Such is the case with Orchard Gardens K-8 Pilot School in Roxbury, Mass., which experienced incredible academic results after dumping its security guards for art teachers:
The school was plagued by violence and disorder from the start, and by 2010 it was rank in the bottom five of all public schools in the state of Massachusetts.So let me get this straight: if you treat children like criminals, they will act like criminals; but if you allow them to express themselves through art, they will flourish as artists? Wow. What a novel concept!
That was when Andrew Bott — the sixth principal in seven years — showed up, and everything started to change.
“We got rid of the security guards,” said Bott, who reinvested all the money used for security infrastructure into the arts.
In a school notorious for its lack of discipline, where backpacks were prohibited for fear the students would use them to carry weapons, Bott’s bold decision to replace the security guards with art teachers was met with skepticism by those who also questioned why he would choose to lead the troubled school.
“A lot of my colleagues really questioned the decision,” he said. “A lot of people actually would say to me, ‘You realize that Orchard Gardens is a career killer? You know, you don't want to go to Orchard Gardens.’”
But now, three years later, the school is almost unrecognizable. Brightly colored paintings, essays of achievement, and motivational posters line the halls. The dance studio has been resurrected, along with the band room, and an artists’ studio.
The end result? Orchard Gardens has one of the fastest student improvement rates statewide. And the students — once described as loud and unruly, have found their focus.
“We have our occasional, typical adolescent ... problems,” Bott said. “But nothing that is out of the normal for any school.”
The school is far from perfect. Test scores are better, but still below average in many areas. Bott says they’re “far from done, but definitely on the right path.”
Art is an important aspect of any education. It inspires curiosity and creativity. Our public schools, on the other hand, promote the exact opposite: indoctrination and conformity. So it's no surprise that the political class running our "education" system opposes funding for art programs. After all, what use do the lowly serfs have for art when they're being trained to be obedient workers?
Now more than ever, our children need art programs. Does this mean we should spend more on education in order to fund them? No. The fact still stands that we already spend more per student per captia than any other country save Switzerland. The problem is not how much we spend on education, but rather what we spend on education.
We need to follow this school's example and shift our education funding from security towards art. In this post-Columbine world, it has been far too common for schools to invest in metal detectors and drug sniffing dogs in order to prevent something as rare as a school shooting, and following Sandy Hook, it's becoming an increasing temptation to do so, especially with the NRA pushing for armed guards.
No. Our schools do not need armed guards. They need art teachers. They need music directors. They need drama teachers. They need to allow students to express themselves through art and music and theater and literature. They do not need to train them to fear and submit to authority by forcing them to learn in an already authoritarian environment.
And we don't even need the federal government for this. After all, this school was transformed, not by the Department of Education, but by one principal. That's all we need: one person in one school in one district making one decision to make a difference. As Gandhi once said: "Be the change you wish to see."
So do your part and help bring art to our schools. If your school doesn't have an art program, then demand one. Write your superintendent. Speak out at a PTA meeting. If your school does have an art program, then see what you can do to contribute. Volunteer as an art instructor. If it's underfunded, see what you can do to raise money for it. Donate money. Organize a fundraiser. Do whatever you can to ensure students have access to art. Art helps them learn to think outside of the box; and with our "education" system designed to train them to do the exact opposite, we desperately need it.