the oregonian just doesn’t get it

In a cynical and baldly anti-arts and anti-schools editorial last week, the Oregonian’s editorial board recommended that voters repudiate the Creative Arts Network’s ballot issue. It it doubly ridiculous that the editorial board, (1) protests the ‘regressive’ nature of the assessment (which never seemed to bother them before), and (2) wants to deny a pretty painless assessment for all Portlanders that would benefit the Portland Public Schools at a time when the PPS needs all the help they can get. Plus, arts organizations and teachers don’t ‘deserve’ a tax just for them. Let’s see if that ‘logic’ holds the next time there is a ballot issue dealing with a major league baseball stadium or some other boondoggle that is necessary ‘for the public interest’.

What is missed in all of this anti-tax, Tea Party inspired rhetoric is that the fine arts are, in all of the most successful education systems in the leading industrialized countries, regarded as essential to the production of a intellectually advanced person who is ready to innovate in the workforce. Take Japan, which ranks #2 in science education, #4 in math, and #5 in reading, according to a 2009 study by the  Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) (In case you were wondering, the US scored #17 in science, #25 in math, and #14 in reading. A UNESCO draft report “The Present State of Arts Education in Japan” [pdf file] by Akiyama Takasu summarizes the governmental attitude towards the arts in the national educational system:

The Fundamental Law for the Promotion of Culture and the Arts … has stipulated the policies the Japanese nation ought to adopt for promoting culture and arts, such as the arrangement of education and research institutions concerned with culture and arts, and improving education related to culture and arts such as experiential learning concerned with culture and arts.

And that system dedicates the follow amount of time to each segment of the arts, both separately and in an integrated curriculum:

And the paper also stresses the benefits, within the framework of a complete education, of a well-rounded and persistant course of arts education:

The fundamental abilities do not refer only to knowledge and skills (e.g. reading and writing notation, skills to play musical instruments). In the Course of Study, the fundamental abilities also refer to the abilities of pupils and students to express their feelings, imagination, and thinking by such means as writing, drawing, performing, and making (expressive skills), and to the abilities of pupils and students to recognize positively strengths and aesthetic values. To cultivate the fundamental abilities, pupils and students’ creative activities are crucial, because such activities are the very basis of other activities. It is not too much to say that they can change pupils and students from being “successors to a culture” which includes Japanese, Eastern and Western traditions, to “creators of a future culture”.
Don’t our students deserve this same dedication to their complete education? I think that they do, and so do all of my colleagues in the arts, whether they are involved in directly educating future generations, or not. We owe it to future generations to continue the support of the arts in general education. That we have such a relatively thriving arts culture in Portland has much to do with now shuttered arts education policies that ended between 10-20 years ago – the effects of whose absence is only now becoming critically apparent. In addition, there are non-profits that have done their part to stem the tide of an artless school system, among them the Community Music Center, Metro Arts, Inc., Portland Youth Philharmonic, ETHOS Music Center, and Metropolitan Youth Symphony. I find it unacceptable to deny our public school students essential and critical parts of their education because we don’t want to pay for it. If anything is worth paying for, it is the complete and full education of our coming generations of artists, entrepreneurs, employees, and leaders.

presenting: the theremin fork – really!