In proclaiming October as National Arts and Humanities Month, President Obama reminds us that the arts and humanities, embodied in Norman Rockwell’s “The Problem We Live With” which hangs just outside of the Oval Office, “often challenge us to consider new perspectives and to rethink how we see the world.”
As core academic subjects, the arts and humanities equip young persons with the capacities to learn from the past, question the present, and envision new possibilities for the future. They are essential to a well-rounded, P-12 education for all Americans. I join with President Obama and the First Lady in rejecting the notion that the arts, history, foreign languages, geography, and civics are ornamental offerings that can be cut from schools during a fiscal crunch.
The study of history and civics provides a sense of time beyond the here and now. The study of geography and culture helps build a sense of space and place. The study of drama, dance, music, and the visual arts helps students explore realities that cannot be summarized simply or even expressed in words or numbers.
A well-rounded curriculum that embraces the arts and humanities is not a luxury but a necessity in the information age. Young people need to be able to decipher complex digital communications; to appreciate and demand good design in their lives, communities, and the marketplace; to not be fooled by superficial aesthetics that appeal to the senses while masking half-truths or worse; and to turn the tables on technology by becoming skilled creators and not merely consumers of information.
For all these reasons, I urge all America’s school leaders – superintendents, principals, and school boards – to embrace a well-rounded education for all students. Our schools need to sustain arts and humanities programs where they are robust, and strengthen them where they are not. As President Obama notes, a well-rounded education will give students opportunities to be “the creative thinkers of tomorrow.”