How familiar are you with the Tools of the Mind curriculum that’s transforming the way the most successful young students (of all socio-economic backgrounds) are learning? Not at all? I suggest you start with this story from NPR.
Don’t worry. I’ll wait till you get back. (And if you don’t come back at all, you’ll still be better off for having read that story anyway, and that’ll make me happy for you. So just go.)
Okay, so… having read that, can anyone tell me how any of what those kids are doing is fundamentally different than making theater?
Before they start playing — and there’s the magic confluence of the two meanings of the word “play” — they write scripts describing what they’re going to do and who they’re going to be. They do sketches that might very well pass for set designs. They read the script aloud — that’s a staged reading right there — and then they choose their props and put the whole thing on its feet. Boom: a play.
I first encountered Tools of the Mind while reading Nurture Shock, which was recommended to my wife by our son’s pediatrician, of all people. What’s most spectacular about the curriculum is that the more you learn about it, the more astonished you are by its unflagging success at making modern children feel empowered, creative, enthusiastic, unafraid to experiment, and engaged in learning… all while still doing well on the standardized tests that currently make the educational world go around.
It’s not long before you begin to wonder why it isn’t in use in every American elementary school. (And then you remember the regressive curricular decisions in Kansas, Texas, and Louisiana, just to name a few, and you realize why.) It should at least be more widely implemented. And I’m not just saying that as some guy with a kid who finds the whole thing fascinating. I’ve read the same thing from experts again and again.
The next time anyone tries to tell you that arts education doesn’t matter, I suggest you share the same NPR story I’ve just shared. As far as I can tell, the arts seem to be an irrepressible part of education: they won’t go away no matter how little funding you give them, because making art is being human. But an arts-like program with an amazing track record of success far beyond that of any more traditional drill-and-kill learning style? If you aren’t convinced by that, you don’t generally want to make the United States educational system better. And you probably hate kids.