My eyes danced across fabulous paint strokes & creations, my ears enveloped themselves in the wonderful tones of vocal & instrumental performance at this visual & performing arts high schoolWhat talent. Our fluctuating cohort of educator hopefuls spent its third and final day of public schools visitations at a magnet school geared towards the visual and performance arts. Four music students played pieces on the acoustic guitar for us as a welcome, to warm us up for student-led tours and classroom visits.
I was not only impressed by the talent of these students, but by the personalities and general ambition that it was so easy to see. Even more interesting, as the students involved in leading tours introduced themselves, their majors, and what they aspire to study, I noticed the disparity between their current major at the high school and their desired major at the college they were seeking to attend. I hadn't expected it. Given a special talent and focus in a secondary school, wouldn't you want to further and develop that into a future career?
Now wait a second, is this the crux of hypocrisy or what? I did not attend a magnet high school, but during my time at a suburban public high school, my passion for art was quite obvious and according to the visual art classes I packed into my schedule, it was almost as if I were "majoring" in Art to the extent that I could. Did I further that in my college studies? A wildlife conservation major would indicate no, however I did declare the art minor a year into my studies.
I asked the student panel later in the program if they felt there was a balance between the arts focus of their major and the other academic areas and if those areas suffered as a result of the arts emphasis? They said they felt the school was strong in all subject areas and that they always made time for other homework and papers. One of the administrators/coordinators of the public school programs had also mentioned earlier that research shows that this study and envelopment in the arts really helps kids to learn their academics and actually turns them on to education.
This all brings me to a question, though. Should we have magnet high schools that select children based on talent, performance, and demeanor? Does this "choice" create a biased and elitist system that leaves other children in the dark?
I was very much impressed by this magnet school. I felt almost like I was in a college classroom as I witnessed a final presentation and critique of a student's artwork in a "mini gallery" in the school. But I also felt like it did not show an accurate representation of Newark's general student population, due to the selectivity factor.
I truly do feel that the ability to dive into art and expression in high school helped me fulfill that within myself and supported my performance in other academic areas. And while studies show the effects of the arts exposure may benefit students in learning other subject areas (Sousa, pg 217), wouldn't this put other students not in magnet schools at a disadvantage? If I received this benefit at a non-magnet school (granted it was a suburban school in a better financial position than many urban schools), I think students should be able get this out of other non-selective public schools as well, even on a lower budget. Giving the students an opportunity to focus and choose a specialty school can be a great thing, but the fact is also that we are choosing them and leaving others out.
Sousa, David A. How the Brain Learns. Corwin Press, Thousand Oaks, CA, 2006.