Ann Arbor needs to consider the arts and the educated workforce
In an increasingly competitive world, the importance of preparing our young people for the jobs and challenges of tomorrow has never been more important.
And yet, the United States is falling behind the rest of the world in a number of educational categories, perhaps most alarmingly in the area of high school graduation rates.
Recently, a pair of reports and initiatives have appeared that suggest how arts and culture can help counter these troubling trends.
The Right Brain Initiative, an innovative collaboration among arts, education and business leaders in Portland, Ore., lays out the challenge compellingly. Accompanied by a jaunty soundtrack and collage-like video, a gentle-voiced narrator asks visitors to envision the world our children will inhabit: one that will be "propelled as much by images and music as words," where ideas will rule the day, not factories and foundries.
One the other side of the country, the Center for Arts Education has released a thought-provoking report entitled Staying in School: Arts Education and New York City High School Graduation Rates.
This study places New York City's graduation problem in the context of the larger, national graduation crisis which has reached epidemic proportions, the study claims, with more than 1 million students across the United States dropping out of high school each year.
And why do so many young people drop out of high school? The classes were uninteresting and irrelevant, said more than half of the respondents to a recent national survey of ethnically diverse high school dropouts.
So, how do we keep young people in school — and not just in school, but engaged and ready to learn?
The New York report looks at data collected by the New York City Department of Education and finds that "the arts play a key role in keeping students in high school and graduating on time."
Rather than eliminating the arts as an "unnecessary frill," the authors of the 2-year student suggest expanding course offerings in the arts, dedicating resources to support arts instruction, and requiring adequate classroom space for arts instruction, among other steps.
The Right Brain Initiative has responded with a model program of integrated arts learning experiences that debuted in 20 schools in 4 school districts in September 2008. The purpose is to reconstruct the learning process, encouraging students to build and demonstrate understanding through the arts. The successful first year of the program laid a foundation that is expanding to more schools in the Portland area.
"In a world that needs the full-measure of our thinking, we can't leave our kids half-interested, half-motivated, half-engaged, half-ready," says the narrator of the web site's video.
Locally, school administrators are struggling to offer meaningful education with decreasing financial resources. As they consider their options, they might do well to consider the documented benefits the arts bring to students' ability and willingness to learn.
Tamara Real is executive director of the Arts Alliance and is a regular columnist for Business Review.