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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Utilizing Arts Education Resources To Build A Strong Future

I'm delighted to report that Arts Education has taken a turn for the positive in the decade or so that has passed since my grown son passed through the doors of his elementary school for the last time.

In those days, I was distressed to discover as a fledgling parent, that at his school classroom experiences in the arts were not a mandated part of the overall curriculum but largely and simply a function of the time, energy and degree of comfort that his individual teachers were with the subject.

One of the first steps I took as a parent was to check-out the resources of the school which included a stop with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) in order to network with other parents. Parent volunteers there assured me I was not alone in my concern about the lack of a strong intentional priority in the area of arts education. Unfortunately, the group as a whole had other more pressing pre-WASL era issues on their agenda which I was welcome to join a committee.

To be fair, I cannot leave this issue and era without adding I was directed to the possibility of making a small volunteer contribution to the arts in my son's class by signing up to be the Art Cart mom or dad.

The original thinking behind the Art Cart was commendable. If memory serves it included cards on famous art subjects of note with associated material on the artist who created them. Over the years some of these items had been lost and could be supplemented by a short trip to the local library, etc.

I served as the Art Cart mom for one year, but still despaired of the lack of available resources at my son's school particularly because it was for the most part, essentially a passive experience, and not designed to actively engage the minds, attentions and more importantly hands its audiences!

Local parents with children going through local public schools today have much more hope despite years of in my personal opinion longstanding and knee-jerk cuts, slashes and gouges in funds earmarked for arts education and experiences in area schools on the mistaken impression that arts are a frill which in tight economic times that we cannot afford.

This very idea can largely be traced to a lack of creative thinking in the areas of those who make and administer public policy on the subject which may well directly lead upon closer analysis to the sorry truth that the state of arts education during the time they grew up and came of age was also deficient.

While I do not hold a degree in elementary, secondary or post-secondary education and would not ordinarily presume to supplant experts in the field, as a layperson my own beliefs encircle the general concept that arts education ought to be mandatory in the public schools from the elementary level upwards because exercising art skills builds the potential for future creativity in the citizenry as surely as repetitious exercises in the gym build physical musculature and increase overall health and stamina.

So I took my concerns over and above my local PTA and shared opinions and concerns as listed above as a member and citizen appointee of the City of Federal Way Arts Commission in the mid-nineties. Unfortunately during this period what time and effort could be spared by the hard-working and otherwise able members of this body and similar resources in the community did not appear to have reached the critical levels upon which changes along the magnitude I would hope for could realistically happen.

So it is with special pleasure that I pleased to witness and pass-on to fellow parents and community citizens of like-mind interests a resource such as the Seattle-based organization Arts Corps at whose vision is to provide the young with "Freedom to imagine, courage to be." and whose stated mission is to " provide and inspire art education programs that develop creative habits of the mind to enable young people to realize their full potential."

Charles Hoff, local citizen and retired member of the community who recently stepped down the Federal Way School Board of Education has begun a column in one of the two weeklies serving the area to begin a series outlining in perhaps more thoughtful detail his take and concerns about the state of public education.

I mention his efforts because while I've found my own conclusions on the topic to often be on the opposite side of the floor than Hoff in the past, he reminds me once again that it is important to persevere if time and opportunity permit, in championing those values and developments in the community that we hold dear even if these interests should require far more years than we'd originally imagined.

There will always be room for discussion and disagreement in the areas of educational policy and priorities in the school system. However, the birth of an organization such as Arts Corps gives yet more more resource for those who would seek to improve the overall depth of understanding in the arts and humanities among the generations who will come after us.

I invite interested parents, teachers and community members to take the time to go to and check-out this exciting and innovative group of people whose ideas and accomplishments since work began in 2002 have begun to transform both horizons and lives.

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