That Great Candy Store that is the internet is alternately an Intergalactic Level time waster and brilliant serendipity machine (www.stumbleupon.com being the capital city of the realm of Serendip). A recent find was “Blogging Innovation” – among my hobbies is haunting various blogs on creativity, creative thinking, innovation, etc. The lead article was “Creativity and the State of the Union” by Tom Tresser (April 22). The theme of the article is about how this country can do better in the areas of innovation and creativity. He notes that politicians and business have paid lip service to this idea for years, but they have missed the boat not realizing how to build innovation into the system as well getting what you pay for (in the moment, the most widespread political policy consists of hoping that the tooth fairy or some other miracle will make it all happen without any material support from anyone).
Tresser is very clear on how to make America innovative, competitive, and prosperous: the arts.
“The arts are the pathway to broadening and deepening America’s creative muscles.”
“Teaching the arts at every level of education would be an excellent way to build our collective creative energies.”
“Having America’s children proficient in the arts – be it music, theater, design, computer coding, architecture, singing or painting would build skills needed for a robust economy and would also strengthen our communities.”
“If you want a creative, more innovative America we’re going to need citizens who are literate, inquisitive, open-minded and creative.”
It wasn’t part of the article, but there was an ad next to the article for a book relating to the subject: Stoking Your Innovation Bonfire: A Roadmap to a Sustainable Culture of Ingenuity and Purpose by Braden Kelley. Couldn’t help myself: I ordered it. Book report later.
There was link to Tom Tresser’s web site, where his “Manifesto” expands on the ideas of the article, namely, Creativity in America, which is what has been an essential part of America and its success from the very beginning.
In this time of troubled economy and polarized politics, the “Creative Economy” is more important than ever. As Daniel Pink observed in his book (2006) “A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future”, industrial business has gone abroad, and then Knowledge work (computer programming, etc.). But creativity thought is something that you can nurture at home and keep here. Tresser: “The Creative Economy is where the action is for post-Industrial, post-Service and post-Modern Societies. This is where the most value will be created and the highest-paying jobs will be. It’s also where the fun is.”
I like these lines:
“Every person has something precious and important to offer…” “If we demand that everyone look, act, and think like us, then we foreclose on the possibility that some new and unanticipated insight will blossom… Most great innovations happen when people question the usual and the standard ways of thinking.”
“The American creed” is [paraphrased] we don’t care who you are or where you come from, let’s see what you can come up with.
It is the freedom to be yourself and the freedom to create. That is what is unique about America and what makes it great.
In years past I had a rather long visit to Europe. I soon discovered a fundamental difference between the American outlook and the European outlook. Back home (in the U.S.) if you came up with a crazy idea, most people would say, “Yeah, crazy idea, but what the heck – give it a shot. Try it out and see what happens.” In Europe, comments would be to the effect of “Are you nuts? That is completely stupid and you are stupid for thinking any such thing. We have never done it like that. Just forget it.” A vast oversimplification, but in general true, in spite of the fact that there are way too many politicians who seem to be currently declaring war on education and teachers in this country instead of supporting it in every way possible.
A particularly pernicious addition forced on education in recent year was No Child Left Behind, which orders improvement without offering any help, and forces teachers to devote way too much time to teaching to the tests, if they know what’s good for them, at the expense of a comprehensive education, in which the arts are a cornerstone. It has also been convenient for some politicians to blame teachers for the shortfall in achievement, although we notice that they never blame or punish soldiers themselves for losing battles. In this battle they have decided to issue the educational soldiers little, no, or inadequate equipment, cut their pay, and ordered them to work longer, fight more wars and more enemy with fewer troops. It would be unimaginable to do it this way in battle and expect to win any wars, wouldn’t it, but somehow our representatives seem to think that it would work fine for the education battle. Contemplating logic like this leads to a permanent dent in the middle of your forehead from smacking it with your fist in abject wonder and consternation.
Arts education is hard to weigh or count, but there are any number of studies that clearly demonstrate its importance in developing creative thinking, which leads to innovation, which is the key to the future, as Mr. Tresser eloquently points out.
So do me, your children, and future generations a favor: at election time, vote for the Creative Party. Or whoever supports Arts Education (check their track record, if they have one, to see if they really mean it).
Let me wind up these musings with some links to helpful information on the subject:
Kevin Spacey defends arts education: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/21134540/vp/42441573#42441573. Besides the important cultural and artistic benefits for everyone, he points out to the rabid arts-cutters that it is a false economy to strangle the arts and culture – the arts has a very large multiplier effect in bringing money into the economy. It’s like [my analogy] trying to save money by stopping eating – you save a bit on food, but you also get sick and/or weak and can’t work or earn money anymore and you feel terrible – a very bad way to “save” money. To finish the analogy: spend money on good food, eat well, then use that strength and good feeling to work and create.
No art? No social change. No innovation economy – article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review
Ten Reasons Why Teaching the Arts is Critical in a 21st Century World – excellent article by Elliot Self. Samples: 1. Many children come to school and stay in school because of the arts. 2. Children learn positive habits, behaviors, and attitudes through the arts.
Music for Everyone! The need for supporting creative activities in schools is becoming obvious even in small town. Payson, Arizona (pop. 15,000) has a local newspaper that recently ran an article about enthusiastic local support. Quotes from “Music for Everyone!”: “Teachers give up time spent on core subjects instruction because they recognize the benefit of fine arts in education.” “Teaching art, such as music, inspires creativity and innovation. Both skills our children need to compete in a changing world.” “…researchers in Korea used musical ability tests to show the connection between musical skill and increased math performance. In Australia, researchers showed a relationship between an arts education and better academic performance. And in Singapore, analysts improved verbal language skills in long-term drama participants.”
Reinvesting in Arts Education: Winning America’s Future Through Creative Schools (88 p. pdf file) Excellent comprehensive report. See Appendix A, an annotated list of studies on the value of arts education.
The Long Term Effects of Eliminating Arts Education Programs – quotes: “Successful schools include strong arts programs. … The arts can be an important tool for keeping students engaged in school, for meeting the needs of a broad range of student interests, abilities, and backgrounds, and for helping students master other academic skills and disciplines.”
Champions of Change: The Impact of the Arts on Learning (114 p. pdf file) “When young people are involved in the arts, something changes in their lives.”
Studio Thinking: The Real Benefits of Visual Arts Education by Lois Hetland et al. Some of the chapter titles themselves are very informative:
Learning to Develop Craft
Learning to Engage and Persist
Learning to Envision: Planning Beyond Seeing
Learning to Express: Finding Personal Visions
Learning to Observe: Seeing Beyond the Ordinary
Learning to Reflect
Learning to Stretch and Explore: Beyond the Familiar
Navigating Field and Domain
Habits of Mind
A Common Language for Intellectual Growth
Do Musicians Have Better Brains? Summary of a new study; quote: “New research shows that musicians’ brains are highly developed in a way that makes the musicians alert, interested in learning, disposed to see the whole picture, calm, and playful. The same traits have previously been found among world-class athletes, top-level managers, and individuals who practice transcendental meditation.”
POSTSCRIPT: a few hours after I posted this, I ran into a call to action by the MENC:
Time to contact your congressperson and share your views on H.R. 1891. Cuts like this is like trying to lose weight by cutting off your head. You could do it, and be within the letter of the law, but at a very great price that will do immeasurable harm.