We are now well into the 2008 campaign for President of the United State. Many of you who regularly read this column know that Music for All works tirelessly to elevate music and arts education as an issue on this largest of stages that will influence the direction of our nation. These efforts, combined with the efforts of many of our national partners have paid off… handsomely.
In the 2000 and 2004 Presidential Primaries and General election there was NEVER any mention about the importance of music and arts education. Not one. Maybe you could find a sentence or two in a position paper. But there was never any mention on the campaign trail, debates, or interview.
For 2008… the issue is everywhere. And this is a welcome and important change… because what is said during the Presidential campaign DOES matter. I’ll tell you why in a moment. First, let’s take a look at a small sampling of what is being said:
“One of the first things I would do is to modify No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Part of the reason that you’re seeing pressure on arts programs and music programs in the school is that No Child Left Behind is structured where the success of the school is measured entirely in terms by what happens on those high stakes standardize tests.”
“Increasingly you’re seeing more resources funneled into remedial and basic math and science to get test scores up and away from art and music. That’s part of a bigger problem. Which is I don’t think we are assessing schools effectively under NCLB. I think we have to have an assessment that include a test… but it has also has to include peer review. It also has to include what is called a growth model so that were measuring what happens during the course of the school year. Right now, if a child comes in and they’re three years behind, and at the end of the year they’re only one year behind, that school’s actually done a very good job. But it wouldn’t show up on No Child Left Behind. They would be still labeled, potentially, as a failure.”
“If we can change those assessments then once again we will be emphasizing arts, music, literature, social studies, foreign languages, the things that provide a well-rounded education for our children.”
“I think what we have to recognize is that we are all different and all students are different. Some students are extraordinarily academically gifted. Some students are athletically gifted. Those who are athletically gifted —because athletics; football, basketball, baseball, etc., are revenue generating activities at the college and university level — they tend to get what they need without much concern. But, if you’re talking about the arts… if you’re talking about music… if you’re talking about painting, any of those areas, there are a lot of young people in America that that’s where their talent is. That’s where their interest is. That’s where their passion is.“
“Here’s the way I think we should think about this and America needs to hear this. If you think back on past civilizations, civilizations from hundreds or even thousands of years ago what is it you remember about them? You remember their contribution to the arts. That’s what you remember. You want to talk about the lasting impression that the world will have of the United States of America during our lifetime? It will be whatever we did to contribute to the arts… and we need to be contributing to the arts.”
“Because I believe so strongly in the importance of the arts I will ensure that we at a national level are providing incentives and funding to help promote the arts both in public school and in colleges and universities.”
“I would scrap no child left behind. It doesn’t work. It is a flawed law… not just an unfunded mandate but the “one-size fits all” just doesn’t work.”
“I would emphasize science and math and to make sure that our kids that are not scoring well in science and math – 29th in the world – to unlock those minds in science in math… I would have a major federal program of art in the schools… music, dancing sculpture and the arts.”
"Arts education is not a silver bullet, but it is a lighted bridge," Richardson said. "Students who engage in the arts are more likely to get involved in community and charitable work. These students also perform better in the classroom. I will substantially increase investment in arts-in-education programs. I will pay for musical instruments and music teachers in underserved communities around the country. The federal government will offer extra matching funds to states that draw up their own comprehensive art programs."
“I understand that strong arts programs are part of a well-rounded education that helps enrich the next generation of America’s leaders and develop their abilities to think creatively and independently.”
“Since 2002, I have spoken out about the need to reform No Child Left Behind. However, in implementing NCLB, school systems are diminishing access to the arts. The federal commitment to arts education must be strengthened so that the arts are implemented as a part of the core curriculum of our nation's schools and are an integral part of every child's development.”
“I want to provide our children what I call the "Weapons of Mass Instruction" – art and music – the secret, effective weapons that will help us to be competitive and creative. It is crucial that children flex both the left and right sides of the brain. We all know the cliché of thinking outside the box: I want our children to be so creative that they think outside the cardboard factory. Art and music are as important as math and science because the dreamers and visionaries among us take the rough straw of an idea and spin it into the gold of new businesses and jobs. It is as important to identify and encourage children with artistic talent. Our future economy depends on a creative generation. Arts education inspires the creative genius in our children.”
“For the first time we at least recognize (in NCLB) that the arts ought to be part of the core curriculum. Let’s take it now to the next step. Lets ensure that in everyone of the 50 states it is a part of the offering. And that’s something that in Arkansas it meant that we had to get it through the legislature and get it passed. And some would say but when you mandate something is that a good thing? Yes it can be because what we force we fund. What we don’t force we don’t fund. I would suggest that it’s important to force it because it’s important. And if we force it we fund it and if we fund it we elevate it and we make sure that there is no child left behind when it comes not just in music but to dance or to art or to whatever form of artistic creative talent that a student may in fact have.”
So these are just a very small sample of what the candidates are saying. And not just once or twice… thousands of times… in debates, in speeches, in policy papers, in media interviews… heck we even have Governor Huckabee who can’t walk by a bass guitar without picking it up, strapping it on and jamming with everyone whether it is an elementary jazz group or the TONIGHT SHOW band!
“Why Should I Care?”
Some of you may say to yourselves… “so what?”
Well, the December 31st issue of NEWSWEEK addressed this point very clearly. They were righting an article about the importance of what presidential candidates say because as a future window into the policies of the future:
Education is another area ripe for sleeper issues. In early 2007, when he was an asterisk in the polls, Huckabee distinguished himself from the rest of the Republican field in part by discussing the importance of art and music education in the schools. He explained how right-brain development is important not just to enrich the lives of students but to inspire the creativity necessary to help the United States keep its edge in the global economy.
At about the same time, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson sounded the same note in his stump speech as part of his call to end No Child Left Behind. Huckabee's surge has little or nothing to do with this fresh idea, and it won't resurrect Richardson's campaign. But both Clinton and Obama now mention the subject by way of explaining why they think No Child has tilted too far in the direction of testing. It's a strong applause line. Don't be surprised if a lot more money for art and music turns up in an education bill a couple of years from now.
The lesson is that some of what's said in presidential politics really matters, even if the candidate saying it doesn't win. So the next time you see a contender bloviating on TV about some minor thing, stop and listen. That little proposal he's mentioning might be pilfered by another candidate, one who winds up in the White House. Then watch what happens when the throwaway line you heard months or years earlier leaves a footprint so deep, even a podiatrist would be impressed.
Could supporting music and arts education in our schools be our nation’s next big thing? Based on history and… this years crop of presidential candidates… I would not bet against it!