Monday, April 30, 2012

Art Education and National Security: A Missing Link?

Tribute in Light 2011
Tribute in Light 2011. Image via flickr user Wasabi Bob

Hello art advocates! If you follow art policy news you've probably heard that there has been a lot of new arts education research lately, some of which could spell great news for arts advocates. I'll have more to say on that research later. But right now I'd like to draw your attention to a nugget I found in a report only tangentially related to arts ed. The report is on a fascinating subject - how shortcomings in our education system can have implications for our national security. So where does arts education fit in? Read on to find out.

A"failure of imagination"
     The report in question is the Council on Foreign Relations' Independent Task Force Report No. 68: U.S. Education Reform and National Security. (The Council on Foreign Relations is a nonpartisan membership organization and think tank that works to help members and the public "better understand the world and the foreign policy choices facing the United States and other countries.") It's a fascinating report for anyone with an interest in our education system, no matter what your politics are. The research examines everything from graduation rates to civics education. The data is then interpreted through the lens of national security - in terms of workforce preparedness, both for employees of government agencies as well as businesses and nonprofits.
     So how does this relate to the arts? Check out this quote, from the report's Recommendations portion:
"The 9/11 Commission highlighted four U.S. shortcomings that opened the door to the terrorist attacks. One of these was a failure of imagination on the part of U.S. security agencies.  In 2001, the failure to spot and connect the dots was catastrophic for the United States. The Task Force believes that all young people—those who aim to work in national security and those who aim to work in corporations or not-for-profit organizations—must develop their imaginations from an early age...The Task Force members believe that to retain this important competitive edge, lessons in creativity— whether in the arts or in creative analysis or imaginative problem solving, must begin in early elementary school." (page 47)

In other words, U.S. security agencies were so lacking in critical thinking skills that they were unable to "spot and connect the dots" that spelled tragedy and disaster in New York, Washington, and across the U.S. - and the world.

The Creativity Crisis meets National Security
     If you're familiar with the "creativity crisis" - the idea that strident focus on teaching to the test in American curricula is creating a workforce ill-prepared for the challenges of many of today's jobs - this realization that a "lack of imagination" can be catastrophic will not be terribly surprising. But this is the first I had seen the issue brought up in the context of our national security. 
     Of course I'm a little disappointed that the report does not take this important realization and translate it into a recommendation for an increase in arts education funding and resources for art teachers (it mentions extracurriculars and arts integration - both important, but not a replacement for a strong arts curriculum). Still, there is potential for implications of this report to become bigger if someone else took the recommendations and conducted further research.

Do you think this connection between the importance of imagination and creativity and our national security could help arts advocates? Have you seen examples of students ill-prepared for the challenges of the workforce? Tell me in the comments!