TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
In New York City's Community School District No. 25, one of the first
actions that Superintendent Arthur Greenberg took after he started in 1990 was
to visit every school and ask community members what would make their
children's education stronger. The answer he got surprised many people. Over
and over again, parents repeated the same refrain: "This is New York City,
cultural mecca of the world. Where are the arts?"
On Thursday, Feb. 5, 1998, Cincinnati, Ohio, was buried under the
heaviest snowfall ever recorded. In the suburb of Wyoming, Superintendent Ted
Knapke canceled school, and visiting researchers figured they would have to
reschedule their evening town meeting on arts education. But they were wrong.
More than 150 citizens drove or walked through falling snow on mostly unplowed
streets and sidewalks to talk with them.
School administrators from Park Ridge, Ill., where I went to school
from kindergarten through 12th grade, report: "We are as serious about building
the imagination as we are about nurturing the intellect." Since its founding in
1902, the district has supported a comprehensive arts program that today
includes more than 40 different art classes. Before graduating, all seniors are
tested in dance, music, theater and visual arts.
The district's fine arts curriculum guide notes that the speech and
drama courses "teach students where to look and what to look for in gathering
support for an idea. They also help students learn to give, to accept and to
follow constructive criticism; listen courteously and critically as others
speak; become more logical, more direct and more creative in organizing
thoughts for presentation; learn to control the fear of speaking or performing
before an audience, and, as a result, become more confident people."
If this is what the arts teach, shouldn't they be a part of every
student's school day? And yet, when school systems find their budgets
shrinking, aren't art classes the first to go?
The importance of the arts in education is not a new idea. It was Plato
who said, "I would teach children music, physics and philosophy but, most
important, music, for in the patterns of music and all the arts are the keys of
During World War II, advisers urged Winston Churchill to cut Great
Britain's arts budget. He's reported to have responded, "Hell, no. What do you
think we're fighting for?"
Even today, though, I know many people who consider the arts a luxury.
Research done primarily at the University of California at Irvine demonstrates
that exposure to music at an early age not only sparks children's creativity
but also improves their spatial skills, helping boost their scores on math and
Last year, the National Center for Education Statistics tested
America's eighth-graders in academic subjects, including art. The results were
discouraging. That is why last September I issued a nationwide call to action
to put the arts back in every school in America.
This week, I traveled to New York to visit Community School District
No. 25 and to release the first national study examining successful arts
programs in school districts across the country. This two-year study was
undertaken by the President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and the
Arts Education Partnership, with private support from the GE Fund, the John D.
and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Binney & Smith.
Called "Gaining the Arts Advantage: Lessons From School Districts That
Value Arts Education," the report profiles 91 districts in 42 states, including
Community School District No. 25, Wyoming, Ohio, and Park Ridge, Ill., in order
to help other educators understand what it takes to make the arts a vibrant and
meaningful part of every student's school day.
Researchers identified 13 critical factors in the successful
implementation of arts programs, including active and supportive school boards,
superintendents, principals and teachers. But, according to the report, "the
single most critical factor in sustaining arts education in the schools is the
involvement of influential segments of the community -- parents, families,
artists, arts organizations, businesses, and local civic and cultural leaders
The arts have been an integral part of every society. As Superintendent
Greenberg discovered when he learned that students in his district represented
more than 100 countries and spoke 95 languages, the arts are a bridge between
cultures -- a unifying spark for learning.
There are 52.7 million children in America's schools -- more than ever
before. If we don't act now, too many of them will graduate without ever
painting a picture, playing a song or being exposed to the dramatic arts. It's
up to every one of us to help bring the arts back into our schools so that all
our children have the tools to compose a brighter future.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED