Nelson Mandela asserted, “It is not beyond our power to create a world in which all children have access to a good education. Those who do not believe this, have small imaginations.”
A brighter future starts with quality education and giving children everywhere the tools and support they need to find success in school and life. Because of technology, our world today is an infinitely different place. It makes sense that education is on the cusp of similar changes. There will be growing pains.
America is the home of possibility. Every state has a public school system to provide free education to every child. Public schools take all children who walk through the doors. The World Economic Forum estimates that 65 percent of children today will end up in careers that do not even exist yet and for which schools cannot prepare them.
Michael Workman argues that “creativity needs to be given a much bigger place in the curriculum.” I agree. However, literacy and numeracy skills must remain basic foundational skills for all students.
In looking at careers that do not exist, we should look at one that does: politicians. Politicians create solutions to problems that frequently do not exist. Author and economist, Thomas Sowell once said, “Like most wonderful-sounding political slogans, none of these lofty goals was discussed in terms of that one four-letter word that people do not use in polite political society – cost.”
Sowell adds, “In the process, they created very real problems. Now they are now offering even more solutions that will undoubtedly lead to even bigger problems.” Government introduces a solution that has undesirable consequences. To remedy the damage, the government proposes another solution to fix the problem and forgets the initial concern being tackled. We see these problems in legislation, in an unending circular logic kind of way.
We need to bring people together and look at all the possibilities in public education. Sadly, in the last decade in Tennessee, we have excluded the very people who have the knowledge and skills to drive needed change. In Tennessee, we have seen a parade of out-of-state leaders in our state education department, driven by out-of-state consultants and organizations, using philanthropic and dark money to drive policy change that enriches only some.
We have the best government money can buy. However, are we better off today in education than we were a decade ago? You decide.
Former Neuroscientist and current 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 stated. “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.”
The College Board found that students who take four years of arts and music classes while in high school score 92 points better on their SAT exams than students who took only a half year or less (scores averaged 1077 among students in arts education compared to 985 for students without arts education).
Policymakers need 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.
Part of our role must be in keeping K-12 education at the forefront of every discussion in public policy across Tennessee. We must maintain that teaching students how to be productive citizens and positive contributors to society is paramount. Every parent in our communities should know that they have a role in making sure our public education system works for their children.
Our students deserve access to quality education in a safe environment with excellent educators. We have tough choices to make in public education and that will include changes. We must make the choices that benefit our state, our communities, our schools, our educators, and especially our children. We have the vision. We must have the determination.
JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee