Wide Support Found for Imagination-Based Education

Many of us know that music education in America's public schools is not what it once was. Some of us are old enough to remember when virtually every public school had an orchestra as well as a band, and taught music in a variety of ways. The decline of music education, indeed all arts education, in our school systems has been widely commented on.

What comes as encouraging news is that people actually care about this issue - more people care more strongly than I think we recognized. A national poll of likely voters, conducted by Lake Research Partners, has found widespread support for the notion that today's approach to education is stifling the imagination of pupils and teachers. A strong majority of those surveyed believe that imagination is a necessary quality in a complete citizen, and they believe that our current approach to education actually works against the development of imagination. Imagination is at the core of creative skills--skills of innovation--and people believe that such skills are very important for the future of this country and the world.

Some key findings of the survey:

  • 89% say that using imagination is important to innovation and to one's success in a global, knowledge-based economy, and essential to success in the 21st century.
  • 69% believe that America, compared to other nations, devotes less attention to developing imagination and innovation.
  • 88% believe that education in the arts, and education using the arts, is essential to cultivating the imagination.
  • 63% believe strongly that building capacities of the imagination is as important as the so-called "basics" for all students.

The survey took a rather political approach to some of its questions, and determined that voters would be likely to support political candidates who supported more funding for education that would be likely to stimulate imagination, and voters would be willing to punish candidates who opposed such funding.

The point of my writing about this is not, however, to raise the specifically political aspects of this issue. It is merely to point out that there has been a growing body of research showing that education in the arts, and music specifically, does wire the brains of young people in a healthier way, that it does lead to creativity, to problem solving, to imagination, to innovation, to the ability to work with others more productively, and to more well-rounded, complete citizens. Now, there is evidence that this is understood by the general public, perhaps in ways that are not understood by local political powers who shape school curricula.

I find myself in total agreement with John Wilson, executive director of the National Education Association, when he says: "Americans are concerned that we are falling behind as a nation and that imagination, innovation, and creativity have been the foundation that moved the United States into a world leadership role. In today's economy, an education focused only on the 'so-called' basics may not be providing students with the skills essential for success and continued world leadership in the 21st century. To maintain our competitive edge, we need to balance instruction, encouraging our children to be creative and to develop their imaginations."

I urge everyone to work at their local level with whatever forces shape the agendas of your school systems, to insist that the arts be an integral, central part of the curriculum.

April 4, 2008 1:21 PM |



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