Saturday, April 5, 2008

Life: It's More than Math and Science

I have no doubt that a number of my friends have thought it odd that I would write even one blog about a television show, much less a number of blogs, and on top of it, spend time working to keep the television show on the air.

No two ways around it, I do think Jericho is one of the best programs on TV in a long time.

But, it's more than that.

While working as an Executive Director of a nonprofit organization in 2001, I was asked by a prospective major donor to put together a proposal as to how the organization would use his donation to help underprivileged kids.

Now, if this nonprofit organization had been located in a large, metropolitan city, the research I needed may have been somewhat easy to find.


I wasn't in a large, metropolitan city and neither was the nonprofit organization.

I was in Bozeman, Montana.

Not exactly the metropolis of the world -- neither Bozeman nor Montana.

However, the amounts of funds I was raising could compete with any fundraising project in the world. (Except for, of course, Barack Obama and he seems to be in a stratosphere all his own.)

When most people hear the term "underprivileged kids" they immediately think of urban kids; kids from the projects; kids whose neighborhoods are surrounded by cement, pavement, buildings, or chain link fences.

Not many people think of "underprivileged kids" as being from rural, farm America. Or kids whose homes are surrounded by vast open spaces, mountains, beautiful scenery and dirt roads.

Considering Montana is one of the lowest populated states and yet the 4th largest state in geographical size, I knew I had a challenge on my hands.

Thank goodness these kinds of challenges are something I find exciting.

In order for me to put together a proposal on how we were going to help underprivileged kids, I first needed to find them.

Considering the nonprofit organization I worked for was going to serve the entire state -- not just Bozeman -- I needed to set my sights state wide.

After careful and deliberate consideration, I began with the Census Bureau.


Was this a course in thread pulling. One thread led to this thread and then to that thread and then to another thread and so on.

By the time I had pulled more threads than I could count, I had piles and piles and stacks and stacks of facts, figures and important information.

Except I didn't know how it all fit together, what truths it held, how it all related, or how it was going to give me the answer for the best way to serve underprivileged kids.

Thankfully, I was raised by a mother who loved jigsaw puzzles and taught her kids and grandkids to love of them also.

With a jigsaw puzzle in mind, I began to separate each individual page I had downloaded and printed from the Census Bureau website into piles based upon likeness of information.

The first piles were:

  • Communities within the same county

OK, I now had all of the counties within Montana set before me, and in each county pile were the communities associated with each school district within those counties.

I then took each individual county pile and separated it into more piles within the boundaries of each specific county.

The piles within each county were first grouped by:

  • Communities with a high % of children under the age of 18 living below the poverty level
  • ...low % of children under 18 living below the poverty level

The next set of piles within these piles were:

  • Communities with a high % of the adults being college graduates
  • ...low % of the adults being college graduates

The next set of piles within these piles were:

  • School districts within these communities with more than a 90% graduation rate
  • ... under 90%

As I kept narrowing and narrowing the information into "likeness" piles, I began to see a pattern in EVERY SINGLE county.

The lower the education level of the majority of the adults, the higher the number of children under 18 living below the poverty level.

The lower the education level of the majority of the adults, the lower the graduation rate of the high schools.

The lower the education level of the majority of the adults, the more financial aid the federal government provided per person in that community/county.

As more patterns of similar results began to reveal themselves, I knew there had to be a common action happening during childhood years within each of these school districts, communities, and counties.

So, I started to pull the thread of "lower graduation vs. higher graduation" rates from high school.

This time I went to the Montana Office of Public Instruction (OPI) website and downloaded every piece of information they had on the standards set for K - 12 grades.

I then went to every single school district that had a website and downloaded all of their information on requirements for graduation. If a school district did not have a website, I called the main office and asked for the information over the phone.

And so began the process of dividing piles all over again.

What I discovered was fascinating!

The common link to all of the schools that were graduating LESS than 90% of their high school students was this:

They failed to meet the standards set by the Office of Public Instruction in ONE subject.

The Arts!

Every single school district was meeting the standard set for math, science, reading, etc., but they had either removed the arts completely from their school subjects OR they had lowered the standards for the arts set by the OPI OR they were allowing subjects such as a foreign language or a computer class or a vocational class to qualify for arts credits required for graduation.

I found the same results but reversed for those school districts that were excelling in their graduation rates AND for which most high school graduates went on to higher education. These schools districts emphasized the arts within their K - 12 grades as equally as they did math, science, reading, etc., not only did they meet the standards for the arts set by the OPI, but in most cases they excelled beyond these specific standards set for the arts.

With this information, I was able to create a state wide educational outreach plan through the performing arts and media arts that could come along side the public school system to reach underserved kids.

Through this process of puzzle solving, string pulling, and enlightened discovery, I also became very familiar with both the Getty Study and the Rand Study for the importance of arts education in K- 12 grades.

(Note: Due to the length of time between my initial study and today, I am not able to locate the original material online that I received from Getty and Rand as hard copies. However, I have included two links that relate to the original studies by each organization.)

Thankfully, the Getty and Rand studies explored the importance of arts within urban areas and school districts. What I learned in my own study and what the Getty and Rand studies teach us is that humanity shares a common thread...

The arts.

The arts are crucial to the way we express our emotions in a healthy and positive way.

The arts are crucial to the culture of our individual countries.

The arts are crucial to the way history is told.

The arts are crucial to the way we bond as human beings.

The arts are crucial to the process of teaching and learning.

The arts are crucial to the empowerment of a peaceful environment.

The arts are crucial to the development of a child becoming a well-equipped adult.

I fight so hard for the arts to become mandatory in every school in America because I know that the arts are more than a picture on a wall, more than a quality show on television, more than songs sung from a stage, and more than notes played on a clarinet.

I KNOW that the arts promote the desire for higher education, which in turn promotes elevated high school graduation rates, which in turn promotes a more educated work force, which in turn promotes higher levels of potential income, which in turn promotes less children under the age of 18 living below the poverty level, which in turn promotes less federal aid provided by the government, which in turn...

Look around you right many items can you see that came about because someone understood an artistic principle?

We have seen what an unbelievable catastrophe No Child Left Behind has created in our public schools. Graduation rates are at an all time low. We are learning on the news that schools are keeping separate books -- one to show the federal government and the other with true and accurate graduation rates they keep for themselves. These schools know if they revealed the truth about their actual graduation rates they'd lose federal funding.

This is crazy.

When are the adults in positions of power to make decisions going to stop looking at short term financial profits and start looking at long term investments in our children's future, the health of our economy, and the well-being of our ability to bond as human beings?

No, this is not just about a television show.

BUT, take a look at how THIS television show has bonded people from all over the world.

Life: it's not just about math and science.

(Note: the OPI standards have changed since I first conducted my study. The standard now set for the arts is even lower than when I completed my study in 2001.)

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