Kindness seems in short supply in the world lately. Turning on the news can be really disheartening, even frightening. Not only world and national events, but the response to those events-in the media, by politicians and on social media-can leave you wondering if much of the world has forgotten that Golden Rule thing. Kindness and compassion are in short supply.
I am an arts educator. I also have a daughter in kindergarten. My two roles combined leave me having a lot of conversations with my close colleagues lately about kindness, education and the arts.
For (too) many years, No Child Left Behind forced arts educators to put their focus on raising academic achievement using the arts as a tool. Music in service to math, drama in service to reading and writing. While there is evidence that the arts can be a great tool for learning in other content areas, arts educators during the NCLB era have too often been asked not to focus on what they know they do best.
Fostering kindness, creating compassion, building community. This is what arts educators do best.
High-quality arts educators are not just great at teaching their content area. The best ones also create classrooms where competition is minimized, collaboration is required, creativity is rewarded and praise and encouragement are offered not only to the student who gets the right answer, but to the student who takes a risk, offers a helping hand, plays as a team and offers a unique perspective.
The ability to show kindness and compassion are considered “soft skills” that are difficult to assess, and some may even feel these skills are for parents to teach their children and not the job of schools. But if children are to spend the majority of their waking hours at school, a school must bare some responsibility to create a community of compassion.
If you ask many successful adults who their favorite teacher was in school, it is likely they will tell you it was their art, music, dance or drama teacher. And it’s not just the kindness of the teacher they will recall, it is also the sense of belonging they felt in that teacher’s classroom, too.
Putting a paintbrush, a trombone or a script in a child’s hand, and giving them that feeling they are part of a community where they feel safe and cared for will reap untold benefits for their future as caring and creative citizens of the world. It may even stop a lonely and isolated person from putting a gun in their hand.
This morning one of our Artists in Schools and Communities grant recipients, the Holter Museum of Art, sent a photo. They recently completed a residency with artist and Tibetan Monk, Yeshi Rinpoche.
The caption on the photo read: “Student working on collaborative mandala of great compassion.”
The photo and the caption really struck me, a collaborative mandala of great compassion. As much as the world needs students who graduate with high reading and math skills, it is critical that these same high-achievers be able to collaborate, and know how to show great compassion.
This quote resonates as I consider the power arts educators have to be change agents in creating a more compassionate world for our children:
“It’s not our job to toughen our children up to face a cruel and heartless world. It’s our job to raise children who will make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” –L. R. Knost
I hope decision-makers and administrators take their responsibility to foster kindness and compassion in their school community into consideration the next time they consider cutting an art or music program. We could all stand to live in a world that is a little less cruel and heartless.