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Pleasure Beauty and Wonder: Educating for an Uncertain age

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Dana Gioia, past chairman of the National Endowments for the Arts, made it clear that America "is not going to succeed through cheap labor or cheap raw materials, nor even the free flow of capital or a streamlined industrial base... to compete successfully, this country needs creativity, ingenuity, innovation."

But how do you make someone creative and innovative. What must our schools, and our communities do to nurture the creative and innovative spirit? How can we structure, he asked rhetorically, "a system that grounds all students in pleasure, beauty and wonder?"

It probably starts by increasing attendance and fully engaging the student. Yogi Berra said "You can observe a lot just by looking."

Almost 20 years ago, for example, in the poorest congressional district in the nation where only one in four children once graduated from high school, a small school called St. Augustine boasted that 95 percent of its students read at or above grade level, and 95 percent met New York state academic standards.

In a PBS special documentary called "Something Within Me", it was reported that St. Augustine, located in New York's South Bronx, made highly significant achievements despite a student population that was 100 percent minority, with many of the children living in single-parent homes in communities plagued by AIDS, crime, substance abuse and violence.

What was the secret of the school's success?

St. Augustine infused every discipline -- math, history, science, and biology -- with dance, music, creative writing and visual arts. All the students not only excelled; they were fully engaged and reportedly, full of joy and wonder. Sadly, as the parish was located in an extremely poor neighborhood, the school was eventually closed for lack of funds.

Fast forward to 2002, a unique consortium of arts organizations embraced Authentic Connections: Interdisciplinary Work in the Arts to enable "students to identify and apply authentic connections, promote learning by providing students with opportunities between disciplines and/or to understand, solve problems and make meaningful connections within the arts across disciplines on essential concepts that transcend individual disciplines."

And today we know and understand that everything is connected to everything else. The interdisciplinary curriculum suggestions "encourage students to generate new insights and to synthesize new relationships between ideas."

While not a manifesto for arts infusion, these recommendations go far in fostering curriculum integration and offering a way for teachers of traditional, disparate disciplines to collaborate.

The Chicago-based effort: Renaissance in the Classroom, also known as CAPE (Chicago Arts Partnership in Education), is one such model of interdisciplinary collaboration.

To CAPE, and Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education, who often talks about CAPE, "Arts integration is a way of thinking about learning and teaching it encourages individuals and groups of school people to stretch out a hand to community resources, whatever they may be, and make connections to the school curriculum?

Such a multidisciplinary approach encourages leaders of young learners to see the connections between knowledge in one area to another, between a unit in mathematics and a unit in social studies, or between a unit in science and a unit in language arts. This process shows students that such thinking is possible and actually done in the real world."

Changing Lenses.

Maybe we really need to eliminate all the existing "silos" in education, and infuse the curriculum again with the arts.

After a decade of studying the human brain, we know the arts enhance math and science comprehension. We know that where art-infused education is used to redesign the curriculum, one that is truly integrated, collaborative and interactive, students' attendance dramatically improves, as does performance.

There is simply no excuse for not reinventing our schools to meet the challenges of this new global knowledge-based age.