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Changing What’s ‘Critical’ When it Comes to Education

Only 63 percent of San Diego County students are considered proficient in English Language Arts and only 53 percent are proficient in History-Social Science.

When Dr. Sally Bennett-Schmidt from the San Diego County Office of Education spoke to the LEAD San Diego IMPACT cohort to share these metrics, the nearly unanimous reaction was shock and disbelief.

While these numbers are increasing, the pressure to continue an upward trajectory, coupled with cuts in education funding, mean instructors focus heavily on language, science and math, but have little time to spend on other areas, such as visual and performing arts.

While some may think painting, woodworking, music or theatre are not as important when looking at these startling proficiency scores, the cohort learned it’s precisely this misconception that is hurting our educational system, our kids and our future workforce.

Dr. Ed Abeyta, director of K-16 education at UC San Diego Extension, suggested it’s a disservice to our students if we don’t give them the time and opportunity to experience what the arts can bring to a “left brain” mind.

In the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, students are taught to memorize complex solutions often without real-world application. They’re taught that there’s one right way and one right answer. Whereas in the arts, students are rewarded for thinking outside the box, being creative and employing divergent thinking to come up with multiple solutions. Yet, when looking at our ideal future workforce, we need scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians to be innovative, think outside the box and develop new solutions to old problems, and we need artists who can help convey this technical data visually.

“We’re really good at killing creativity,” said Barbara Edwards with Math for America San Diego.

Instead, she suggested, we need to create curriculum and instruction that fosters creativity and invites students into a puzzle or problem.

Our esteemed speakers from UC San Diego’s CREATE, Math for America San Diego, San Diego Science Project, University of San Diego and UC San Diego Extension are all pushing to change this paradigm in education by looking at how incorporating the arts, while changing instructional approaches, can help create a future workforce proficient in the STEM disciplines but also well-versed in “right brain” activities and open to looking at things in a different way. They suggested we should no longer focus solely on the STEM principles, but incorporate the arts and divergent thinking into those areas, which is often referred to as the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics) movement.

There’s clearly much work to be done to shift this effort for a movement into systematic change. So what can we do as business and community leaders to help change what we deem to be “critical” in educational instruction to ensure we have a workforce well-equipped to tackle the problems of tomorrow?

Whether it’s joining the PTA, tutoring, fundraising for arts programs in schools, letting your voice be heard at the school board level or hosting a teacher at your workplace to talk about skills the future workforce will need, there’s a number of ways we as a community can get involved in the education of our children.

By shifting our educational paradigms, empowering teachers with the tools to keep students engaged and stimulated, and encouraging community members to become active participants in education, we’ll not only see increased student success, but a better-equipped workforce and, ultimately, a better quality of life for our region.

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