Lisa A. Kramer

Author, Speaker, Theater Artist, Creativity Facilitator

The Power of the Arts

I have been silent for several weeks.

I suppose you could argue that I had writer's block, but it's more than that. I have grown tired of the words that seem to flood our existence, but change nothing as people hold stubbornly to their belief systems unwilling to hear or read the logic in an argument. I no longer felt the desire to contribute to the cacophony, because it seemed like even the most eloquent and truthful words get lost in the mire of meanness that seems to flood the internet wherever you look.

Lisa's Soap Box

However, today I read an article that makes me want to climb up on my soapbox again, and shout words until somebody listens. The Washington Post published an article by Valerie Straus entitled "Kindergarten show canceled so kids can keep studying to become ‘college and career ready.’ Really." The title pretty much says it all, but please click over and read the article. I'll wait.

In the letter written to the parents of these young children they write:
"The reason for eliminating the Kindergarten show is simple. We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers."
When Sarah was in first grade, I volunteered to go work with her class on a play. I went twice a week for an hour each time. The children decided they wanted to do an Earth Day play. They wrote it, designed and built the sets, memorized their lines (which required reading them over and over) or copied them out so they could read them on stage. They created costumes, rehearsed together, learned to help each other if someone forgot a line or got stage fright. Along the way, they learned a bit about the environment, recycling, littering, and creative solutions to pollution. In other words, while they were having fun and putting on a show they became, "strong[er] readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers."

I wasn't even their regular teacher, who was there every step of the way. Mrs. Morris incorporated the reading and writing into her lesson plans, asked the children to do research in the topic, and enhanced the learning the project provided. Throughout the year she had incorporated techniques like this in every project: among other things, she had the students research, write, and perform interviews with famous figures and she had them create a performance that explored penguins (her favorite animal) which they shared with other classes. To this day, she remains one of Sarah's favorite teachers, if not her favorite altogether.

As I was looking for an image from this production (which have mysteriously disappeared although I am sure there is video around somewhere) I stumbled upon Sarah's preschool scrapbook, handed to me the day she graduated from pre-school and moved on to Kindergarten (where, if I remember correctly, she also did at least one play). The book contains images and evidence of a child learning with joy and abandon, a child who gained skills through a system that had not yet begun to test her--a system which embraced all types of learning including dramatic play, music, art, as well as math, science, reading, etc. One entire section is devoted to dramatic play. While she may not have clear memories of those times, she sometimes pulls this scrapbook out, and I can see the joy on her face--a joy that came from learning.

Arts 1 Arts 2

The reason for eliminating a kindergarten show is not "simple" as they put it. It is a symptom of a society that has lost its way behind the belief that quantifiable numbers are more valuable than qualifiable experience. It is a symptom of a society that has allowed people to put a monetary value on everything, because the only real people who benefit from an educational system that focuses on test scores are the people who write the tests or try to privatize education. I see no real justification for eliminating the types of learning that kids enjoy--learning that goes beyond the test and challenges them to think, create, and dream for themselves--except for the one that nobody will admit: FEAR!

“Beware of artists. They mix with all classes of society and are therefore most dangerous."— Queen Victoria

If we provide students with the ability to think on their own, to create, challenge and question rather than just spout facts to a test, then we create a group of people with the power to change society. That is what guides the powers which say that we must teach to the test--for they fear what happens if people learn to think.

I have already seen the results of a group of students who have learned to be spoon-fed answers rather than challenged with questions. At the college level, when I ask them to create projects for themselves or come up with their own ideas, they want me to tell them what to do. When I give open-ended questions that ask them to make an argument, even if it disagrees with my perspective, and support that argument with evidence, they want facts and only facts, not realizing that even facts can be refuted sometimes. When I encourage them to be creative, they say "I am not creative."

I mourn for a society that has no creative people because we have stifled that creativity through an education system that is broken.

How do we fix it?