Students are more than the core
When I was vice president of the teachers union, 2006–2012, one of my responsibilities was to select three pieces of student work from the annual CH-UH art show to purchase for display in our union office. The artwork that our students create is so personal and interesting that it always took me a long time to choose. Once I had selected, I’d contact the art teacher to find out if the art I had chosen was, in fact, for sale. Most students were happy to sell their work, but not always.
If you visit our office at Lee and Mayfield roads, you will see that all of the art on the walls is from these student shows. It is a constant reminder of not only how important our students are, but also how important non-core academic courses are as a source of enrichment in our lives.
Students in the CH-UH schools are lucky to have the opportunity to take visual and performing arts classes. Many school districts see these classes as unimportant “fluff,” because they are not tested by the state. The state seems uninterested in whether our students are well rounded or interested in school, but is concerned only with how they perform in a few subjects.
I agree that the core skills are foundational and need to be mastered. Everyone should be functionally literate and computationally savvy, but those may not be the most important skills our students learn in school.
The state does not measure if students have empathy, patience, or work well with others. The state and, in some instances, local school boards, show little interest in whether students can create a significant piece of art, perform an instrumental solo, or move people with an original poem.
Most everything that makes a student unique is overlooked. In fact, there is a subtle movement by education “deformers” to use the word scholars to refer to students. The implication being that nothing is as important as what students learn for the state tests. Scholars first and athletes second, leaving no room for an artist or a dancer, a novelist or an oboist. But students are multifaceted and complicated, and not one-dimensional.
In my classroom, I have students who do so many amazing things outside of academics.
Some of my students are employed, learning really important life skills that you don’t get in a classroom. Others are involved in a myriad of activities. I know these outside pursuits can sometimes interfere with learning algebra, but students who are enjoying interesting pursuits outside of school usually find a way to keep up with their studies. It would be hard to imagine how dull life would be for kids who had only academics and no other outlets.
I believe that students who have difficulty academically are at risk of having creative opportunities closed to them. In elementary school, students who don’t finish their work, or who need extra test preparation, may be kept in from recess or steered away from learning an instrument.
Taking away the enriching parts of life for our students will not produce vibrant, curious and thoughtful adults. We feel the pressure to prepare students academically, but often creative or physical activities help focus a student’s mind for the core learning. I believe we need to take a step back and think about the bigger picture of what students should be learning in school. We need to ensure that our students learn what our community values.
Ari Klein is a lifelong community member, math teacher at Cleveland Heights High School, and president of the Cleveland Heights Teachers Union.