“Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?”
Virginia O’Hanlon, 8, directed this question to the The Sun, a New York newspaper, in 1897. Here is part of the published answer she received: “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. … He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy.”
Good enough for me. If I had one request for Santa this holiday season, I would want him to work with each of our 31 school districts—too many, for sure—and make certain they have plans to expand STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) curricular planning to include the Arts. The new term we should use to organize the work of schools today is STEAM, and the tools to promote an integrative brain for all children are paint brushes, acrylics, ballet shoes, flutes, keyboards, drama, choir and music teachers, artists in resident programs, Mariachi dancing lessons, etc.
For too long, with the economic downturn and testing result accountability, the visual and performing arts have been gutted to the bone, stripping children of the opportunity for “beauty and joy” in their learning. Yes, it is essential for America, especially Silicon Valley, to make STEM learning a focus for all of its students. But let’s never forget that experiences in the arts promote innovation. And innovation is the heart of our valley’s successes.
My wife and I attended President Clinton’s lecture at the Flint Center on Friday. We admired his intellectual and creative acumen. It is obvious after watching him all these years, since his governorship in Arkansas in the 1980s, that Clinton has an integrative brain, using the left and right hemispheres with robustness.
The left side of the brain is the more logical and analytical side. The right side of the brain is the more inventive and creative side. I remember him playing the saxophone with flair at several of the inaugural balls back in 1993. He is a gifted thinker, speaker, writer, musical artist and leader. Our schools need to create more students with highly integrative brains. It is a bipartisan goal. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is one of the strongest Republican advocates for arts education.
President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arnie Duncan, says: “The arts can no longer be treated as a frill. … Arts education is essential to stimulating the creativity and innovation that will prove critical to young Americans competing in a global economy.”
We cannot afford to have a half-brained system of public education. Our education system, especially as the economy improves, must refocus its work on building a curriculum that integrates the arts into STEM during a longer school day and year.
Having the best and most powerful military in the next two decades will be important in a contentious world, but if other nations continue to pass us by in the education of their youth using STEAM, we will be more at risk in the future than today.