An Open Letter to Pres. Obama

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.

Joseph Di Salvo is a member of the Santa Clara County Office of Education’s Board of Trustees. He is a San Jose native. His columns reflect his personal opinion.


  1. > 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.

    Dear President Obama:

    It’s just Joe diSalvo. 

    His solution to everything is a “summit” or a “meeting”.  I think it’s just his way of avoiding having to do any work.

    It’s safe to ignore him.

    Say hello to Michelle and the kids, and lose the cigarettes.


    The Moderate and Respected Doofinator

    • I like the fact the President smokes cigarettes.  Its about the only evidence we have that he’s an actual man, rather than merely some public relations ploy designed to win elections.

      • > about the only evidence we have that he’s an actual man, . . .

        Good point!

        I hereby amend my advice to the President:

        “Don’t lose the cigarettes.”

        Get a couple cartons of Camels, take off your stuffy white shirts, and roll a pack of cigarettes in the sleeve of your Fruit of the Loom T-shirt.

        Sit back in your Presidential executive chair, prop your feet on the desk, light up a Camel, scratch your crotch, and yell at Michelle to get you a Budweiser out of the fridge.

        Oh, and get that Boston cop back without that stupid, pompous black professor, and talk about some real stuff like the Stanley Cup Playoffs or Clint Eastwood movies.

    • > His solution to everything is a “summit” or a “meeting”.  I think it’s just his way of avoiding having to do any work.

      Ha! Ha!  You’re right.  There’s something in the DNA of bureaucrats that causes them to call a meeting when they don’t know what to do.

      Here’s something from a website that collects ideas from “ordinary people” on how to fix the Gulf Oil spill:

      “9. “Hold a conference of engineers, scientists and inventors at locations nationwide (say, engineering colleges). Video conference them to each other. Have the resulting brain trust tackle the problem, and come up with tools to fix future ruptures.”
      hawksruleva, Roanoke, VA”

      That’s it!  Have smart people come up with a GOOD IDEA!

      Do I get credit for having a smart idea, if my idea is for other people to come up with a smart idea?

  2. You got exactly what you strived for over your 34 year career Joe- nationalized funding of education.
    Quit whining to us about the consequences of your actions.
    But take heart. I’m sure if Obama feels he can benefit politically by keeping his printing presses running then he’ll be willing to run off a few extra billion for your pet projects.

  3. Joe, you didn’t get the memo? 

    “We see it as an entrepreneurial bill,” Pelosi said, “a bill that says to someone, if you want to be creative and be a musician or whatever, you can leave your work, focus on your talent, your skill, your passion, your aspirations because you will have health care.”

    Now that we have Obamacare we can all quit our jobs and learn to play guitar, take painting classes, join the circus, etc.

  4. Schools like politics are local with some great, some average and some very bad schools but most schools are viewed by voters as more interested in political teacher’s unions, administrators and School Board special interests rather than students academic achievements  

    Community, parent and grandparent involvement and support can turn below or average schools into great schools more than throwing more tax money at very troubled California’s school system that has lost sight of it’s primary purpose student’s well being and education to help every child get basic education, life skills and help students learn skills needed to work in complex California economy

    School administration and teachers unions don’t want community involvement in education, administration, school facilities, revise education courses, academic programs and year round academic school year to be revelant to 21th century not 19th century agriculture society, and teacher qualifications decisions but expect community support for more taxes and fund raising donations while unwilling to make necessary changes to improve schools student academic achievements rather than teacher;‘s and administrators financial interests

    Many California public schools, colleges, universities and technical schools if normal consumer protections were applied to education received by many students would be found to be in violation of either basic consumer fraud or excess costs based on educational results and skills learned for 21st century for excessive money paid and student time wasted on unneeded courses while many needed courses and skills were not made available or given

    California public schools, colleges and universities schools will continue to decline until they get back to basics, fire unqualified teachers, consolidate many duplicated small school districts, duplicated or unnecessary administration functions and are accountable to taxpayers and parents for students best interests rather than political teacher’s unions, administrators and School Board special interests

    The report card for many public schools is failing ( F ) with parents voting with their child’s feet and taking their child’s education out of public schools to very fast growing charter and private schools that focus on students needs not political special interests needs

  5. But Joe’s right…we need art and music in the schools, and sports and P.E.  We also need a full-time nurse at every school to deliver insulin, monitor mental health, and oversee nutrition, etc.
    And what about programs for kids with autism and other special needs?  Finally, what about programs for the gifted students?
    Public employees get guranteed 8% rates of return on their pensions…How’s about the pensions get funded after the kids are taken care of?

