The desire to make decisions for one’s self, or to have a say in decisions that effect you, is what is at the root of all struggles for human rights. This is why making sure that all students in our public schools are tested with high stakes Common Core tests is not a civil rights issue. It is the imposition of a system that degrades our children’s humanity and denies the civil rights of some of our most vulnerable students.
A prescribed set of outcomes is being imposed on every child in every public school in America. The set of outcomes is very narrow and the definition of success based achieving those narrow outcomes is narrow as well. Anything else you may excel at doesn’t matter if you are a child in grades 3 through 8 (and grade 11) in our public schools today. Are you fluent it two, or maybe even three, languages? Doesn’t matter. Are you a kind and empathetic human who develops and carries out projects that benefit your community? Doesn’t matter. Do you have a great artistic talent that brings beauty and joy to those around you? Doesn’t matter. If you can’t “achieve” on the Great Big reading and math tests, you are “failing”.
The Oregon Department of Education’s report released in January of this year on “Effects of Essential Learning Skills on High School Graduation Rates” showed that the projected cost increase from the ’13-’15 to the ’15-’17 biennium for administration of the new “Smarter Balanced” assessments over the old OAKS system is $7.3 million dollars. The total cost predicted for the assessment system in the 2015-2017 biennium is $27.7 million. This seems like a lot of money to be spent when we are cutting things like Physical Education, Foreign Languages and the Arts, things which address the diverse needs of our students and promote their ability to achieve diverse dreams rather than conform to someone else’s dystopian vision of them as part of a “global workforce”.
Yesterday two different friends posted videos of students at two different schools, very far away from each other, that both included traditional dances. This is what got me thinking about how beautiful our diverse world is, and how wrong it is to be cutting arts programs from our kids’ education. These videos impressed on me that fact that the arts, in this case dance, are so much a part of every human culture: dance is a human need. It is found in every culture. We use it to express ourselves in times of joy and sadness, to celebrate and to worship. We are removing the humanity from education when we try and make everyone conform to a single way of being or “achieving". We are removing the humanity from education when we replace funding for the arts with funding for standardized tests that enforce that conformity.
Here are the two videos that my friends shared. The first one is from Niyo Cultural Center in Kigali, Rwanda. As my friend who posted it said, “I could watch this all day.” It just emanates joy, and from children whose lives are very difficult. Dance has that power: to express and bring us joy, and maybe make us forget our troubles, even if only for a little while.