Education and the Arts: A Cultural Crossroads

November 17, 2011

DVYMO November 21, 2009

Everything changes.
Everything is connected.
Pay attention.
–Ancient Buddhist Proverb

What does it feel like when your world is out of balance, off kilter, or out of control? Koyaanisqatsi, the Hopi word meaning- A life out of balance -is born of the Native American understanding that the world and all living things are related and in a constant state of change. Change and transformation are a natural part of human evolution. How harsh or how mild that process will be is determined by the attitude and the intention of our actions. As we are witnessing a collective worldwide movement of uprising– demonstrations against the unjust imbalance of power and alarming rise in poverty, one must wonder…how is it that this is occurring not as an isolated incident in a remote corner of the world, but rather as a surge, a domino effect, gaining power with the momentum of a tidal wave, as it leads to one collective voice, “ We are mad as hell and we are not going to take it anymore” moment in history. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QMBZDwf9dok

The massive paradigm shift that is happening, in order to create effective change, must be accompanied by the realization that a healthy, thriving society is continuously created by the rise of educated young people, excited, armed with knowledge and creativity, empowered to forge exciting, innovative solutions and technologies, enabling them to compete in our rapidly changing world. Connected by the web, and rapidly shifting social demographics through unprecedented immigration, both real and virtual, has changed the face of societies and entire cultures.

Having recently moved to Germany, where my husband has been offered a teaching position, I have noticed that there is a different relationship to the Arts in education and in daily life here versus in the U.S., although that is unfortunately and slowly changing here as well. Albert Einstein said, “After a certain high level of technical skill is achieved, science and art tend to coalesce in esthetics, plasticity, and form. The greatest scientists are artists as well.” It goes without saying that the brief history of America as compared to Europe, is the critical difference, but Europeans have always acknowledged the all-important role of creative and critical thinking, as absolutely vital in maintaining a healthy and thriving society. This means that Europeans are deeply invested in their cultural arts institutions and in fostering the knowledge and respect for the role that the Arts play in their various cultures and in forming and maintaining a healthy society. They recognize that the Arts contribute to the development of socially minded and more comprehensive thinking, and social skills, including tolerance and the ability to contend with moral issues as they arise. That is not to say however that is business as usual, in Germany, as rapid immigration has completely changed the face of daily life here. It is increasingly difficult to spot cultural “norms” as migration has drastically changed aesthetic perceptions in daily life since the European Union was formed.

Unfortunately, it has been a uniquely American point of view that business and the business of making money deserve more attention, energy and funding in our schools and universities, at the expense of a fundamentally well-rounded education, that includes the Arts. In a March 10, 2010 article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Tom Hayden noted, “…No longer independent, higher education has succumbed to the political pressures of regents and trustees who all too often are tied to banks and corporations.”. We have President Ronald Regan to thank for the devaluation of the Arts, when in 1981 he slashed the funding of the National Endowment for the Arts by millions of dollars, giving the money to US Military Bands.

However, there are institutions, government officials and organizations such as the Arts Education Partnership that have accomplished amazing and transformational programs and have directly contributed to a congressional bill: H.CON.RES.275 — Whereas arts education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design, and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential… (Enrolled Bill [Final as Passed Both House and Senate]. [H.CON.RES.275positive and su.ENR][PDF] In 2005, The Arts and Education Partnership published Third Space: When Learning Matters, a book that creates a Third Space as “a metaphor that describes the positive and supportive relationships that develop among students, teachers and the school community when they are involved in creating, performing or responding to works of art.”

In Germany, the issues of international immigration and their affects on society are new as compared to the essential base of immigration upon which America is founded. A creative and comprehensive approach to this is offered by a private foundation, Stiftung Mercator, which addresses and supports this rapidly changing society, “…it pursues clearly defined objectives in its thematic clusters of integration, climate change and arts education and it achieves these objectives with a combination of socio-political advocacy and practical work. Stiftung Mercator implements its own projects and supports external projects in its centers for science and humanities, education and international affairs.” They believe that all students should have access to arts and culture, and have initiated and funded a program of “Cultural Agents” and an outreach program which involves collaboration with cultural institutions, creating a cross-disciplinary education programs between pupils, teachers, artists and cultural institutions. http://www.stiftung-mercator.de/en/thematic-clusters/cultural-education/culture-agents-for-creative-schools.html

It is essential to understand that at this time of unprecedented global connectivity, we are at a collective cultural crossroads. We can see this as an opportunity to enhance education, allowing societies to flourish and excel, by supporting informed, critical thinking and by developing the hearts and minds of our young people. As Dr. Cornel West so eloquently stated during the final stop of the Tavis Smiley and Cornel West Poverty Tour, “…It is about the quality of your service, and the depth of your love.” We must love ourselves and our children enough, to care about their future. Through this time of unprecedented global challenge we can consciously and positively participate in this critical process, finding a clear and concise path, by examining the “quality” of education, and what it produces.

Author’s recommended links:

Arts in Education Partnership
Stiftung-Mercator
The Poverty Tour
Keys to Enhancing Brain Development in Young Children
Keep Arts in Schools

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jwndesign@me.com

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