They’re not Dumb, just Bored: Music & Art on the Campaign Trail?

Imagine my surprise to discover in Wednesday’s Washpost an article devoted to a speech by bottom-rung presidential candidate Mike Huckabee…talking, of all things, about arts and music education. Presidential candidates rarely, if ever, talk about the arts — and when they do it’s some “position paper” dutifully spun out by a low-level campaign operative. Rarer still for a Republican candidate to talk this kinda talk:

“If you don’t stimulate both sides of a human’s brain, you’re simply generating half the capacity. This whole idea that music and art are great programs if you can afford them and have room for them — that’s utter nonsense. It’s the stupidest thing we’ve done to education in the last two generations.”

Huckabee’s essential argument is that the “economy of the future will place a premium on creativity,” something missed by the hyper-focus on science and math instruction:

“A lot of education today has become left-brain only. All we’re doing is . . . nothing more than data download: taking data from the teacher and downloading it to kids. And we wonder why 6,000 kids drop out of school every day and why so many millions more kids sleep through the day with their heads down on the desk, taking the most expensive nap in America. The reason they’re doing it is not that they’re dumb but that they’re bored.” Whew. Strong stuff. Turns out that like another Arkansas governor-turned-presidential aspirant Huckabee comes by his passions honestly, according to Washpost reporter Alec MacGillis:

His parents bought him a $99 guitar when he was 11 years old, and he’s played ever since,
eventually becoming the bassist for a Little Rock band, Capitol Offense, that has played
with Grand Funk Railroad, Willie Nelson and REO Speedwagon, among others. As
governor, he pushed through a 2005 law requiring elementary schools to offer 40 minutes
per week of music and art and requiring high school students to take at least a half-year of
art, music or dance to graduate.

Huh. Must be something in the Arkansas water. Huckabee even has a blog devoted his stances on arts education. Bravo to Huckabee for having the courage to point out the obvious: At the K-12 level, music instruction of any kind continues to be under great duress in America. And there are those that argue that the focus on literacy and numerosity triggered by the No Child Left Behind Act has had a boomerang effect on artistic literacy: Last March Minnesota Public Radio did a terrific report on what’s happened in the Gopher Sate: In order to comply with the Federal statutes, the Minnesota Music Educators Association reported a 6.5 percent decrease in the number of public school music teachers in the state since 2000. Many elementary schools now offer arts programs for just nine weeks out of the year. And nationally, arts education time in the classroom has dropped 22 percent since NCLB was enacted in 2002 .

The end result is that a fundamental component of the education of our nation’s youth continues to be overlooked, abandoned, and/or betrayed, with consequences that go far beyond the inability to read musical notation or know when Mozart was born. I’ll be curious to see if any other candidates pick up this thread…but I’m not holding my breath.

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