Opening Remarks at the Launch of the Alliance for Arts Education in Humboldt County, on January 27, 2011
By Garry T. Eagles, Ph.D., Superintendent, Humboldt County Office of Education
Editor’s note: The California Alliance for Arts Education in Humboldt County is one of the 25 Local Advocacy Network coalitions sponsored by the Alliance in our efforts to build advocacy capacity at the local level. Read more about our Local Advocacy Network.
“Welcome to the Breakfast Gathering of the California Alliance for Arts Education/Humboldt County.
I want to thank all of you for your willingness to spend some of your valuable time today hearing about the various ways in which the community as a whole can help insure that a rich, meaningful, education is provided for all children by keeping the arts alive and flourishing in our schools.
The Humboldt County Office of Education is pleased to support and participate in this Alliance. Our commitment to the arts extends over three decades, beginning with our sponsorship of one of California’s first model arts education curriculums: Project MADD: Music, Art, Drama and Dance.
We are continuing our commitment to promote the arts today through our participation in the California County Superintendents Education Services Association (CCSESA) Arts Education Initiative funded in part by a grant from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. The CCSESA Arts Initiative is partnering with other education and non-profit organizations throughout the state to embed arts education firmly into every school’s core curriculum.
We firmly believe the arts should not be viewed as “add-on” or “supplemental” programs that can be eliminated when the budget is tight and we need to cut the “extras.” The arts are not extras; quite the contrary, the arts are integral elements of a quality education.
One of the seminal works on education, John Holt’s How Children Fail, was a great influence on me as I began to develop my perspectives as a young educator. In that book, Holt observed that children are born with an extraordinary capacity for learning and intellectual growth. Undoubtedly, Holt would have concurred that the arts, approached correctly, are a particularly strong vehicle whereupon we can embolden young people by stimulating their natural curiosity and wonder about the world around them; helping them to have a greater appreciation for their own culture and the contributions made through the diversity of others; encouraging their risk taking and, in the process, uncovering hidden talents, tapping new areas of interest, and exploring new paths of engagement.
The arts help evolve one’s identity and individuality as each of us learns to express ourselves. And just as important, as we evolve, we learn to love learning even more.
It was Holt’s premise that since we cannot judge what knowledge will be needed in forty, twenty or even ten years from the present, we in education should focus our efforts on trying to turn out young adults who love learning so much—and learn so well—that they will be able to learn whatever needs to be learned over their lifetimes. We therefore need to provide the kind of education that helps each student know how to seek and find meaning, truth and enjoyment in everything he/she will do. After all, these are critical components of lifelong learning.
As a child, my best friends were Bobby Eilmas, Melanie Murphy, and Crayola Crayons. Oh, how I loved coloring books. I remember to this day how excited I was at receiving one of the new 64-crayon coloring boxes—with sharpener I might add—when I was just seven. I looked forward to the times in class we could color. I was very proud of learning when it’s good to stay within the lines and when it’s alright—maybe even better than alright at times—to go beyond them.My elementary teachers found many ways to reinforce my interest in the arts. In addition to drawing and coloring and mosaic making, they were also there to introduce me to music and singing and dancing—although the dancing was, obviously with my handicap, always a bit more challenging.
In fourth grade, I was blessed to have been offered the opportunity to try and learn a musical instrument. I excitedly chose a violin. However, I will be quick to admit that after just a few nights, I gladly traded my violin in for a saxophone—after discovering my fingers were much better at pushing down keys than plucking strings and that I was much better drawing a tree than drawing a bow. I remember how important each of these experiences was to me and my development as a human being. Collectively, these experiences no doubt serve as the basis for why I advocate so vociferously for maintaining the arts for all students, everywhere.
The philosopher Israel Sheffler defined education in this way: “The formation of habits of judgment and the development of character, the elevation of standards, the facilitation of understanding, the development of taste and discrimination, the stimulation of curiosity and wondering, the fostering of style and a sense of beauty, the growth of a thirst for new ideas and visions of the yet unknown.”
I find that this definition of education frames very clearly the argument as to why the arts must be a significant component of the curriculum we provide our students. There can be no diminishing of this role despite our schools’ declining fiscal condition. We must all be committed to finding ways to ensure the arts have their rightful presence.
Garry T. Eagles, Ph.D.Superintendent, Humboldt County Office of Education