Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Steamed and Ready to Roll: 2007 Congressional Arts Competition

Monday, May 14th, was a day of transition in Vermont. For the first time, the statewide, high school art competition came to a close and Sen. Jim Jeffords was not front and center doing what he loved most—talking to kids, exhorting them to greater heights of accomplishment, and basking in the admiration of his young cultural constituents.

That pleasure belongs now to Congressman Peter Welch who did an admirable job in bridging what the esteemed Senator started 26 years ago when he was in the US House of Representatives. VIEW PHOTOS OF THE WINNERS' ARTWORK

My role was to present the “People’s Choice Award” (to Armando Veve of South Burlington) and I used this opportunity to expound on the latest of my “soapbox” ideas. At past events, I have talked about the alternative to the Education Community’s worn “3 Rs”—the “3 As” (Academics, Athletics, and the Arts)—as a means to engage individual students, entire schools and even school systems in a more integrated and creative approach to learning. I have also exhorted students in the room, contrary to exhortations by the Governor and other members of the administration, “to leave Vermont as soon as they are able, put the great Vermont values they were raised with to the test in as many different cultural settings as possible, and only when they are good and ready to settle down, create a job, have a family, THEN come back to Vermont!”

This time I had a new soap box to stand on.

It seems that policy-makers, in particular the group that has been appointed to serve on the Governor’s task force to examine the economic development future of Vermont, chaired by Bill Stenger (of Jay Peak), have come up with a new acronym to capture the what students need to know as they prepare themselves for Vermont’s 21st Century workforce.

It is “STEM” which stands for science, technology, engineering, and math.
(You see where I’m headed, don’t you? Of course you do; you’re probably one of the so-called “cultural creatives” whose hidden talent is to see connections where others don’t!)

Like the 3 Rs (which aren’t), STEM leaves out the crucial part of student learning that allows them to access the right side of their brains. In an age where magazines like Forbes and Business Week are touting such things as “the MFA is the new MBA,” and where medical schools like Columbia are requiring students to go to art museums to increase their observational skills and learn how to better communicate about things that are subjective and interpretive, and where people like Daniel Pink (author of “A Whole New Mind”) are earning $25,000 a pop for lecturing on the value of integrating right-brained thinking into business, it is astonishing to me that our policy-makers are so slow to recognize the value of the arts.

STEM should be STEAM. All of us should make it clear to our elected and appointed officials at the state and local level (especially school boards!) that STEAM (not renewables!) is the potent force of the future.

Of course, if STEAM doesn’t do it for you, perhaps TEAMS will. Or MEATS (if it’s lunchtime). Or even MATES (if you are on the prowl or like to play chess).

The point is, it’s time for the Arts to be shared by more than just the artist community. Let’s make it happen. Full steam ahead.

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