that there are national resources available to address those challenges.

The notion of a small, caretaker government works in the utopia where there is no common hardship or shared tragedy. On the Planet Earth there is plenty of hardship and tragedy and it is the sense of community and common cause that saves us all.

We can be sure that after accepting all of the federal aid that will be forthcoming the Teapublican governors and members of Congress will experience magical amnesia and go back to strangling the federal government thereby endangering every American man, woman and child.

And that is yet another tragedy.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 17, 2013

All over the country budget cuts and reduction in the size of government has seriously impacted upon this country’s education system at just the wrong time. Meanwhile, as sequestration continues the slow strangulation of the federal government and the national economy the Teapublicans are calling for a slew of new FBI investigations. Wait! There aren’t any FBI agents available! And finally, the Teapublicans seem to have decided change their name to the Impeachicans. Clearly it is time to add another ring to the circus.

Burning Down the House

Some of the impact of the budget cuts and reductions in the size of government are pretty easy to see – the flight delays caused by the furloughing of air traffic controllers come to mind. Other damage is not as obvious but is certainly more serious.

While air traffic delays make the headlines, the unconscionable delays experienced by veterans at VA hospitals don’t seem to warrant much attention at all. And that is a shame.
It is also a shame that the slow evisceration of this country’s educational system by reducing funding available for education is not in the headlines. At a time when the children of this country need to be prepared to be globally competitive school systems are reducing academic programs and Teapublicans pursue lunatic education agendas like creationism.

Reducing spending for education in order to address budget and deficit issues is like burning down the furniture and tearing down the house to keep the furnace going. At some point there will simply be no house to worry about.

“The Jerk – The Sequel”

In the Steve Martin movie “The Jerk”, the lead character at one point decides to leave home and leave everything behind. And then he starts making exceptions for – his teddy bear, his banjo, his favorite slippers—–by the time he finishes with making exceptions for the things he doesn’t want to leave behind he is dragging an armload of stuff with him.

The scene is reminiscent of the Teapublicans who want to shrink the size of government except — for the air traffic controller, except for staff to keep the White House open for tours, except, except, you get the idea. And now get ready for another exception, the FBI.

The Teapublicans are howling for FBI investigations regarding the Boston Marathon bombing, the IRS targeting of right wing not for profit groups (more on that in a moment) and the Justice Department monitoring the phone records of the Associated Press. And there will be more. But wait!

The FBI is furloughing agents under the terms of the idiotic sequestration vise that is gripping the federal government. So there simply aren’t enough federal agents available to pursue all the ghosts and goblins that the Teapublicans see in every corner.

So get ready for another sequestration exception. You can be sure that it won’t be the last one.

The Impeachicans

As soon as Barack Obama was inaugurated as president in 2009 the Republicans (soon to be Teapublicans) declared a sacred mission to make him a one term president. That mission was not accomplished.

Now that President Obama has been reelected it seems that the Teapublican mission is to make sure that his second term will be viewed as an historical disaster. The sequestration helps this mission immeasurably.

With the disclosure that the Internal Revenue Service has been scrutinizing the tax exemption applications of obviously right wing organizations the Teapublicans are not only howling like scalded cats, they already have declared a new mission – the impeachment of President Obama.

It clearly doesn’t matter that a number of these scrutinized organizations have had direct linkages to the Teapublican political apparatus and that many of them are not “social welfare” organizations – they are fronts for highly partisan, political activity. When the dust settles it will be clear that the IRS was doing what it should do – make sure that tax exempt status is not used fraudulently.

In the meantime the Teapublicans, now the Impeachicans, will add impeaching President Obama to the list of doomed missions.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Dan Snyder – All American Tragedy

You may not know who Dan Snyder is, and that might be just as well because in addition to being the owner of the Washington NFL team he is also a sad and tragic individual who is mired in the muck and sewage of racism, intolerance and stunning insensitivity. In this country there is a prevailing belief that if someone is rich they must also be smart and have something worthwhile to say. Dan Snyder is living proof of the absolute fallacy of that belief.

The cause for concern here is the fact that the shameful naming of the Boston (later Washington) football team as the “Redskins” in 1933 is defended in the name of tradition. The problem with that argument is that this “tradition” is based upon the horrific history of the Native American population and its interaction with white Western Europeans. Through plague and mass killings it is possible that as many as 70 million Native Americans died while America was first “discovered” and then “settled”.

