Dear President Obama,
I have read that you will be in San Francisco today to stump for Senator Barbara Boxer’s re-election at an evening reception at the Fairmont. In addition, on Wednesday you are touring Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturing facility in Fremont. I hope while you are here you somehow see this letter.
As a 34 year public school educator and a member of the Santa Clara County Board of Education (elected on Nov. 4, 2008, like you), I am writing to you about the importace of including art and music education in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
The only way we can continue to be the number one superpower is not only by might, but also by mind and culture. Mr. President, America’s children deserve for us to give them back culture through the arts. Too many low-income children will never experience the joy of painting, sculpting, singing, dancing, playing the saxophone, or acting in a school play. To me this is a national crisis as detrimental to our survival as the BP disaster in the Gulf.
In a national sample of 25,000 students, those with high levels of art experiences earned higher grades and did better on standardized tests than those with little or no arts experiences, irrespective of socioeconomic level. Mr. President, these data implore you to act courageously on behalf of arts and music in schools. The time to act is with the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.
As Wynton Marsalis said to those of us who attended the National School Boards Convention in your beautiful city of Chicago last month: “All around the world, music links generations old and young, and cultures near and far. So, it’s critical for the nation to reevaluate its priorities during this financial crisis to ensure the best aspects of American culture aren’t lost to younger generations because of scarce funding.”
In 2007, Mike Huckabee, one of your rivals during the presidential campaign, said, “one of the dumbest mistakes we made in education in this country in the last generation is cutting music and arts programs out of our educational system. If we want kids to be educated we need them to be creative. Creativity will drive the future economy.”
In my first reading of the USDOE’s “A Blueprint for Reform—The Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act,” I was disappointed on many levels. The Blueprint contains weak language or ideas relative to music and arts education.
Music and arts education must be perceived by the federal government as part of the core curriculum and as important as math, reading, writing, science and history. As you know we have narrowed our curricular offerings far too much as we teach only what we assess. In order for students to excel they must be immersed in a curriculum that works both hemispheres of their brains.
Last Friday I attended the event titled “Unlock the Promise” at the de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University, sponsored by the Arts Council Silicon Valley. The museum’s walls were adorned with art and poetry from students who are currently incarcerated at the Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall or Ranch or who are attending community schools after being sent there from their home public school districts.
At the event, 20 students from Blue Ridge High School, the Ranch school, played the drums on stage in front of the packed audience. It was so evident that music and the arts build bridges between students and their community. The smiles and tears told the story. One art teacher said that she saw rival gang members sharing common goals as they cut tile pieces to fit an intricate mosaic.
Mr. President, funding the arts and music in all schools will pay rich dividends to our country over time. My wife, son, and I attended your momentous inaugural on January 20, 2009. We wept with joy as you took the oath of office on that frigid day in front of millions of people who packed the Mall with palpable hope.
I think, now more than ever, we need a Summit in the White House on education and the role the visual and performing arts will play in the future in all our public schools. You should chair it as you did with the White House Health Care Summit. Your wisdom and skill facilitating the dialogue led us out of the morass. Like your health care summit the education summit should be televised on C-SPAN and streamed live. Thank you, Mr. President. I hope you have a great visit to the Cities by the Bay.