Anesthetic or Aesthetic:
Arts Education at the Crossroads
Over the past few years at Lincoln Center Institute (LCI) I have had the great pleasure of hosting visitors from around the globe, representing over 40 countries. Many of these countries have begun developing their own institutes of aesthetic education. As we discuss the meaning of “aesthetic” education, one point is a given: it is the opposite of what John Dewey calls “anesthetic” education. By that I mean that we are advocates of education that creates an environment of wakefulness and awareness, as opposed to numbness. An education that educates through intellectual and imaginative development, that integrates learning across the grade levels, creating what Howard Gardner calls “Pathways of Knowledge.” Such education contributes to the creation of an informed citizenship, a society in which each student is a vital member—here or abroad.
Which brings me to the recent U.S. presidential election, many of the congressional and gubernatorial races, even some of the local campaigns.
Sixty percent of voters voted, the largest voter turnout in many decades—but that still leaves us with 40 percent of the registered voters who did not vote. Do they feel so disenfranchised by political process, that they have “elected” to opt out? Have they tuned out the white noise of political banter? Have they become weary of candidates who tell them whatever it takes to get elected? This white noise is so overwhelming that following the debates the major networks felt compelled to have “truth squads” analyze the (mis)information slung by one candidate or another. How can these actions lead us toward awareness, toward the values implicit in aesthetic education?
Perhaps we should turn the tables, by implementing a system of penalties that would give something back to our schools. What if financial penalties were leveled on any political candidate who knowingly told an “untruth” to the voting public? These funds could then be used to support a curriculum designed to teach our nation's youth to develop informed viewpoints. In other words, a curriculum preparing them to live as informed individuals in a democratic society. What if another penalty was to withhold a block of votes on Election Day from the guilty candidate(s), based on the theory that the votes were received through deceit? How about if the candidate was required to write, “I am sorry for lying” 100 times on a blackboard, Internet-based, of course?
Far fetched? Of course it is. But don't our children deserve honesty from our nation's leaders? Isn't it time to take back the moral playing field and demand that all our leaders, both parties, in all our elections, stand firmly as role models of the clear, informed discourse we are trying to teach our children in schools? Horace Mann knew that “education is the balance wheel of the social machinery.” Let's keep that machinery running smoothly by educating our students, and, respectfully, those around the world, to grapple with the truth; to be imaginative and informed thinkers.