Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Who Needs Arts Education, Anyway?

In my opinion, all of us.

I did actually hesitate for a few days before adding this post. Some might see it as "too political." I asked myself, though, how can I call myself a music teacher if I am too timid to speak up in support of arts education?

In the current economy, "all" spending is obviously under intense scrutiny. Of course, what's actually "on the table" depends a lot on who is AT the table - but that's another discussion. Educational costs are ALWAYS "on the table." Perhaps I'm not the only citizen who finds this baffling at best.

In Vermont this year (and, as I understand it, in all previous years when he's been Governor), Governor Jim Douglas repeatedly said "we spend too much on education." I heard almost no one within the educational system, within the media or within state government challenge the patent absurdity of that statement. I found this even more astonishing, I guess, than the statement itself.

The statement implies that the state of Vermont is spending lavishly on education - that every student is the recipient of luxurious services and amenities, all paid for by apparently unwilling citizens. While Douglas' statement is an easy target for criticism, it reflects an attitude held more widely than we might at first want to believe. In most town meetings, the school budget is rarely passed easily. Within the schoool budget, one item which seems to almost always be "on the table" is funding for arts education. I have far too often heard arts education referred to as a "frill" by people who ought to know better - in public and reported verbatim in the media. I find this incredibly short-sighted and distressing, and not only because I am a music teacher by profession.

All state and national standards for education of which I'm aware contain requirements for arts education - both visual and performing arts. They are specifically included within NCLB. If we as a culture, as a nation, have recognized the value of arts education, why has calling it a "frill" not become newsworthy in itself?

Over many years, I have found myself attempting to explain the value and significance of arts education to community members, to administrators, to other teachers. I have found a surprising number of people who do actually view arts education as a luxury, as something that would be really nice to offer given unlimited financial abundance, but as something that really can't be afforded when money is tight. Almost everyone who holds that view had the opportunity to receive arts education when they were in school. I am shocked that people who had the benefit of arts education for themselves - whether they enjoyed it or not, whether they pursued it further or not - are perfectly willing to deny the same opportunity to our children today.

The fact of the matter is that arts education is not a "frill." Arts education provides a different way of knowing and interacting with our world, a means of understanding and expressing life which is quite different from other ways of knowing, and despite being less easily quantifiable and less easily fit into conventional models of education, is equally valid and important. "Differentiated instruction" is the current standard of excellence in education. Arts education is "differentiated" for every student, providing every student with a unique opportunity to learn in their own best style, and to express themselves without the constraints of the more typical classroom setting. Arts education is the primary means available to students for exploring and growing their creativity, which is an essential skill that they will use every day for the rest of their lives. There are dozens of studies clearly showing the value of arts education for the development of a complete, well-informed, productive citizen. Visual and performing arts profoundly affect all of us every day.

I believe that if each of us finds any value in the arts for our daily lives, if we enjoy music or art ourselves, and if we value creativity as a gift to be used for the benefit of all, we must support arts education in our schools.

Monday, July 13, 2009

summer -at last! - in Maine

FINALLY, Day 4 of sun, blue skies and warmth after about a month of chilly rain! With any luck, the heat, sun and dry air will discourage the horrifying swarms of black flies.

"Summer in Maine"
For me, nothing says "summer in Maine" more perfectly than lunch on the lawn at the Jordan Pond House - open for lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner - on Mt. Desert Island. In an exquisite setting of Maine cottage design, glorious gardens, broad expanse of lawn sloping down to Jordan Pond with the view to the Bubbles, the perfect lunch is served. I like to have a garden salad with excellent blue cheese dressing, but the main event is a bowl of lobster stew accompanied by hot popovers. The lobster stew is full of big chunks of lobster meat, and is absolute simplicity - lobster, butter, cream and little else. The popovers are huge and hot, served with butter and good strawberry jam. I like to have one of the two popovers that comes with lunch alongside my stew, and the second with jam for dessert. Either lemonade or iced tea is lovely to drink with this lunch, but a short but good selection of beer and wine is also available. If you happen to have room left for dessert, wild blueberry crisp with Jordan Pond vanilla ice cream is wonderful. Linger and enjoy the view and the lovely afternoon.
If you have a dog, dogs are welcome on the lawn and waitstaff will bring a bowl of water to keep your pet comfortable.
After lunch, you can take a pleasant stroll down to or around the pond, depending on your energy level.

