By Jorea M. Marple, Ed.D.
“What a tragedy it would be if we lived in a world where music was not taught to children.”
That is a statement made not by an educator or a musician but Norman Schwarzkopf, a rugged man who rose to the ranks of general in the U.S. Army, a man who often has said that during the first Gulf War, it was music that brought him great peace of mind.
Like Schwarzkopf, we, too, believe it would be a tragedy if music and other arts were not taught in West Virginia schools. Our children must study the arts to become well-rounded adults and successful in the 21st century.
Today’s competitive global economy demands imaginative, resilient thinkers who can design and produce new ideas, new services and products. Well-taught arts courses are where creativity, flexibility, innovation, understanding and empathy are consistently required and refined.
In West Virginia, our 21st century learning plan called “Global21: Students deserve it. The world demands it.,” allows students to enhance their creativity through problem-solving, critical-thinking, technology literacy, and other performance skills.
Global21 is one way we are working to make sure every student across West Virginia has access to arts-rich educational opportunities. Dance, music, visual art and theater all involve skills that are essential to the education of the whole child. Research clearly tells us that an arts-rich education is closely aligned to gains in math and reading, and improves cognitive ability, critical thinking and verbal skills.
More than 50 percent of West Virginia students live in poverty and a large percentage of those students suffer from chronic stress that interferes with concentration. Arts learning can improve not only concentration, but also motivation, confidence and teamwork. Through expansion of a strong arts program in each and every school in West Virginia, we will be better able to close the achievement gap that has left many children behind.
As we work together in this complex world to develop good kids who do great work, we must make sure the arts are valued and supported.
You can exercise your support on April 29 by attending the West Virginia Department of Education’s Fifth Annual Arts Alive celebration at the Clay Center for the Arts & Sciences in Charleston. Our schools are full of talented students who will showcase the benefits of their arts education. The lobby showcase begins at 6:30 p.m., followed by the mainstage performance at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. Tickets are available from the Clay Center at (304) 561-3500.
The signature event will feature performances and the visual arts as well as instrumental and vocal music, dance and theater from students statewide.
Ernest Boyer, former president of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching said, “The arts are, above all, the special language of children, who, even before they learn to speak, respond intuitively to dance, music and color.”
I hope you will share in this special language by joining me and others in support of West Virginia’s student artists and attend Arts Alive on April 29.
Marple is state superintendent of schools, overseeing West Virginia's public schools.
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