Arts In Public Education

Two stories about arts in education came across my desk this past week.

The first is from KNKX and it's about a data dashboard for the arts in King County high schools.  That dashboard makes for some interesting reading.  The school in King County with the most students participating in the arts?  At 98.6%, it's Bellevue's International High School.  Near 70% of students participate in some kind of music.

Want to guess who came in first in Seattle Public Schools?  I'll wait and let you see in comments.  It's not any of the bigger heavy hitters.  What's interesting in SPS is how some schools have more participation in music, others in visual arts, and others in media arts.  Ballard High seemed to have a somewhat equal participation in media arts (that's their outstanding video production program) and music.

The other article is about arts and social justice.  It's a first-person narrative from a Seattle activist, Vu Le, whose family immigrated when he was a child and he felt lost at school because of the newness of the country and a language barrier.
In my conversations with folks from arts and music organizations these past few years, though, I sense some existential angsts. A colleague asked me, “People are wondering what the role of art and music is when there’s so many more pressing problems. Is there a place for us in the fight for social justice?”  This question has made me think, and my answer, which I gave in my talk, is that yes, not only do we need art and music, but right now we need it kind of badly.
Art and music are critical in our work for social justice, as frequently they are the only things that can reach people, that can provide comfort or generate the visceral, raw emotions needed for social change. After the election in 2016, when many families and children were terrified, Families of Color Seattle gathered the kids and used art—having the kids draw themselves as superheroes, for example—to help them process their feelings. And this year protesters in Hong Kong, are singing “Do You Hear the People Sing” from Les Miserables as they do a sit-in at the airport. 
 Music at school gave him a footing
When I sang with the other kids in front of the school, for the first time since my family left everyone we knew, I felt a sense of belonging. (And this is why, to this day, I still love Christmas songs, as repetitive and annoying as many of them are.) 
Kids gathered around, whispering. I had an intricate, kickass snowflake. Mrs. Moss called her friend, another teacher, Mrs. Barton, over, and they hovered above me, smiling, as I glued little pieces of tissue paper. I could tell they were impressed. All the snowflakes were hung up on the window, where they stayed the rest of the year.
Why it matters 
I’m telling you these stories because when there is so much going on, so many problems to solve, sometimes we think of art and music as indulgent. Who has time for singing and dancing and stained-glass snowflakes when kids are starving or locked in cages? By thinking this way, we forget about art and music’s power to heal, mobilize, build community, and so much more. There are amazing organizations I know, like Totem Star, which started working with youth released from detention, and now works with young people from many cities who have few or no other music learning opportunities.

Ms. Adair and Ms. Moss will never know how they affected my life, and the lives of my kids. If you are an artist/musician, and/or if you are with a nonprofit that provides art and music, thank you. Your work makes a bigger difference than you may ever realize. Thank you for using your gifts to help bring forth a more equitable and inclusive world. 


Number one in SPS? Rainier Beach High School at 77.7%, mostly in the Visual Arts. They are followed by Garfield High School with 76.2%, mostly in music. Then Center School at 74.9%, mostly in media arts and Ballard High at 70.6%
Anonymous said…
This dashboard data is very interesting.

I wonder how much impact the master schedule has. I have seen students crunched to get the required academic classes to fit in their schedule, forced to give up preferred electives like arts classes.

Nothing helps the master schedule like choirs. You can have hundreds of students in one class with one teacher, almost no equipment and a really great learning experience. In my school 85% of the students choose to take choir because the choir teachers were so good. The dance team who won state championships always made time for choir too. Also it was a multicultural curriculum.

-Choir kid

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