Near Northeast Harbor, don't miss Thuja Gardens, one of the finest public gardens I've ever seen. There is a small parking lot just to the right beyond the Asticou Inn, and you can take a short hike up to the gardens with views over Northeast Harbor and several attractive benches and pavillions at which to rest. The gardens themselves are extensive and magnificent, with huge rhododendrons, water features, manicured pink granite paths, wonderful trees, perennial borders. The small Arts-and-Crafts influenced cottage is worth a visit if it's open, and is home to an extensive botanical library. Paths from the gardens connect to trails of the rest of the island's system - good for a hike that can be as long and as challenging as you wish. Thuja Garden is one of the best examples of landscape design that you're likely to find. If you're a gardener, be sure to bring a camera, sketchbook and notepad to record ideas for your own garden.

Wasse's Hot Dogs Rt. 3 headed towards Augusta in Belfast, also in Rockland
Great grilled dogs with properly steamed rolls (warm, not soggy!), available with sauerkraut and good mustard, fried onions, with chili and/or cheese. Yes, it's Cheese Whiz. Yes, you want it on your chili dog. (Sophie, my spoiled-rotten greyhound says not to forget to get a plain dog for your puppy). Wicked cheap and wicked good. Also in Rockland.

Jordan's, Rt. 1 on left headed down east, just east of Ellsworth
First-rate fried seafood lunches and dinners, good coleslaw and buttered Parker House rolls! Everything at Jordan's is good, and they have ice cream, but the fried seafood is especially fine. There are tables inside and out, or you can get your food to go and drive down to Lamoine State Park for a picnic.

Joshy's, Rt. 1, Milbridge
Still the best - and best value - crabmeat rolls around. Toasted hot dog roll, a little lettuce, the freshest, sweetest crabmeat, a bit of mayonnaise, paprika on top. Perfection!

Be sure to spend some time in downtown Ellsworth, wandering the shops and having lunch or dinner at the fantastic Cleonice on Main Street - everything is delicious, but the tapas are great, varied - both classic and creative kinds. The sangria is wonderful. My favorite shops are the Grasshopper on Main Street / Rt. 1 South, a few doors north of Cleonice - also in Searsport, Rockland and Bangor - and Rooster Brother, just across the bridge on Rt. 1 South, a cook's and food-lover's dream come true.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Favorite New England inns and B&B's:
Inns at Blackberry Common, Camden, Maine
Notchland Inn, Hart's Location, NH
Charleston House Inn, Woodstock, Vermont
Rabbit Hill Inn, Lower Waterford, Vermont
MOST extravagant but wonderful - Twin Farms, Barnard, Vermont - don't miss "The Avaiary"
Charles Street Inn, Beacon hill, Boston, MA
Whitford House, Addison, Vermont

Vermont travels

A bit less travel lately, which is fine. Moving is quite stressful, and I'm really glad to be settled, at least for a while.
My most recent jaunt was to a meeting in central Vermont. I'd just finished reading "Libation" and "In Late Winter We Ate Pears" by Deirdra Heekin, co-owner with her husband Caleb Barber of Pane e Salute, a fabulous Italian restaurant in Woodstock, Vermont. The restaurant is as delicious as the books! Simple, fresh, local food in classic Italian tradition with a fantastic wone list selected carefully by Heekin. If you're in Woodstock, don't miss it!
I also had a somewhat well-behaved trip to the wonderful and very dangerous Baker's Store in Norwich, Vermont.