Santa, Please Bring Back the Arts

“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.

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. This stuff about the left and right side of the brain is an example of useless information.  One of the problems with our education system is that there is too much of this crap.  How do you know that left side is the “more logical and analytical side”?  How does knowing that help you?

    A lot of your thinking is nonsense.  For instance, Clinton and JFK were smart guys.  They were both promiscuous.  Therefore we should be teaching promiscuity in our schools.  What does your left side say about that?

  2. Santa Claus was real, a minor Saint of Catholicism in the 14th century A.D. 

        It would take creative lesson planning to integrate the two.  Like oh say how music relates to the Fibonacci sequence, or how musical notes are applicable to describing string theory and super symmetry.  The problem with the old guard of education is that your thinking is too linear in terms of how to deliver to the students. 

        I and my contemporaries who were lucky enough to be on the last bit of funding for arts in public education were quickly able to see the similarities between classical music style and our preferred loud heavy metal music.  Both rely on more complex scales and rhythms then standard pop boy band music.  The difficulty, and skill it took to master music like this was the driving force to make us study harder in all subjects, and the natural progression was to relate it to other things we saw and were learning. 

        A great example on youtube can be found here…  Turn your speakers down, but I recommend listening to it fully.

    Not to be mr. cool but it illustrates my point.  As an avid fan of Space exploration and physics I would have been enthralled if I had a teacher present something like this to me in a lecture about the expansion and contraction of the universe.  Combined a subject I was interested in and art too.  Give me more, I’ll pay attention to the less palatable information because I know it will lead to answers to questions I want to answer for myself.
    The use of iambic pentameter in poetry is another example of art meshing with science if done right it can be explained simply as a linguistic algorithm.  Got it?

  3. 31 school districts-too many, for sure.

    Well that may be true, but as there are 31, we do need to reach them all. Locally ArtSPARK began full operations last year and is making a real effort to reach every students in Santa Clara County. This year 60% of all third and fourth grade students; and 40% of all fifth grade students in Santa Clara County will participate.  Students are bussed to leading arts venues (San Jose Rep, Montalvo, Mexican Heritage, California Theatre, Center for the Performing Arts, Art Museum) to partake of a high quality program and returned to school. Teachers are offered materials to help them share the experience with their students and align them to curriculum that is grade specific.

    ArtSPARK is a privately funded initiative but engages the County Office of Education, First Act Silicon Valley and Symphony Silicon Valley as its leaders. We would love to see your suggestion made real, but as members of the arts community we grew tired of waiting for it and felt we had to let our community’s children know what is out there for them to aspire to if that is their calling.

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