Guest Editorial, July 14-17, 2012 | ParkRecord.com

Guest Editorial, July 14-17, 2012

Charles Sachs, Head of School, Park City Day School

Park City leaders have worked hard to establish our mountain destination as a visual and performing arts community, including the admirable efforts of the Park City Performing Arts Foundation, Kimball Art Center, and Art Kids in this challenging philanthropic environment. Unfortunately, too little of that commitment to the arts is invested in Park City’s school children. In pursuit of higher test scores and global competitiveness, our state bureaucrats promote new, low-cost school programming that overlooks the most relevant data about learning: neuro-science brain research.

Tom Horne, Arizona’s state superintendent of public instruction, states, "If they’re worried about their test scores and want a way to get them higher, they need to give kids more arts, not less kids immersed in the arts do better on their academic tests." In the 2012 US News ranking of the country’s high schools, Arizona has two top-ten schools and five ranked before Utah’s first ranked school at #318 in Ogden.

Despite research to the contrary, arts education has been shrinking the result of tight budgets and state mandates for superficial quick-fixes. This trend has become a vicious cycle as today’s decision-makers, who often had little if any art in their own education, have trouble appreciating their value now.

In the context of dramatic global change over the last 20 years, most American public education still reflects a conveyor-belt 19th-century approach focused on producing reliable workers for an industrial age. America can no longer compete with the inexpensive labor forces of developing countries, so our national standard of living depends upon our ability to adapt quickly to rapidly-changing systems. To conceive and design such systems, successful students must develop and exercise the 4C’s: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity. The dynamic nature of the arts not only allows but encourages critical/analytic thinking, effective problem-solving, and collaboration to support innovation in product and system creation.

Speaking at the recent "Learning and the Brain" Conference in Washington DC, University of Oregon’s Michael Posner said, "Years of neuroimaging have now given us a plausible mechanism by which arts training could now influence cognition, including attention and IQ Engage children in art, (and) we see improvement in attention intelligence and cognition in general."

Jenny Diersen, education director at the Kimball Art Center, sees the same here in Utah. "The arts though teachers and parents believe them important to their children’s education are being cut. It is easy to cut arts (But) arts are a vital part to any child’s education and reinforce learning." To help compensate, Jenny has developed and implemented the Kimball’s A.R.T.S (Academic Resources for Teachers and Students) to aid teachers in reinforcing the connection between the arts and science, history, math, or English.

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We live in times of imbalance and swings between extremes. Instead of mirroring our polarized world, our public education system should provide the antidote to it. Unfortunately, the single-minded pursuit of politically viable quick fixes is easier and cheaper. Finding the appropriate educational balance is never easy and never-ending, but "big picture" educators must aggressively engage the dialectic currently controlled by bureaucrats, politicians and special interests.

Park City Day School, independent of public funding, can adapt to current research. JrK-K students have1½ to 2 hours weekly of arts instruction;3-5th graders have over 4½ hours of arts (visual, dance, strings, choral); and 6-9th graders have over 5 hours of arts offerings weekly. This summer the school is investing $150,000 in a new visual arts center where all students experience painting, drawing, collage, sculpture, ceramics, print-making and digital arts.

"When you see the student work hanging in the halls of school(s) with strong art programs like Park City Day School it says a lot about what the school community values," comments Diersen, " and it inspires me to be the best teacher I can be."