It takes a special kind of insensitivity and blockheaded arrogance to decimate a group of people through genocidal practices and then to turn them into mascots and human sock puppets that populate the mythology of American history. And in this enlightened age where we have finally acknowledged using the proper terminology when addressing people who are gay or unusually short or physically challenged, how on earth can anyone seriously suggest that using a racist epithet as the name of a football team is a tradition that is worth defending?

I am a graduate of Dartmouth College and that institution changed its “tradition” over thirty years ago and renamed its sports teams to the “Big Green” relegating the former mascot name of “Indians” to its deserved place on the trash heap of misbegotten monikers.
In the past thirty years many colleges and universities, with a “tradition” a lot longer than the Washington NFL team, have also jettisoned the needless slurring, trivializing and humiliation of Native Americans and have moved on.

The logic employed by billionaire Dan Snyder is so impoverished that if he had been applying it to his business affairs he would have been lining up for food stamps a long time ago. Mr. Snyder is arguing that a wrongful act should be perpetrated because it has been around for a long time and that tradition shouldn’t be changed.

Clearly Mr. Snyder conveniently forgets that there used to be a “tradition” in this country that black people could be owned as slaves. There also used to be a “tradition” that women could not vote. There was a “tradition” that Jews could not attend certain schools or join certain country clubs. There also used to be a tradition that gay men and women could not marry.

But the “tradition” that Dan Snyder also forgets is that these United States, with all of its flaws and faults also has a “tradition” of trying to correct those flaws and faults. And it is because of that tradition, the tradition of change and the tradition of embracing transition that resulted in the Emancipation Proclamation, women’s suffrage, the virtual elimination of religious discriminatory practices at universities and country clubs and the growing legalization of gay marriage.

Meanwhile, Roger Goodell, the Commissioner of the National Football League has been notably silent on this issue. The NFL is a multibillion dollar image conscious enterprise. For Roger Goodell to sit on his well-manicured hands while one of the owners of the NFL franchise is taking a page out of the George Wallace/Lester Maddox playbook. (George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama to bar black students from attending and Lester Maddox stood in the doorway of his Atlanta store armed with an axe handle to block attempts at integration.)

It doesn’t matter that 79% of the American public do not think that the Washington NFL team should change its name. Morality and justice cannot be subject to a vote. And the NFL, which extols courage and bravery, should strap on the helmet of courage and the shoulder pads of bravery and do the right thing.

There is no doubt that Mr. Goodell would respond immediately and stop an NFL owner who wanted to change the name of his team to the San Diego Wetbacks or the New York Niggers or the Philadelphia Faggots. Those incredibly insulting terms are as insulting as the term “Redskins” is to Native Americans.

It is time for the Roger Goodell to demonstrate some leadership and time for all of us to embrace the stated American tradition of change for justice.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 10, 2013

Just when you thought that we had reached the limits of crazy, some libertarian group has put downloadable software online which can allow someone to “print” the components of a gun on a 3-D printer. What could go wrong with that? Meantime, doing a reprise of his Angry Old Man routine Senator John McCain is leading the charge of the armchair warriors – again. And finally, Washington NFL team owner Dan Snyder has officially retired the “Racist Troglodyte Lifetime Award” – with apologies to all troglodytes.

Just Click and Shoot

A rightwing libertarian group, Defense Distributed, has made software available online that will permit anyone to download it for free and manufacture the components to an apparently serviceable gun employing a $1000 3D printer.

You will note the use of the word “anyone” which presumably would include terrorists, Klan members, skinheads, insane asylum escapees, gang members and Teapublicans. You will also note that this is an illustration of the gun advocates rant about the right to bear arms taken to its most insane extreme.

There is nothing in the Constitution that prohibits reasonable restrictions on the so-called right to bear arms. There is certainly nothing in The Book of Common Sense that would support allowing anyone in this country to build their own untraceable, undetectable plastic firearms at home.

Yet here we are – in what appears to be the Land of the Crazy and the Home of the Stupid.

