Success, in School and in Life

Mark Walter

Want your kids to have the competitive edge? You’ll find it in music and the arts. Acknowledging the value of music and the arts, the federal government is taking aggressive steps to respond to the threatening inroads being made by other nations against the American education system. The message is: if you want your child to be competitive and well-rounded, make sure they are educated in the arts.

It has long been known that music and arts education develops us more fully, and better prepares us for the challenges we face throughout our lives. But never has the value of artistic education been so strongly embraced as now, fully recognized as a vital national resource.

Susan Sclafani, assistant secretary for vocational and adult education in the U.S. Department of Education, states, “The creative skills students develop through participation in the arts strengthen and enhance their preparation for living, learning and working in a changing world.

“Music, dance, drama and visual arts programs open children to new ideas, new experiences and new challenges and instill the habits of mind that last a lifetime – confidence, perseverance, a drive for excellence, the ability to analyze and solve problems. Just as important, the arts serve as unique and powerful tools for reaching, engaging and motivating all learners.”

Gone are the days of marginalizing arts education in the K–12 curriculum: Washington is providing unprecedented recognition and support of the arts. Sclafani relates that music and other arts are for the first time listed in federal law as a core academic subject, for which standards of teaching and learning are expected to be as rigorous and as well defined as those established for English, mathematics, science and history.

Speaking before the Education Commission of the States’ Spring Steering Committee, the assistant Secretary stated, “For both their intrinsic value and for the ways in which they help students to succeed in school and in life, the arts are a vital part of a complete education.

“[Today’s musically and artistically educated] kids are out in the community doing things such as developing materials to teach parents about better nutrition. They’re organizing recycling drives, summer tutoring programs and neighborhood improvement efforts. Where there’s a water quality problem, they’re the ones analyzing the water and taking the results to the health department. And if the health department doesn’t respond, they go to the city council.

“They are conscientious, committed and optimistic. They want to do what they can to make their community a better place, to make the world a better place. The majority of them say they are doing community service or volunteer work because they believe they can make a difference.”

That type of community leader doesn’t just happen – they’re grown. Support for comprehensive music and arts education is a cooperative effort, and while it is now strongly endorsed by the government, it is only made effective through the partnership of local schools, communities and area arts organizations.