Every now and again I’m reminded that we don’t live in a black and white world. No, I’m not talking about race. I am talking about absolutes — things that can be measured, tracked or counted.
Thursday as I was channel surfing, I came across the 2017 Shuler Awards. The full title is the Georgia High School Musical Theatre Awards. It’s patterned after Broadway’s Tony Awards. I’m not sure why I decided to watch. I switched for a moment to CNN, then to Fox and then to a couple of network shows and I ended up back at GPB. I’m so glad I did.
The Schuler Hensley Awards showcase the best in high school musical theatre and these high schoolers were out of this world good. Of the 75 high schools in this year’s competition, one hailed from Middle Georgia, Veterans High School for its production of “The Addams Family.”
While watching these very talented high school students I thought of two things. 1.) Students, even those carrying high grade point averages and astronomical SAT scores are creative beings and 2.) while STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) might explain why the boat floats, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics) explains why you want the boat to float in the first place and where you want it to go.
The art piece in all of this is something that can’t be measured in exact terms. I can’t explain why a piece of art or music reaches into my soul, nor can I explain why a poem makes me cry. I would submit that without the “A” in STEAM, the STEM means nothing. Without the “A” architects would design inelegant places for us to live and work. Sure they would be functional, but they wouldn’t make us more productive.
We’ve known this for all of human history and yet in modern education we have tried to eliminate what we cannot measure. The arts, while proven to help brain development in every other area, has been systematically cut — even eliminated in many cases in k-12 education. I know, we are supposed to be intelligent beings, but in at least this case, we’ve not been very bright.
I would submit that children, without an outlet for their creativity, in some way, fashion or form, can turn off and drop out. The arts can be a gateway for some students. It allows them to hang in there just long enough until the rest of their brain kicks in. For some students it’s football or some other sport, but for others, it can be band, art, orchestra, drama or dance.
As I watched the performances of these teens in big production numbers I wondered, where would their energies flow if not in drama? These production numbers had 30 to 40 students filled with marvelous voices and choreography. The young man from Heritage High School in Conyers, Ramone Nelson, who won best actor in his school’s production of “Les Miserables” could head to Broadway right now and Les Mis also won the Best Overall Production. When the cast performed their production number during the show they received a standing ovation.
So we wonder what we must do to keep students interested? Do teachers have to stand on their heads and spin like a top? Schools have to respond by offering more. They have to offer more choices where students can engage their imaginations. That’s what the “A” is for.
Teachers do have to be on the lookout for students who they see are well-suited for a club or organization, and at times, act subversively to introduce a student to that activity.
It all comes back to teachers and administrators knowing who their students are. Where do they come from? How many siblings do they have? What’s the family situation. How many teachers would be surprised to know that some of their best students are holding down a job, or have no home internet access and are caring for a sick parent or have lost a parent?
The arts help such students cope and get through the day. It’s up to us to demand of our school systems and make sure the arts aren’t shortchanged even though the impact can’t be measured on a Milestones test. Let me change that. The impact can’t be measured because it’s immeasurable.