Attack of the Armchair Generals

If you have been living in a cave for the past decade you may have missed the fact that the United States has been fighting two unwinnable wars of choice – Iraq and Afghanistan – with a tremendous cost in blood and treasure. And emerging from that cave you might actually think that Senator John McCain might be making sense when he urges President Obama to take military action to bring a halt to the heinous crimes against the Syrian people that are being committed by the Syrian government.

If, however, you have not been in that hypothetical cave you know that the United States simply cannot afford to expend additional blood and treasure on a war that cannot be won – especially since no one can explain what “winning” would be. And not having been cave-bound for this past decade you might want to ask Senator McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham and all the other armchair generals exactly why the United States should plunge into another bottomless and bloody quagmire.

Every time the United States acts as the policeman for the planet Americans die for a cause that cannot stand the test of time.

Krazy Kaveman of the Year

Dan Snyder is wealthy – very wealthy. He is also the owner of the Washington NFL football team. He is not, however, very smart or sensitive.

The Washington football team has been known by the horrific racist epithet “Redskins” for over 80 years and finally, the members of the District of Columbia City Council seem ready to demand that the Washington team change its name. The fact that there is any argument or discussion regarding this issue is stunning indeed.

If there was a team called the New York Niggers or the Chicago Polacks or the California Kikes there would be hell to pay. That sports teams in this country have chosen the victims of genocide to be their mascots is grotesque and an abomination and the practice should never have begun, should have ended long ago and certainly should end right now.

Dan Snyder has stated that the name of the Washington football team will “never, ever” change. And that is why he gets the Racist Troglodyte Lifetime Award with apologies to any troglodytes who are still out there, dragging their knuckles through the mud along with Dan Snyder.

Have a great weekend!

Point of View Columns

Gun Pornography

Just when we thought that the National Rifle Association could not go any lower it did. During its recent ranting and raving and foaming at the mouth pretense of a convention, the NRA leadership featured speaker after speaker who plumbed the depths of the pools of hatred, bigotry and stupidity that are still a part of America. And then there was the use of children as gun-toting tot props.

It should be clear to all by now that the NRA is not about the right to bear arms. The NRA is really about the right to manufacture arms, the right to sell arms and the right to make enormous profits from the manufacture and sale of arms. This means that the leadership of the NRA is really a consortium of salesmen, pimps and proselytizers of profit no matter what the cost in human bloodshed and misery.

The new president of the NRA, James W. Porter, Jr., a knuckle dragging troglodyte from Alabama, decided to up the ante in the gun control debate in this country. With his very first breath as NRA President Mr. Porter linked the gun control debate in this country to the Civil War – of course he referred to the treasonous and despicable acts of nine Southern states as the “War of Northern Aggression”.

What we really don’t need in the aftermath of Virginia Tech, Aurora, Sandy Hook and the almost daily gun-fueled bloodbaths in our cities is a stars and bars-wearing supporter of white supremacist slavery advocating guns being the solution to just about every problem that afflicts this country.

And because he does have an undeserved platform for his rhetorical sewage, James Porter has the capacity to “inspire” like minded believers to take action – action that he can always moonwalk away from much in the same way that Sarah Palin continues to unsuccessfully distance herself from the carnage of the Tucson Massacre.

Not satisfied with wallowing in the gutter of hatespeak that is fed by torrents of misinformation and ignorance, the NRA has resorted to child pornography, shielding its unspeakable acts by claiming the protection of the Second Amendment. And in the process the NRA actively, affirmatively and intentionally inflicted unnecessary pain on the parents of children who have been the victims of gun violence.

Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said, “I can’t describe what pornography is, but I know it when I see it.” By those guidelines it is clear that the NRA parading around children as young as five years old who are holding automatic weapons with fearsome killing power is nothing but gun pornography.

There is no redeeming value, no training pretense, and no logical reason to place an automatic weapon in the hands of a five year old. The is nothing cute about seeing a nine year old girl aiming an AR-15 rifle (of the type used in Aurora and Sandy Hook) at human-shaped targets. That the NRA would hype this awful image as proof that it is some kind of family enterprise is as disingenuous as the Mafia calling itself a family business.

The business of the NRA is the manufacture and sale of weapons of individual destruction and sometimes mass destruction. There are already enough guns in America to arm its adult citizens several times over. By now, anyone who wishes to legally buy a gun for sport or protection has one – or seven – of them.

