By Nicole Sasso March 24, 2011 9:56 am
Michelangelo wasn’t much of a student by today’s standards. He showed no talent or interest in core subjects, and he was eventually apprenticed at a young age.
He was one of the great geniuses our planet has ever known — in any field. And if Michelangelo was a student in American schools today, we wouldn’t call him a genius. We’d call him something else – a failure.
We’d call him a failure because he didn’t test well in math. We’d call him a failure because he’d rather draw than read. We’d persist in our ignorance, no matter how much skill Michelangelo showed as an artist.
Because, after all, being skilled at art no longer counts for much. We’d prefer Michelangelo was an average mathematician than an artistic genius. Our schools are practically told by federal and state regulations to make that unfortunate choice every time.
If this sounds personal to me, it is. I have been fortunate to spend my career as a public school teacher and to have attained undergraduate and graduate degrees.
But I can promise you that things could have gone very differently for me without art. As I look back at my childhood demographics, I had “achievement gap” written all over me.
I was raised by a very busy single parent in a lower-income household. No one from my family had ever attended college. I didn’t start school with some of the foundational advantages that many of my students start with today.
I didn’t love math and wasn’t a voracious reader. But I loved to draw – and I could do it better than any of my classmates. It was through my artwork that my teachers began to realize I was smart.
It was through my talent in art that I realized I was smart.
My self confidence came from art. I used that self confidence to thrive in other subjects, such as math, reading, science and history.
And I can’t help but wonder, in this era of No Child Left Behind, how many children we’re leaving behind as we callously slash art and music programs at our schools.
I wonder how many students, without access to art and music, will never have the opportunity to prove just how gifted they are. I wonder why more people don’t understand that art and music are more than expressions of emotion or talent – they are bona fide intellectual exercises.
If you were to take a heat map of my brain, you would see it most engaged when I am drawing or painting. I am thinking critically and employing creative problem solving. It’s a very intense thought process.
And it’s a type of thinking that we must never stop valuing, or our schools and students will suffer. As we narrow the curriculum at our schools, we’re depriving students of the intellectual engagement and academic benefits that accompany art and music training and appreciation.
I truly understand the importance of math and literacy. I teach math and literacy and there’s hardly a job in America where you won’t use both of those skills daily.
But the aspirations for our educational system must extend beyond math and reading. Our aspirations must extend beyond what we test. We must aspire to offer a diverse curriculum that nurtures and develops each student’s talent.
Because somewhere in our schools right now, we have the next Michelangelo sitting behind a desk, doodling and bored out of his mind. We’re calling him a failure — and he believes it.
And once you cut art class out of that student’s life, you’re removing perhaps his best opportunity to ever prove you wrong.
Nicole Sasso is a veteran elementary school teacher from Central Maryland.