Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What Do Children's Art Classes In School Have To Do With Voter Turnout?

Why do less than 50% of Americans participate regularly in national, state and municipal elections? Might it have anything to do with the way we educate children? I address that question in my YAM remarks at the Indiana State Capitol last Sunday, February 26th, 2017. 
Here it is: 
"Greetings! Thank you for coming to our Youth Art Month Event! 
I want to talk to you today about arts education as practice for participation in a democratic society.
One of the fantastic things about art education, are the stories children tell through their art! 
I read an artist statement this morning:
A boy wrote:
“I’ve learned to express my own art and thoughts through paintings that I haven’t done before.” 
What does that statement mean?
It means is that In art class….students take a whisper of consciousness….we’ll call this….an IDEA.….and they practice representing the idea in 2, 3 or 4 dimensions….
This is the creative process. 
A child asks the art teacher: “How can I turn my idea into art?” The teacher helps the student gather art materials, teacher offers suggestions and together a third learning pathway is formed. 
With the help of the art teacher, the child learns to become an autonomous self-directed, independent learner. The child learns that working with the teacher, following suggestions from the teacher and other classmates and doing research….creative ideas can be achieved!
Creative-self expression in the art room is democratic education. When I say democratic education I don't mean education to become a Democrat. I mean educating to become a participating citizen in our society.
Children have a voice in what they say and do in democratic education. If you are educated to believe your voice is meaningless, you are reduced to the role of passive spectator. Where else in the school curricula do children have a voice in what they say and do?
The place of the arts are important in a child’s school curricula not only because we want them to become better intellectually, but more important, participate in a society as a citizen with the agency to question, pose problems, envision solutions and use their creative capacities to make the world a better place. As a citizenry, we cannot afford future failures of imagination.
Why is democratic education and art education in our schools important? Because you can’t immerse a child in authoritarian experience and expect them to engage as a democratic citizen. It won’t happen. Voter turnout trends in the U.S. reflect this truth.
About 5 years ago, I was watching a 6 year old child in action while she was conducting a painting experiment. I asked her, “what are you doing?” She said, “I’m inventing a shiny surface painting.” Later she wrote in herjournal: “Art is a part of being creative. When your creative, your doing better than you are when your not.”
What did she mean, “when you’re creative you’re doing better than you are when you’re not?” 
I know the visual arts are beneficial to children's cognitive development. After all, it’s a biological fact, multi-sensory learning experience expands synaptic connections throughout the core of neurological structures in the brain. 
But the last part of her statement bothered me.
“When you’re creative you’re doing better than you are when you’re not?”
What is happening to her when she is not in art class? 
Why is she not “doing better” in other learning experiences? 
Policy makers don’t like to talk about this, but the pressure placed on children in order to pass high stakes tests is immense. This pressure trickles down from the state house to the school house. This pressure narrows curricula and marginalizes learning opportunities in the arts. 
Ignoring children’s capacity for self-expression in their formative years comes at a price. That price is civic engagement. Or I should say civic disengagement.
Our schools prepare U.S. children to be the best workers in the World. Gross domestic product in 2016 for the U.S. is at 18 trillion dollars. That means the U.S. economy is as large as China, Japan, and Germany….combined. That kind of economic growth doesn’t happen if your education system is producing workers who are not up to the task. 
When I hear politicians and media personalities complain about test score comparisons with other countries I know they are skewing the truth. 
But where does the U.S. lag behind in international comparison? Voter turnout.
According to the Indiana Secretary of State, only 58% of eligible Indiana voters participated in the 2016 general election. Where were the other 42%? In the 2016 General Election, 90 million eligible voters across the U.S. did not show up. In the 2014 general election 27.8% of eligible Indiana voters turned out. That means 3.4 million eligible Indiana voters did not vote. 
When US citizens disengage from the democratic way of life there is a problem with the way we educate children.
Art education programs provide children with valuable opportunities to to gain insight into the complexities of our society and to expand moral consciousness. Art classrooms are those places in school where children act upon their educational ideas, where they have a voice in what they say and do and where they may control their experience. The art classroom is that place in school where children develop a critical eye, a critical mind, where visual literacy is emphasized and where the refinement of the imagination is practiced daily. We need more art education in our schools not less.
I ask you to please stay informed, remain active as a citizen advocate. Your voice to elected officials is essential to protect those educational programs that make our schools special."
Thank You!