Is anyone safer because they have a dozen AR-15 rifles? Does anyone seriously feel more constitutionally empowered because they own a personal arsenal? Does the NRA seriously think that American citizens should fear federal tanks coming down Main Street to confiscate weapons?

While the answer to those questions would elicit a barely audible “no” in the private quarters of the NRA, you will never get the leadership to admit to that. Just as you will not get the NRA to realize that good taste should have prohibited the publication of photographs of children as young as the Sandy Hook victims holding fierce automatic weaponry.

Unfortunately good taste, compassion, common sense and intelligence have no place in the halls of the NRA. But it does seem that gun pornography has found a home.

Point of View Columns

Weekend Edition – May 3, 2013

The big news in sports is that NBA player Jason Collins announced that he is gay. It will be bigger news when such an announcement is no longer big news. Meanwhile if you want to know what this country would look like if the Teapublicans were in charge you need look no further than North Carolina. And speaking of Teapublicans, it seems that when it comes to Krazy Kats, they receive the Lifetime Achievement Award.

And they call it “News”

Jason Collins has been a professional basketball player for a dozen years. As a member of the NBA he has achieved the athletic success that millions can only dream about.

Last week he announced that he is gay and the news cycles went into tizzy. As it turns out, Jason Collins is the first active athlete in a major sport in America to declare that he is gay. This is the stuff of historic proportions in the 21st century.

While there is no question that Mr. Collins’ announcement took a lot of courage in these days and times when homophobia is just a sound bite away. Even though 9 states and the District of Columbia have now sanctioned same sex marriage there are 41 states that do not recognize the injustice in not legally recognizing love between consenting adults.

We can only hope that the time will soon be here when the only courage needed to express one’s love is taking the daring step of declaring love to that person, and that person alone.

North Karolina Krazy

If you were wondering what this country might look like if the Teapublicans transitioned from being obstructionists you need go no further than the state of North Karolina. The Teapublicans took control of the state house and both houses of the legislature in November 2012 and they have been having a grand old Tea Party ever since.

Some of the legislation that has been proposed and or passed includes severe restrictions on abortion, draconian voter suppression and drug testing for welfare recipients. And, to make it really interesting, there is a proposal to allow the state to fund school districts that want to reinstate racial segregation.

One gets the feeling that they are just getting started in promoting a radically rightwing agenda. And one can only hope that the progressive people of North Carolina stand up before there is no ground left for them to stand upon.

Krazy Klowns

During the presidential primary campaign of 2012, the Teapublican Krazy Klowns Kar featured such red nose, big shoe wearing winners like Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Donald Trump and Rick “Oops” Perry. Running against that kast of karacters Mitt Romney seemed reasonable and rational – and that lasted until he actually had to run against a credible candidate.

It seems that the Teapublicans like Klowncasting so much that even though they went down to defeat in the national election they show no signs of kasting klowns out of the party anytime soon.

And so we have Senator Ted Cruz from Texas calling the Newtown Massacre parents “props” after saying that the victims of Hurricane Sandy didn’t need or deserve federal aid. Not to be outdone, Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe claims that the federal government is buying up bullets so that freedom loving gun owners will run out of ammunition when it comes time for armed revolution.

And the winner of the Krazy Klown Award is some nameless Teapublican state representative who claims that the recent Boston Marathon bombing was a government hoax because one of the victims that she saw on television didn’t seem to be “in that much pain”.

Oh those Krazy Klowns in the Teapublican Party. You just can’t make this stuff up!

Have a great weekend!

Be My Guest

Be My Guest Column by Eric Pryor

The Value of Creative Classrooms to Education and the Economy

In 2010, IBM released the results of a survey of more than 1,500 Chief Executive Officers from 60 countries and 33 industries worldwide, The surprising result? “Chief executives believe that — more than rigor, management discipline, integrity or even vision — successfully navigating an increasingly complex world will require creativity.”

Learning to think creatively begins in the classroom. What does a K-12 education that prepares children for college and career really look like?

Much of the current discussion about education revolves around the Common Core State Standards, developed as part of an initiative sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), and adopted in 45 states.

