Wishful Thinking

What’s in a name? There’s a new upbeat movement afoot in education circles called Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). It’s a “wishful thinking” piece of legislation in which the expected outcome is right up there in the program’s name. Near as I can tell, it does not carry the baggage of the program it replaced which was called No Child Left Behind. That program title always gave me the “willies.”  I had this mental picture of millions of kids struggling to climb a steep hill and not being able to get a footing…or worse…getting some traction only to fall to the bottom – not left behind, but alas not advancing. To me it symbolized the government’s expectation of failure, a paternalistic approach that ensured a narrow escape from failure, but left so many – maybe not behind – but certainly not ahead. The new name is laden with hope. Can we really get what we wish for when it comes to student achievement?  One of the “so called” innovations in the new legislation is (are you ready for this?) the inclusion of the arts as a core curriculum subject.  No more slinking about pretending the arts are not important.

I was recently reminded by the New York State Education Regent Judith Johnson about something I learned as an artist years ago. The arts breed success. It’s not the only reason that the arts are important, but it is surely builds confidence. That’s because there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to art-making. All kids can feel good about themselves as they express their views in writing, paint or clay, or on stage or off. Through the arts, students learn that many different interpretations are both valid and enlightening. Giving kids the joy of discovering, learning and succeeding can be motivational enough to keep a kid inspired in school.  That would surely be a path  for every student to succeed.

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