Today I opened up the New York Times to the varied topics ranging from rising floodwaters in Mississippi, enforcing the veil ban in France to suffering animals from the Japanese nuclear disaster. I stopped in my tracks with the headline Coal Tales Called Unfit for Fourth Grade. NatureStage’s current arts/education/empathy initiative which I am researching and developing is in response to just the sort of news that this article relates – corporate attempts at biasing the education of tomorrow’s leaders through a variety of methods. The coal industry is apparently pushing a curriculum they funded called United States of Energy which, according to the article, gives children “a one-sided view of coal, failing to mention its negative effects on the environment and human health…(Scholastic’s InSchool Marketing division) programs are “designed to promote client objectives and meet the needs of target teachers, students, and parents” and “make a difference by influencing attitudes and behaviors,” according to the company Web site (NYT article by Tamar Lewin).
It is exactly this sort of jargon, CLIENT, TARGET, and the sinister context of influencing attitudes and behaviors which is infiltrating our already broken and vulnerable system of public education. What are the types of leaders and citizens we would like to foster to invent and run new systems of education itself, as well as new systems of energy, transportation and food production which work from a platform of fairness and socially-just practices? We need to raise the bar for what human beings are capable of, a bar which is far higher than the corporate view of citizens as simply as consumers to be manipulated for profits. The power of arts in education is counteractive to this trend by giving students a sense of self-worth, self-knowledge and the empathy which comes from cooperation and finding a toolbox for their emotions. Arts in education is a challenge to the status quo and crucial to the health of our society. It’s been said so many times, but worth saying again.