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.


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