    • > we need art and music in the schools,

      Umm.  Let’s see.

      We have the school to work on the problem.

      We have the school district to work on the problem.

      We have the county office of education to work on the problem.

      We have Joe DiSalvo to work on the problem.

      We have the state education bureaucracy to work on the problem.

      We have the Federal Department of Education to work on the problem.

      We have Barack Obama, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer to work on the problem.

      Oh, and there’s the teachers unions, too.  They CARE ABOUT THE CHILDREN.

      And still, NO ONE CAN FIX THE PROBLEM!!!!

      Why doesn’t someone just pick up the G*DD*MN PHONE and call the Archdiocese of San Jose and ask them how THEY can have art and music in their schools.

      • Ever heard of donations? Do you think the Archdiocese operates without funding? Call it whatever you want: donations, tithing, taxes, etc. You can’t operate an educational system without adequate funding.

        • O. Really Dumb:

          > You can’t operate an educational system without adequate funding.

          I’m sure the Archdiocese operates on a fraction of the funding of the bloated, obese public education establishment.

          Plus, even though the Archdiocese is part of the Catholic Church, you can bet your sweet bippy that there is a HELL of a lot less child molestation in the Catholic schools than there is in the public schools.

          The Left hates Catholics.  Catholics get caught.  Public schools get covered up.

        • U.S. public schools have the highest student per capita funding in the world.  The problem is that most of the money gets thrown down a rathole.

          In Western Europe, for example, they get a much better result for less money.

        • > U.S. public schools have the highest student per capita funding in the world.  The problem is that most of the money gets thrown down a rathole.

          But Joe DiSalvo has been working 34 years to introduce progressive ideas into our education system.  Are you suggesting that he and his ideas have been a failure?

          That’s very insensitive.

  6. “Art and music” will never make the cut.  It doesn’t help us to “compete in the global economy,” and that’s all the corporate BiPartisan Party in Washington cares about.

  7. As a person who is studying music education as an undergrad, the way I see it is music and arts are a vital importance in a person life.  Expressing yourself is one way to grow an expand on your thoughts.  People who understand and participate in musical and artistic activities are more likely to be a better person and more widely knowledgeable. It is also believed that if your begin in your early childhood by listening to various types of music or becoming involved with some sort of instrument or drawing or sculpting that you are more likely to grow up being a more well-rounded, knowledgeable person who is able to gather information a lot better.  The arts helps you understand subjects such as english and math a whole lot better because of the higher level of thinking music and arts require.  If we got rid of our arts programs in america we would be left with uncreativity and a lot of students who want to quit school.  On top of that, usually the music and arts programs have the higher educated and more disciplined teachers.  At least thats what it was like at my high school and a lot of other high schools around us.  If it werent for our music and arts teachers, people wouldnt be able to find out what their life is good for.  Isnt that what living in America should be about? Having the opportunity to following your dreams?  All teachers want their students to be successful in life and go on to college or get a career of some sort.  Without music and arts, there would not be any dreams to find.  Think about it.  I am a person who strongly believes in supporting the arts program and I will fight to the end to do all I can to support it.  Every subject in school is just as important as the other one.  I do not believe that one subject more important.  Everyone needs them equally to get a quality education.  English and math are very vital to this nation but I would say it shouldnt have a lot more emphasis on it causing other subjects to be cut.  Just because music and the arts do not equal to objective learning doesnt mean that they are less important.  I agree with your statment Joseph DiSalvo.  Thats all I have to say.