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John M. Eger : The Arts are Not a Frill

The Arts are Not a Frill

By John M. Eger

Speaking to a meeting of The Arts Education Partnership last spring, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said: "The arts can no longer be treated as a frill. Arts education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation's leaders for tomorrow."

The augment Duncan makes is simple: arts education stimulates creativity and innovation, critical for young Americans competing in a global economy.

Neither he nor President Obama have yet put this notion into law. Nor has "The Race to the Top", Obama's new school challenge putting pressure on state legislatures to allow more charter schools and holding teachers more accountable, reflect their interest in the arts.

Maybe that's too much to ask.

But it is not too soon to talk about the arts, and about changing our nation's curriculum. Unfortunately, the arts are seen by many leaders in business, politics and yes, even education, as lacking certain "masculinity".

More than two years ago, former President George W. Bush signed into law a bill called the America Competes Act — also know as the STEM initiative for Science Technology Engineering and Math.

The bill authorized $151 million to help students earn a bachelor's degree in math or science as wells as help graduates get teaching credentials in these fields. It also allocated additional money to help align K-12 math and science curricula to better prepare students for college.

In truth, we need a huge infusion of capital and a change in attitude about the relationship between art and music and math and science in education. We need to define a well-rounded education and to make the case for the importance of the arts, and an art infused education.

According to the Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C., this is the only sector where the growth of arts jobs in publishing, television, graphic design and related fields is a bright spot in the present day dismal economy.

Importantly, the potential for truly creative and innovative jobs represent a strategy to lift America to a new level in the world. Most analysts studying the new global economy agree that growing a "creative and innovative" economy represents America's salvation.

Today, in the rush to confront the wave of outsourcing and off-shoring caused by the globalization of the economy, it is math and science that are urged upon our young, an emphasis, that is to our peril.

After a decade of studying the human brain we know the arts enhance math and science comprehension. We know that where art-infused education is used to redesign the curriculum, one that is truly integrated, collaborative and interactive, students' attendance dramatically improves, as does performance.

Our local communities leaders — in government, business and education — all talk a good game. But are we really an arts town? A place where we can walk the talk? Can we make things happen?

There is simply no excuse for not reinventing our schools to meet the challenges of this new global knowledge based age.

Arts Month — which we are now celebrating — is as good a time as any to get stated. •

© 2010 John Eger. All rights reserved.

John M. EgerJohn M. Eger is the Van Deerlin Endowed Chair of Communications and Public Policy at San Diego State University and Director of the Creative Economy Initiative. More »

10/23/10