Music. Art. Culture. Writing.
This post originally appeared on the ARTSblog for Americans for the Arts.
PDX, Stumptown, the City of Roses, Portlandia, Bridgetown. All of these offer a glimpse into my “second-tier,” west coast city—Portland, OR—nestled between majestic Mt. Hood and the brisk and rugged Pacific coast.
After four years away I’m back with a fresh perspective, a renewed commitment to the arts, and a job that gives me an unparalleled perspective into the world of education across the country.
I also have a vested interest in the educational system here—my daughter entered kindergarten last September. She is now a student in the Portland Public School District, Oregon’s largest district, in a state that has the fourth-worst graduation rate in the country.
As a father, I cringe at stats like that. I worry about the quality of her education, especially when we emphasize assessment and test scores over creativity and collaboration.
As a writer and researcher working in education, I know we can do better.
As an artist, I see that Portland’s system of education has failed to harness the very best of Portland’s innovative and creative talent.
So, what would make Portland a better place and bring it to the next level?
How about a world-class education system that combines the best of Portland’s imaginative and artistic energy with the best approaches to education? To get there, we need more than essential arts education. We also need the creative process shaping instruction, policy, engagement, and implementation. And we need you.
Not too much to ask, is it?
I hope your answer is no.
Portland does so many things well. We are consistently rated as America’s most bike-friendly city and lauded for the best public transportation system in the country. We rank at the top for amazing food and food trucks, have a well-funded arts and culture council and a vital creative sector, and we compete nationally in the realm of urban sustainability.
Portland also attracts hordes of young creative talent and recently appointed its first Creative Laureate, an advocacy position designed to “engage the city in conversations about the arts, education, and creative industries.”
We’ve also got the Creative Advocacy Network (CAN), a nonprofit organization committed to securing a “dedicated funding stream for arts and arts education.” Their CANifesto opens: “The arts are not a luxury. Not here.”
Given all of this, I don’t see any reason Portland can’t have an education system that is also the envy of the nation, one that harnesses the creative capital we already possess and takes our ability to create, innovate, and lead to forge an education system that truly thrives. Do you?
That said there’s much happening in education here to instill a sense of hope and progress.
Portlanders also recently approved new taxes to support education. In November we said yes to a $482 million bond measure to “rebuild and upgrade Portland Public Schools buildings” and a measure that funds art education and arts organizations.
In pockets of innovation around the state, proficiency-based instruction has started to take hold supported by a new grading policy from the state Board of Education. Portland also has an under-utilized alternative school network that could help drive creative engagement with youth and families.
GettingSmart.com recently discussed our entrepreneurial energy and potential for innovation. But they also point to our general reluctance to reform education. Our language is, at times, exhausted—revitalize, reinvest, remodel, renew. Our approach lacks vigor.
Sounds like we need the arts more than ever.
With a statewide goal for the Class of 2025 of a 100 percent graduation rate, we need fresh thinking and constructive processes for getting us there.
This is my daughter’s class. I’m invested. But it’s not enough that my daughter—or any student—simply graduates. She must graduate with essential 21st century skills that include, as Kay and Greenhill write, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity and innovation.
Here the arts are vital. Because we need to create, push boundaries, and invent. We need to explore the edges where change occurs and then push ourselves to manage that change. Through the process of inquiry, through play and attention to passion and engagement, our students can become innovation ready.
The catch is that they won’t get there unless adults do the same. The time to engage in the process of creating is at hand.
How can educators, artists, entrepreneurs, administrators, parents, and local leaders join minds to drive innovation?
How can we tap our rich social and creative assets to transform how we teach, how we learn, and our children’s capabilities?
How can we ensure that the process of educating our students right now is a creative one that results in essential 21st century skills?
How do we create a new system that looks, feels, operates and performs in ways that we cannot currently envision?
I’m confident we can artistically guide our learners to succeed on the path ahead, that we can make our system sing and bridge the gaps between two of Portland’s crucial sectors: arts and education. But we all need to engage to create solutions, to tap into what we do well and lift our education system to a new level.
Only one question remains to stimulate a cultural transformation for Portland, for my daughter, for all of our children: are you willing to participate?