Arts, education, and the force of security

6 May

So here’s some good news. Yesterday I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page. It seems that the new principal of an elementary school in a poor neighborhood of Boston decided to add funding for the arts and a strong program of arts-based education, and he found the money by cutting, deeply cutting, security at the school. In the words of the article, the principal, Andrew Bott, “reinvested all the money used for security infrastructure into the arts.” And so the school began a turnaround, the students started achieving better academically (and, of course, artistically) and there was less of a need for security guards to be present at the school.

The rewards of arts education are many, not just intrinsically but in other subjects as well. There is no surprise here. What is newsworthy (of not surprising to those of us who have worked in the arts) is that students themselves are able at a young age to identify the benefits of an arts-based approach. One 8th grader was quoted as saying, “There’s no one particular way of doing something. And art helps you like see that. So if you take that with you, and bring it on, it will actually help you see that in academics or anything else, there’s not one specific way you have to do something.”

Freedom in education, what a concept.

Either this kid has been reading a lot of Elliot Eisner, or he’s internalized this relationship between learning and an arts curriculum.

As I was posting this yeaterday, I got to thinking about the metaphor. It’s not just that because the kids were engaged in studying the arts that the need for security became less because the kids were more invested in their studies. There must also be a correlation between freedom in thinking and freedom from the security state. Let the kids study not so much what they want but the way they want, let them engage actively in creative learning, and suddenly the need to have security guards on site drops away. If you force students to sit in classes and study for tests that will determine their level of accomplishment and achievement – the “one specific way” that most schools now, by policy, have to function, especially in poor urban neighborhoods – then you need an infrastructure of enforcement to make sure they sit obediently and take in what you feed them. In other words, give the kids the freedom to learn, and more importantly, to experiment creatively, and you don’t have to take away their freedom to think, or encroach on their freedoms by having armed guards in the school to literally keep them in their place.

So what are security guards there for, anyway? Since the Newtown shooting, there has been talk and implementation of greater security in schools to protect kids. But what hasn’t been acknowledged is that at inner city schools, there have been security forces there for a long time. Walk into most high schools in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Newark. And these are the schools where the curriculum is most rigid, most test-based, and where students and schools are deemed ‘failures’ if the students don’t pass the test.

Being held under armed guard and forced to study for a test that determined your educational and professional success is a major disincentive to thinking independently and creatively, and certainly to enjoying learning. Whatever happened to inspiration?

The point is, if all education hadn’t devolved into a system of having to learn for a test, and if arts and music education were a major part of every kid’s school day, curriculum, way of being, then maybe we wouldn’t ‘need’ security in the schools. With less curricular repression, there’s less of a need for enforcement. If students are motivated and inspired, not just to learn but to know that what they think and how they experiment matters, then their whole attitude about learning and about being a global citizen changes. A little freedom goes a long way.

One Response to “Arts, education, and the force of security”

  1. ileneonwords May 6, 2013 at 4:14 pm #

    First of all, I love that you have a quote from Friere on your blog! I taught for over 33 years and always, always used the Arts, integrated the Arts across the curriculum, put my kids on stage, wrote plays for them and with them, invited the community. We even traveled to other classrooms since they knew”All the world’s a stage.” I have no doubt that many students remember the issues and events that I taught them thru theater, music, dance. This morning’s posting on my blog spoke to the power of music. Please visit.

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