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I M A G I N A T I O N
The world is but a canvas to the imagination.
--Henry David Thoreau
Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were.
But without it we go nowhere.
A recent report entitled, “Why We’re Behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students But We Don’t” released by Common Core, reveals what has been troubling our nation’s education system for over a decade: that nations who are committed to a broad, yet content-rich curriculum are performing well above American schools, which have sacrificed the arts and humanities because of the pressures NCLB has put on improving reading and mathematics scores.
According to the Center on Education Policy, art and music instruction has declined by 35% in schools since No Child Left Behind was implemented. This percentage represents an average of 57 minutes per week of arts instruction that have been removed from schools across the country.
Ironically, support for the arts is occurring in an era where imagination, innovation and creativity are prime drivers of the national economy and a large part of America’s unequal advantage. The nation’s 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion annually in U.S. economic activity. They support 5.7 million jobs and provide nearly $30 billion in government revenue.
Although many arts organizations are cutting jobs, salaries and programs, the Obama Administration’s budget recommendations for 2010 show promise for the arts—the National Endowment for the Arts request of $161 million is at its highest level in 15 years. As first lady, Michelle Obama said in a recent speech on opening night of the American Ballet Theatre, “The arts are not just a nice thing to have…they define who we are as a people."
The current economic condition of the nation only compounds the issue of developing the skills our children need to be successful in their social, civic, and professional lives, but also how well they are prepared to be compete on a global scale. Imagination, after all, is something everyone can claim as individual expression is what the arts are all about.
Imagination has the potential to become a galvanizing force that can broadly advocate for the arts in all of its facets and forms. Few are communicating the value of the arts by showing their vital relationship to our nation’s competitive edge in being innovative and globally competitive.
A public education campaign is needed to raise awareness and allow supporters to mobilize and demand that our nation’s schools focus on developing students’ imagination through and education in the arts.
Why the imagination?
As J.K. Rowling quoted in her commencement address at the 2008 Harvard graduation, “I chose my ...theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.”
A recent national survey confirms strong public support for arts education to strengthen students’ imaginative capacities and has created demand for a new approach for our nation’s schools. It further exposes a window of opportunity to tap into national interest for educational change where the arts can emerge as a critical factor in delivering education relevant to our times.
Based on empirical data supported by focus group research, a new affinity cluster of chronic voters has emerged where over 30% of the voting public strongly support policy that delivers building skills of the imagination in education. Overall the general support for this notion tops 60%. In addition, 9 out of 10 voters agree that imagination is key to innovation and student success and 87% say arts and STEM provide values necessary to promote innovation. Results of recent public surveys, mounting evidence from the field, and demonstrations reveal a unique opportunity – that building capacities of the imagination in schools is essential to student engagement and creativity that leads to innovation.
Drawing on the arts to cultivate the imagination and to provide interrelationships among subject disciplines will provide more intuitive opportunities for meaningful interdisciplinary study with subjects such as science, technology, mathematics, social studies, language arts, etc. The economic challenges facing our nation have created a demand for an education that builds on the cognitive capacities that are developed through the arts to create imaginative and creative learning experiences in schools. Such a focus can also have significant impact on recent popular and well-funded STEM (science, technology, engineering and science) initiatives offering this educational movement potential to better succeed with the arts as a partner.
Some people would say that imagination rises when we give up the walls between things. This is exactly the kind of education our nation’s schools should be focusing on, as learning in discreet “silos” is soon becoming a thing of the past as we envision a future in which our children will have to compete in a new global context.
The values and concerns of the American public are notable:
Economic - The arts demand and develop imagination and the critical, intellectual and personal skills needed to create, innovate and adapt in a global economy and in our professional lives.
Quality of Life – The arts enrich our personal and communal lives with meaning, beauty and the challenge and opportunity to reach our fullest potential.
Educational Advancement – The arts engage students deeply in learning that is rigorous and relevant to their lives today and empowers them with the vision, motivation and skills to strive for excellence in the future.
Civic Engagement – The arts create inclusive and pluralistic communities that teach and empower individuals to become active citizens of a democratic society.
Moving the imagine nation
The “imagine nation” is organizing supporters into one unified voice demanding the right of our children to have the opportunity to develop the skills of the imagination through an education in and through the arts. Understanding all of the mechanics of education is a powerful force from which schools can be redesigned through imaginative learning techniques. The potential exists for schools and organizations to brand themselves as being one of the many voices in the “imagine nation chorus.”