Every child should have a dream for their future. Not knowing who or what we want will lead us to becoming someone and something we never wanted to be. As parent or as an educator the greatest gift we give children the belief that if they work hard they can be anything they want to be in life. Of course, we all struggle at times to figure out just what it is we want out of life.
A brighter future starts with a quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and in life. America is understood to be the home of possibility. The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 per cent of children today will end up in careers that don't even exist yet and for which schools are not preparing them. Unfortunately, our school system is built on a model more linked to the industrial age, than the digital/technological age.
Two education entrepreneurs Kanya Balakrishna and Andrew Mangino launched a website called the Future Project to reach 50 million students across the country they say are at risk of never discovering their full potential. Their focus is to encourage kids to dream. They believe that dreams inspire learning – “not the sort of rote, superficial learning that will help students pass state standardized tests” but rather “real learning that inspires deep, meaningful, life-changing mastery and purpose.” This kind of learning, they believe, will inspire “positive change both for the individual and their community.” It is an intriguing idea that deserves discussion.
Educator Sean Hampton-Cole offered up that he had a “dream that within our lifetimes, personal enrichment, critical analysis, creative output and purposeful problem-solving will be considered at least as important as factual recall in education.” We need art and music in our culture. Unfortunately, we are neglecting those subjects in our schools. President Ronald Reagan struck a similar note in speaking about the humanities in 1987: “The humanities teach us who we are and what we can be,” he said. “They lie at the very core of the culture of which we’re a part, and they provide the foundation from which we may reach out to other cultures. The arts are among our nation’s finest creations and the reflection of freedom’s light.”
Art and music programs are likely to be among the first victims of budget cuts in financially-stretched school districts already fighting to meet other academic demands, and they are rarely restored. The College Board, found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 95 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1061 among students in arts educations compared to 966 for students without arts education). It is important for policymakers to understand that art, music, and literature improve problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
This is exactly what the World Economic Forum revealed that business executives were looking for in future employees. Their number one response? Complex problem solving. Other skills on their top ten list included critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and emotional intelligence. Literacy, numeracy and scientific knowledge will always be essential. Policymakers and stakeholders alike need to understand that arts and music are vital in promoting, educating and developing our youth to excel and reach their dreams. President John F. Kennedy reminded us: “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”
In her book, Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities, Martha Nussbaum argues that arts education, under threat all over the world, must be embraced because it supplies the skills needed to nurture true democratic citizens. Education must nurture the whole child, and arts are vital in this endeavor. Nussbaum contends that it is vital for our children to have critical and hands-on engagement with art, music, and literature, all of which help foster our basic humanity — creativity, critical thinking, and empathy for others. Cultivating these values, she argues, are the deeper purposes of education.
Seth Godin takes it a step further in Stop Stealing Dreams when he writes: “Have we created a trillion-dollar, multimillion-student, sixteen-year schooling cycle to take our best and our brightest and snuff out their dreams—sometimes when they’re so nascent that they haven’t even been articulated? Is the product of our massive schooling industry an endless legion of assistants? The century of dream-snuffing has to end. The real shortage we face is dreams, and the wherewithal and the will to make them come true. We’re facing a significant emergency, one that’s not just economic but cultural as well. The time to act is right now, and the person to do it is you.”
This generation of educators have to be the ones to restore the dream of our students. It isn’t just about education reform or public education reimagined. There is a coming education revolution. We must ensure each child, in every school, in all communities are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. This will require the kind of teaching to prepare students to become creative problem solvers who can take initiative and responsibility.
To paraphrase Steven Tyler: When we look in the mirror. The lines are getting clearer. The past is gone. Dream On.
Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee