The op-ed piece copied here is about a criterion that Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh should use in selecting a new school superintendent. But it’s relevant to crime prevention and youth development. Here’s how.
1. Humans are artistic by nature. Our most primitive forms of expressions were paintings, poems and songs. Before the alphabet we recorded history in poems to be repeated aloud, whose rhythms and rhymes helped us to remember the content and pass it along. So it’s no surprise that we have a boatload of evidence, both scientific and anecdotal, that engagement in creative, imaginative activity lifts student’s academic achievement. Here’s just one study.
Mississippi State’s John C. Stennis Institute of Government and Community Development generated a recent report, which evaluated the impacts of the Mississippi Whole Schools Initiative. The program supports teachers’ efforts to use the arts–composing, painting, drawing or sculpting; playing, singing or listening to music; and dancing and dramatic performance–to foster retention and learning.
Judith Philips, Stennis research associate, headed the development of “Arts Integration and the Mississippi Arts Commission’s Whole Schools Initiative: A Stennis Institute Study for Decision-Makers.” The report initially was presented at the Mississippi Arts Commission’s 2013 Whole Schools Initiative Summer Institute.
Philips said the research verifies that effective arts integration reinforces classroom learning.
“Schools that effectively implement arts integration have either significantly reduced or completely eliminated the educational achievement gap for economically disadvantaged students,” she said. “This research indicates that arts integration can achieve that objective in Mississippi public schools.”
We know that kids are by nature imaginative and creative. They express their feelings and their ideas in songs, games, poems, tales and other art forms. They are open to being engaged in artistic endeavors. Adults can craft programs that tie personal and academic development, in areas such as reading and other academic achievements, to art activities.
2. Police do a lot of outreach work with kids. In every department are a dozen to thousands of personnel with artistic skills, from music to dance to writing to graphic arts and object-making and many more. Departments also have a ton of skilled coaches, basketball players, boxers, hockey players, etc. The news media and pop culture play up the traditional PAL activities, most focused on sport and athletics. But if we are going to spend time doing outreach, let’s make it normal and safe for cops to start pottery programs and rap music production programs, too. Most kids – boys and girls — are not good at sports. Many have no interest in the court or the ring. Keep the sports by all means. But add the rap workshops. All boys and girls are good at imagining and creating.
Certainly schools must figure out this relationship between imagination and cognition. While they do, departments can do the same thing. Kids who are reading at grade level and feel school is worth it are on their way to something better. Police outreach programs in the arts can help tremendously.
In Boston, we saw moving evidence of the decrease in homicides in the artwork kids submitted each year to our Neighborhood Crime Watch Art Contest. Over a five to six year span the colors and images transitioned from blood-red bodies and smoking guns to kids playing with their friends and parents on the sidewalks.
Background in art should be requirement for superintendent
By Jon Garelick | The Boston Globe / JANUARY 11, 2014
AFTER MUCH anticipation, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has begun to make key appointments in his new administration. One of the most important positions that remains open is that of school superintendent. Technically, it is the school committee that hires a superintendent. But the mayor (who appoints the school committee) has tremendous influence. In choosing a new superintendent, Walsh and the Boston School Committee should seek someone with a strong background in arts education, someone who will make arts a priority in the city’s schools, both in terms of funding and classroom time.
Arts education — despite postrecession cutbacks nationwide — is not a luxury but a necessity, as important as reading and math. Recent studies as well as evidence from arts programs already in place in Boston have shown that underperforming students improve across the disciplines when they are enrolled in some kind of arts education — theater, dance, visual arts, music, etc.
Perhaps the most dramatic example is the Orchard Gardens school in Roxbury. The school (grades K-8) was one of the worst in the state, beset not only by poor test scores but by violence. Ironically, when Orchard Gardens was created as a pilot school in 2003, its facilities included a dance studio, visual arts studios, a theater, and a band room. But by 2010, the dance studio was reportedly being used for storage and the band instruments were mostly untouched. That is, until a new principal, Andrew Bott, took over. He fired all the security guards, and used that money to reinstitute a broad-based arts program.
The results: Three years later, Orchard Gardens has catapulted essentially from worst to best, producing some of the strongest MCAS test scores in the state. In September, Governor Deval Patrick — who boasted about the school at the 2012 Democratic National Convention — visited the students to congratulate them on their improvement.
Orchard Gardens is not an isolated case. A 2012 report from the National Endowment for the Arts, entitled “The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth,” concluded that students “who have arts-rich experiences in school do better across-the-board academically, and they also become more active and engaged citizens, voting, volunteering, and generally participating at higher rates than their peers.” These words echo Patrick’s comments about the students at Orchard Gardens: “They’re doing really well on the MCAS, but they’re not focused on the MCAS in classroom . . . They’re focused on the love of learning. They’re focused on the puzzle solving and problem solving.”
Granted, as a designated Level 4 “turnaround” school, Orchard Gardens was part of a targeted program that called for longer school hours and bulked-up programs in athletics as well as arts. But the arts were a cornerstone.
Arts education isn’t simply about some vague notion of “creativity.” Nor is it about raising a generation of artists (though worse things could happen). It’s about learning a skill involving discipline and practice. It’s a way of thinking and — as the NEA and Governor Patrick cited — a way of being engaged.
Years ago when I was teaching freshman writing at a local college, a group of my colleagues asked the eminent Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson what was most important in generating ideas. Much to our surprise, he didn’t talk about field observations or statistical studies. Instead he said that all new ideas begin with metaphor — defined, simply, as that which is symbolic of something else. Metaphor is the key building block of all art. As Wilson used the word, it was not as a way to explain an idea, but a way to have one. And, clearly, art is another way to have an idea.
The arts were a big part of Walsh’s campaign. His closest campaign adviser, Joyce Linehan, who comes from an arts background as both a publicist and music industry professional, is now his chief of policy. This point of view is promising. But what’s important now is that Walsh and his administration maintain the courage of their convictions. As Walsh has reiterated, the arts are crucial to the health of the city. As such, they’re also crucial to the health of the city’s schoolchildren.
Jon Garelick is a freelance writer living in Somerville. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jgarelick.
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