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills recommends the development of critical thinking, collaboration, communication and — here it is again – creativity as a way to meet Common Core objectives. At The Center for Arts Education (CAE), we maintain that the arts can not only develop creativity, but can also develop the other three, as well. Think of the group discussion needed to put on a successful theatrical production or the command of words needed to write poetry or the depth of perception needed to analyze a classic painting.

Moreover, think about what happens when these skills are developed not only in a dedicated art class, but when kids produce their own musical about American history or create a collage about the Women’s Rights Movement.  It is not just more art classes that are needed, but art thoughtfully integrated into the curriculum.

A new and growing movement that addresses this opportunity takes STEM, which is an acronym for educational emphasis on Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, and expands it into STEAM — the “A” being the integration of Arts. In the inaugural issue of Claremont Graduate University’s newly-launched online journal STEAM, president Deborah Freund writes, “Innovation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics thrives on the very imaginative skills that are cultivated in the arts.” At the New Jersey Institute of Technology, where students have the option of taking the Theatre Arts and Technology bachelor’s or pursuing a dual major in combination with another discipline, editor of NJIT Magazine Dean L. Maskevich notes, “The industries that rely on creative and technically astute professionals are valued at many billions of dollars, and they are generating a growing number of jobs.”

At the federal level, Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici from Oregon’s 1st District is leading a STEAM Caucus in the House of Representatives. Rep. Bonamici writes in a guest editorial with Oregon State Representative Chris Harker, “Education must evolve to emphasize the importance of integrating the arts and design into all learning, especially in fields vital to the future of our economy.”

As the Executive Director of CAE, I see firsthand the positive impact that the arts have on student and school success. We take a unique comprehensive approach, using school programming, professional development, parental involvement programs, advocacy, policy recommendations and research to educate not just parents and educators, but also legislators, business leaders and the community in general on the value of arts in education. When a student is stimulated by the arts, you have a child whose confidence and self-esteem grow, a child who is excited to learn, a child who wants to be in school.

To further advance our mission, we signed on with A+NYC, a coalition of 50 of the city’s strongest organizing, policy, advocacy, and educational service providing organizations. The goal of the coalition is to use the 2013 campaign for New York City mayor as an opportunity to inform and frame the discussion about education both for the candidates and for the general public.

It is telling that after a citywide bus tour by A+NYC to collect feedback from parents and community, integrating arts and music into the school day emerged as third in a survey of the most important issues facing schools, trailing only the expected concerns about testing and funding

The A+NYC site also provides a policy hub with research-based solutions on numerous obvious and not-so-obvious school challenges. The Arts Education section, written by CAE Director of Research and Policy, Douglas Israel, compiles a wealth of data that clearly points to the impact of arts on a student’s education. This is not just theory; it is quantifiable.

Across the country, many cities have recognized the value of arts education. In Chicago, The Board of Education gave final approval to an Arts Education Plan that would ensure that every school has at least one arts teacher on staff and one partnership with a local cultural institution. The L.A. unified school district approved a measure to make arts education a core subject and increase funding for arts education over the next five years. And in Portland, OR voters approved a referendum that would fund the hiring of arts teachers and provide grants to schools and arts organizations for education partnerships.

These are only a few of many examples, but we are still falling short for too many students — especially in New York City, where the latest Arts in Schools Report from the city Department of Education reveals that almost 20% of students – tens of thousands of children — are leaving middle school without having fulfilled the state requirement for arts education.

Susan Riley asks in a blog post for Edutopia, “Are we creating cooks or chefs?” Do we want to graduate students that have acquired knowledge only through rote memorization? Or, do we want to graduate students that have the creativity to take that knowledge in unexpected directions? We must not lose sight of the whole child, and the demonstrable value of the intangible in preparing that child for the 21st century workplace.

This is not just an issue for parents or educators or Executive Directors of education-related organizations. How we educate our children will determine what kind of community leaders we’ll have in coming years, how successful our businesses will be, and whether our country will continue to compete at the top of the global economy.

It all begins with creative classrooms.

Eric G. Pryor is the Executive Director of The Center for Arts Education (CAE). Previously, Eric served as Director of the New Jersey State Museum and, before that, President of the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey. An accomplished artist in his own right, Eric worked as a college arts professor for more than ten years, has exhibited his paintings extensively, and participated in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts for Transit project, creating and installing 29 faceted glass windows at the Franklin Avenue shuttle station.