Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Have We Forgotten that Education is a Two-Way Conversation?

We hear so much every day about how education has to be a partnership between schools and families - how students have to contribute to their own success - how it takes a village - how it's all about good teachers, no it's all about involved parents, no it's about having the right metrics, etc. etc. etc. etc.

All this partnering, and involvement, and measurement, and so on - and it's all aimed in the same direction, down the street of "success." The "product" is these students who grow up to be "successful." And we've defined what that means - they need to get high test scores, get good grades, get into a good college, get a good job.

It's that "good" part that gets a little problematic. What if it were more about getting into "the right" college, and pursuing "the right" career?

Well, that would require a two-way conversation.

Because in order for a student to grow up into his or her best self, we need to know who that self is. We have to listen.

That is what arts education is for. It is to give young people the power to bring their own voice to their educational conversation, to reveal things about themselves, and to show those things to the people in the world who care most about them. Their mentors, teachers, families.

If you don't have that side of the equation, you don't know what "success" is.

It also seems that every time someone talks about the best teacher they ever had, there's a pattern to it - that teacher saw something unique in them, didn't give up on them, brought out their best. That teacher listened. And as a result, that student did better. Performed better, learned better, became a better student and a better person. Because someone listened and noticed.

Arts education allows us to listen to one another, and to speak in ways that are safe, and constructive, and deep and detailed. And it lets students bring their own voice to the table.

When we cut the arts out of our education process, we take away each student's unique voice. We take away a process of disovery that should be taking place within each young person. And we close off an avenue of rich, personal, valuable conversation about who each student is. We stop listening.

Critical point: It's not about whether every student is "good" at painting or playing an instrument. It is that the process of creation, bringing music to life, making something unique, is good FOR them. Here's where we get in the way again - we want them to be "advanced," to "achieve," in the arts. We don't treat the arts as a means of self-discovery, they are just another item for the college application. A way to win awards. To achieve.

I know these days it's all about the money and the test scores and the budget cuts and government mandates and all this. But I argue that if every student got thirty minutes a day to create, to engage in some creative activity, write something, paint something, make something, each student would take a step toward finding a voice and sharing it with the world. And that this acknowledgement, and voice, would make them better students, and better people.

I submit that a two-way educational conversation results in a better educational outcome, in all aspects of learning and development. That hearing and seeing our young people gives them power to become something. That giving them the means to express themselves is not a waste of budget or a nice-to-have, it's a core part of the interaction between the education system telling them what they need to do, and the students telling us who they are.

If our students don't get to hold up their end of the conversation during their education, how will they do so in that big world where we want them to be so successful? Let's stop giving them the anwers, and start asking them some questions. And give them the instrument, the paper, the time and space, the paints, the room to move, the time to write, or whatever they need, to discover for us - and themselves - some answers.

Blog Archive