In November of 2014, the New Mexico Art Education Association bestowed on me a singular privilege and honor: the Max Coll and Catherine Joyce Coll Award for Arts Education.
The award stemmed from my participation in a group of dedicated rabble-rousers to support and eventually pass Rep. Max Coll’s Fine Arts Education Act. This law, passed by the New Mexico Legislature in 2003, has resulted in arts experiences for thousands of children who would otherwise have had no access to the arts.
When I accepted this generous award in Las Cruces last November, I made some remarks that people have since said were worth repeating. I decided to repeat them here.
The text below is adapted from my notes for that speech.
There have been reform movements in education, including ones that claimed to “get back to the basics.” But we have done nothing more than tweak a badly-designed, factory-inspired system. What no one noticed, in the rush to rule an industrialized world, was that the arts have always been the first, best teachers.
The arts engage, inspire, provoke, encourage, and connect us. They invite us to see things that are not at first obvious. The arts enlist all our intelligences, all our modalities, and all our experiences in the mission of making sense of the world.
When we give learning back to children by giving away the secret to playfully creating meaningful art, we are helping our children become healthy, aware, and empathetic citizens of the 21st century. We are restoring their birthrights: to participate fully in life, to fail and try again, to fail again and try again, to succeed, and — most importantly of all — to feel deeply.
Arts experiences are aesthetic ones. “Aesthetic” means “suffused with feeling, sensation, or emotion.” What is the opposite of aesthetic experiences? Anesthetic ones. The kind our children have every day, all day, in school.
Let’s stop deadening our children in the name of educating them. Let’s instead show them how to wear their feelings on their sleeves. Let them think as dancers, scientists, musicians, mathematicians, poets, painters, engineers, playwrights, historians, filmmakers, and — most importantly of all — as whole beings.
An artist is not a different type of person. Each one of us is our own, unique artist. Let’s help each child make that discovery, and let us return to teaching and learning from each other with beauty and grace.