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Poetry and Promise: Education Reform & the Arts

I judged a poetry slam this weekend—Louder Than A Bomb–Tulsa!

It’s amazing to hear young people sharing about their lives and ideas through poetry. This was the second year for the event. The excitement and enthusiasm expressed by these students was palpable:

Listening to their poetry really made me start thinking anew about just how important the arts are to shaping young minds—helping build self-confidence, fostering creativity, and excelling in school. We as artists, art professionals, and art educators are very often a major factor in a student’s success.

Ten states, including Oklahoma, recently received a reprieve from complying with certain aspects of No Child Left Behind. It seems like we keep lowering our standards rather than lifting up our youth to meet and exceed the challenges put before them.

How are we going to have a capable workforce replete with skills for the 21st century if we keep lowering our requirements for graduation? Companies are spending millions of dollars every year providing remedial training. Universities are spending millions of dollars every year on remedial classes.

We cannot solve our current economic woes by burying our heads in the sand and hoping by some miracle that our youth will figure it out and be successful when we haven’t provided the proper foundation or the means to foster success.

Tulsa was very fortunate to be selected by The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts as the fifth city in the nation to participate in its Any Given Child initiative. Tulsa has embraced this opportunity not only to provide equity and parity among elementary and middle school students in Tulsa Public Schools, but to truly place “the arts” on par with other core subjects—math, science, reading, history, etc.

This is a tremendous leap from simply trying to integrate the arts into the school day to actually saying that the arts are as important as any other “academic” subject.

This shift could bring about real, dynamic change in how we approach education. We have more than enough data to demonstrate what the arts can mean to “academic” prowess. But looking at the arts as equal to what have been formerly “academic” subjects demonstrates a level of understanding and commitment that embraces creativity for the sake of creativity—and recognizes that an emphasis on creativity will pay tremendous dividends for the future.

While we keep hearing about more and more cuts to education funding, the expectations for a highly competent 21st century workforce keep mounting. There is tremendous demand for young people who can think critically, analyze in detail, and offer a variety of solutions to a current situation or challenge. Students who aren’t exposed to the arts don’t have the same abilities to reason and analyze, and are at a disadvantage for successful careers.

Embracing the arts and treating them with respect offers the best hope for a brighter future for all of us.

Now is the time to contact your legislators at the local, state, and federal level and remind them of how important the arts are in our educational system. Show them the statistics about improved math and science scores on standardized tests, increased school attendance, and reduced negative behaviors. We must continue to make our voices heard!

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