I was recently asked to testify before the New Jersey Assembly Tourism and the Arts Committee about arts education and where we stand in New Jersey. These are my remarks:
I am honored to testify before you today and pleased to see my own state representative, Assemblywoman Munoz is a part of this committee.
My name is Robert Morrison. I am the founder of Quadrant Arts Education Research and serve as the Governance Chair of the New Jersey Arts Education Partnership.
Most recently I was honored to have served as a member of Governor Christie's Transition team overseeing a review of the Department of State led by our Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno.
Arts education... indeed education in NJ is at a crossroads
Policy makers often espouse the desire to have arts education for all students.
In New Jersey... this is simply not the case.
In the 2005/2006 school year, New Jersey completed the first-in-the nation statewide census of arts education. The report showed that while there had been 20 years of important progress we were still a long way from where we wanted to be... the arts for every child.
The good news is that most of our schools offer courses in music and visual arts. And the limited funding provided by the New Jersey State Council for the Arts helps support the educational programs of arts organizations that reach 89% of our public schools.
The bad news? There are 77,000 students attend school everyday without ANY access to the arts. And while the state has some of the most forward looking requirements in the arts... the fact that there is little or no accountability to measure if schools are actually meeting these requirements means administrators feel free to ignore them. In fact only 3% of our elementary schools are offering the courses required by the state to ensure children may meet the learning expectations.
This is cause for concern... not only for New Jersey... but also for our nation.
And here is why:
China's education system is currently undergoing the most massive transformation of any country in the world. China's leaders have come to see that a system that turns out students who can't think for themselves isn't going to help their quest to become a global economic power. In response, they're replacing the old system, dependent on rote memorization, with a new focus on communication skills, critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity with an intense focus on the arts.
In Singapore, There is now urgent concern that the old education system, and its relentless focus on examinations and grades, has bred all passion and conviction out of its students. Efforts to reduce this trend are extreme. Where you could once get arrested for spitting chewing gum, the government recently sponsored a graffiti contest allowing students to decorate city buses.
The Minister of Education sees awakening originality and ingenuity as the key to unlocking Singapore's economic potential. "We are redesigning our concept of meritocracy to include a broader range of merits, not just results in standardized exams, to help stimulate creativity and innovation. The arts are a big factor in this"
This has given way to HUGE investments in arts education to stimulate creative thinking for them to compete in a global marketplace of ideas and innovation.
In dozens of countries around the globe that are our economic competitors expansion of arts education programs is a strategy they are embracing.
Which begs the question: What do these countries know that we do not?
The competitive global economic environment demands we change.
In order for New Jersey to regain it's rightful place as a center of innovation we must invest in developing the creative capacities of ALL of our citizens. And it starts with arts education for every child.
To demonstrate why I would like to share one story:
Jef studied music as a child in the 50s... learned piano, played in his school bands. But he was also enthralled by technology and desired to find a way to use technology to aid his musical activities. After early successes in the tech field he joined a small start-up company where he was asked to apply his technological genius to create a new machine. He would make it capable of creating music notation and have multi-voice sound generation... all inspired by his love of music. He named the new machine it after his favorite fruit... the Macintosh.
His boss was Steve Jobs. When Steve was younger he had enrolled in college as a freshman. He dropped out after only one semester, he continued auditing classes including one in calligraphy.
Steve later stated, "If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts."
Jef Raskin and Steve Jobs did not study the arts to become great artists. They were actually unsure of why they did it at all... other than because of their own curiosity, inspiration, and some kind of creative connection. They did not study the arts as a predetermined strategy to invent the personal computer. But they both will tell you that without that knowledge and the experiences gained from the arts there would be no Apple computer today.
We do not teach the arts to create great artists anymore than we teach math to create the next generation of mathematicians or language arts to create the next generation of writers. We teach the arts in our schools to create great people so they are empowered with skills and knowledge to be successful in life... to do great things regardless of the vocational pathway they choose.
This is the BIG IDEA many in our state and across our nation have failed to recognize. An idea we ignore at our own peril.
So here is what we should do:
1. Encourage the New Jersey State Department of Education to support a 2011 Statewide Arts Education Census as a follow-up to the 2005/2006 study. This will inform the state of the progress made toward the goal of making arts education available for all children.
2. Build the State's Longitudinal Data System (SLDS) for access by teachers, researchers and policymakers and the public and include data gathering on arts education in these systems. Include Arts Education in the state report cards for each school based on information contained in the SLDS.
3. Support the passage of Assembly Bill A773 (Diegnan/Bramnick) requiring public schools to weight courses in visual and performing arts equally with other courses worth same number of credits in calculating grade point average.
4. We would like to see the development of a statewide effort to focus on the intentional development of our states capacity for creativity and innovation. It will be the intentionality of any approach to creating a statewide environment that fosters innovation that will allow us to stop the brain and job drain from our state ... laying the ground work for our next Bell Labs, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein.
In closing, I would like to paraphrase a statement by the late Jef Raskin:
"Not all children will find music as central to their lives as I do, but a good education demands exposure to the wide panoply of human achievement. The arts, the sciences, and the humanities must all be represented -- and represented well and in a positive light -- by teachers who love and live them."
And I leave you with this statement from the Christie Administration's Transition Team Report for the Department of State:
"A key component of economic development is also an educated and prepared citizenry. Such a workforce will help attract new businesses to New Jersey, provide cultural and creative capital to improve our quality of life, and inspire innovation in our business sectors. By weaving the concepts of culture, history and commerce and education into our economic plan, we can create an environment where businesses want to operate, citizens want to live, people want to visit and children are educated and inspired so that New Jersey can recapture its role as the preeminent state for creativity and innovation."
The arts and arts education must play a central role as we determine the pathway forward for a post-crisis, 21st century New Jersey.