Maybe it is just me. Maybe I have been fighting for arts educations rightful place in our children's education for too long. But I can no longer get excited when our public officials, no matter how high the office, say nice things about arts education and then fail to back up the rhetorical support with any meaningful action. I know it is early in this administration and I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. But I have to tell you… I have seen this movie before.
President Barack Obama's campaign platform on the arts, itself a first for any nominee for President, spoke of using the "bully pulpit" to promote arts education. On Monday evening, at the American Ballet Theater in Manhattan, First Lady Michelle Obama did indeed use her bully pulpit to express both her own, and the President's, support for arts education.
ABC News reported on the First Lady's comments:
According to the pool report, Mrs. Obama took the stage for roughly three minutes. She spoke about the importance of arts in education.
"My husband and I believe strongly that art education is essential for building innovative thinkers who will be our nation's leaders of tomorrow." she said. "It's our hope that we can all work together to expose, enrich and empower Americans of all ages through the arts."
"Learning through the arts reinforces critical academic skills in reading, language arts and math and provides students with the skills to creatively solve problems." Full Story
President Bill Clinton stood on a stage in a tent on the South Lawn of the White House in October 1999 and stated – first to the audience during a commercial break and then live on national television – "I would not have become President if it were not for my school music program."
He went on to laud all his music teachers from his scholastic day's by name and articulating the life lessons he learned along the way. This was arguably the most powerful endorsement of music education in our history.
However, the policies of the Clinton Administration never lived up to the rhetoric of the President. The bully pulpit did nothing more than raise awareness to the issue when what we needed at the time was to raise the expectations for our schools… something that a solid policy proposal could have advanced.
In fairness to the Clinton administration Secretary of Education Richard Riley was a big supporter of the arts and helped advance arts education as a core subject, promoted the adoption of the National Standards for Arts Education and worked to include arts education in the National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP). However, funding for the National Endowment for the Arts declined (no fault of the NEA Chairs Jane Alexander and Bill Ivey), student enrollments in arts courses declined and the opportunity for meaningful progress on arts and arts education drifted into the air just as the amplitude
of President Clinton's words faded into the atmosphere.
Don't get me wrong… I am happy to see the First Lady take the first step for this administration in saying nice things about arts education. I applaud her for it. But for me… it is no longer enough. I learned a long time ago "talk is cheap."
We do not need more flowery words. We need action. And we need it NOW.
If you are the President of the United States you have the power to put forth bold ideas and propose budget allocations to back them up. If you are the President and you really believe in the power of arts education to transform young lives … then
use the power of the office … the "bully" if you will… to make something happen.
So if I may be so bold… here is one action the President could take to put his (actually our) money where the First Lady's comments are: Our nation is injecting a massive $113 billion going into the education system as part of the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. There is a lot of talk about "raising standards" and "investing in technology." There has yet to be any guidance or support from this administration regarding the arts role as a core subject and informing state school officers and district superintendents that the ARRA education funds may be used to support arts education programs as well.
My suggestion is: have Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan send a "guidance letter" to all state commissioners of education and the nearly 16,000 district superintendents advising them that ARRA funds may be used to support arts education programs in ways that support the US Department of Education's goals of:
high-quality assessments that are valid and reliable for all students,
including English language learners and students with disabilities;
foster continuous improvement;
of qualified teachers for all students, particularly students who are most in
time, use of technology, preparation for college, and school modernization.
When you are the President of the United States and you want to make a change for
music and arts education… my vote is more for:
Less Words … More Deeds
Less Talk … More Action
Less Pulpit… and…
President Obama, YOU are the President of the United States. If you can't make something happen… who can?