Happy National Arts and Education Week, America

09/18/2010 11:19 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Freddie Gershon CEO of Music Theatre International; 2012 Tony Honor for Excellence in Theatre recipient; former entertainment attorney and music executive

Step right up, folks, 'cause right now it's National Arts and Education Week (September 12-18). The U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution saying:

"Arts Education, comprising a rich array of disciplines including dance, music, theatre, media arts, literature, design and visual arts, is a core academic subject and an essential element of a complete and balanced education for all students."

Well, I certainly hope so, because I received a letter from Weatherford, Texas, this week, telling me that its local school was just "too busy" to implement dance, music, theatre, media arts or visual arts because they have other important core curricula going on and the teachers are spread too thin!

The letter came from a Grandma quoting from the principal of her granddaughter's school in response to the young girl and the family asking about the school "show"... (yes, she watches Glee). "We don't do a school show!" "We don't do dance or chorus." "We do have sports teams and you can do gymnastics which then leads to your being qualified to get to be a cheerleader." Huh? What do you say, sir?

I didn't see any Resolution from the U.S. House of Representatives about sports or cheerleading, and when did that become core curricula?

I know there are other schools in all 50 states that embrace the arts and they understand that they are part of the development, maturing and education of human beings, future citizens of our country... and they still manage to teach core curricula.

The arts enhance lives and provide quantifiable value, enhancing our society, our children and the soul of our country.

Recently, I became a fan of a gentleman named Ben Cameron -- a most articulate, passionate advocate for the arts. (Among other things, he oversees the arts programs for the Doris Duke Foundation.)

He addresses the Internet and the bombardment of video games, reality TV, iPods and gizmos of every kind and what they do to our young people, our brains and (moreover) what isn't done for us and what technology can't do for us.

He points about how there is something magical about observing "live arts" and even more magical when you are performing yourself... participation as a form of experiential learning.

Show such as Glee have somehow touched a chord with a young audience which is not yet jaded and which is living the world of these characters vicariously and having a good time and enjoying it. And more young people want to taste it and feel it and do it, not in lieu of but in addition to their "required" school stuff. And, they do!

It has become a phenomenon. But, schools need to provide the opportunity. Principals need to be open and forward thinking.

Ben Cameron presciently said, "ultimately, we live in a world defined not by consumption, but by participation."

The difference between sitting in an audience and watching the show and being transported to another world, or taking the risk, having the fun, collaborating with other people to put the show and immerse yourself in that world, is "wow," "socko," "boffo."

If you haven't seen a community theatre or school production of a "Fiddler on the Roof" or "Annie" or "Guys and Dolls," you're missing a big "wow."

By definition, the arts are a form of education. They are exposing us to a balanced world without pontificating, without lecturing -- just by immersing ourselves through participation (and also by consumption for those people, the audience witnessing all of this on the stage) in the emotional, intellectually stimulating, empathetic world of being involved and transported into another life, another world, another time with which we can relate and for which we can have feeling and which is thought-provoking. That's why American musical theatre has lasted so long and is ubiquitous internationally.

That's where the House of Representatives resolution comes in and Mr. Cameron sums it up beautifully.

Ben Cameron refers to the ability to "listen deeply." Not just hearing, but actually listening. People who really listen; people who develop that type of intellectual astuteness who develop antennae. They become our leaders and they become able to "articulate change and motivate others."

If we want a sense of community and humanity; if we want to be provocative and use our imaginations, creativity and inventiveness, if we want to learn about what it's like to live in a grown-up society or in a micro-mini society of the world of the arts, we should ask all of the principals, all of the assistant principals, all of the public school teachers of America who work very hard and who don't get enough kudos or nearly enough money for what they do and how they do it, to give just a little more. Not because it's extra-curricula but because, by this Resolution, the House of Representatives is saying this is curricula. It should not be curricula for one week a year in the mid-September. That serves only as a reminder that this should be embraced by our country because math is important. History lessons are important. Reading skills are important. But all of those are amplified in the hands of people who have a complete and full education and who enjoy the school experience.

We can peacefully co-exist in this digital world of virtual cyber space; but it can be insidious if we allow it to replace the "live" experience. I'd rather be alive, feel emotions. I'd rather experience eye contact and sense response than play tennis through a virtual game.

The Bee Gees sang "Staying Alive," and Stephen Sondheim wrote Being Alive. It's more than just survival to celebrate being alive and staying alive.

Celebrate National Arts in Education Week by immersing yourself and your children in "live" arts experiences.

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