Friday, May 25, 2012

Dear Secretary Duncan...

Last night my family and I traveled to Connecticut to attend the Masuk High School choral concert conducted by Dr. Robyn Gangi.  What was so different from other concerts I have attended was that this was less a performance and more an invitation to watch a master teacher and his students create.  It was intimate, deeply moving, and reminded me of the immense value of the arts. To move an audience requires keen intellect, grand empathy, and significant skill. All were displayed last night and had I polled the audience I am confident that there would not have been one among us who would not have said that these young people are 'career and college ready' with nary a paper test to be had.

Have a listen. This was from last night.

Here's the choral group in 2009 (and yes, it is announced at this engagement that the choral group had been invited to sing at the Vatican).

The arts matter in ways we are simply foolish to not acknowledge. As Maxine Greene says, they disturb us into awakening.  They matter more than school math and school reading and the mountain of tests that accompany these subjects. They matter more than STEM and more than PISA results. They matter most, because they awaken the imagination allowing us to be better and (other)wise. Truly, in a world defined by its inter-connectivity, can there be anything as important as becoming (other)wise?  Regardless of our economic circumstances, geographies, gender, ideologies, beliefs--we learn and express what it means to be human via the arts.

Who will our children become when the influence of the arts is denied, repressed, underfunded?

Secretary Duncan, alongside the increased testing that you have supported, funded, and championed that narrowly focuses on school math, reading and writing--the arts are being written out of school budgets and the very academic subjects you want to be privileged are being reduced to only that which can be tested. Now to be sure,  I am not saying that you are the cause of this, but I am saying that your continued emphasis on high stakes testing makes the actions of school boards and administrators inevitable.  This out-of-whack funding will only get worse when billions more are siphoned from public school budgets to pay companies to produce Pineapplegate-quality tests.  More arts programs and deep engagements with learning will be underfunded, and along with these our children will be lost.

The idiocy of this is that the very outcomes your administration and moms like me seek can be found inside quality arts programs like Dr. Gangi's. The study of music is as scholarly as it is embodied; as serious as it is joyful. It is agency personified. Go ahead and look at these young people in Dr. Gangi's choral group and tell me that you cannot see their commitment and agency--hear their voice and skill.

Secretary Duncan, you need to help this country balance its priorities and can do so by recommending a moratorium on high stakes testing for just two years and in its stead fully funding the arts and teachers.

If you ask America's teachers, its local communities, and its artisans to solve the concerns related to student achievement--they will answer.  It will be the start of a revolution that privileges children, not profits; method and outcome.  By the way, Dr. Gangi is retiring from public education in a few weeks. Last night's concert and another scheduled in two weeks represent his final work with these students. He'll have some time on his hands and perhaps you could tap him and others like him who also are leaving public education and ask them to guide you.

If you ask, many will answer and nary a corporation will be among them.


  1. I am so sorry to hear that he is retiring. It makes me sad after seeing the passion he has for music,life and everything he does; he is very inspiring. I look up to him a great deal. Ican still hear his advice years later. Thank you Dr. Gangi

    With or without you: What a fantastic piece of music! Bravo Women! I heard he had a student put this together? Is that true? After listening to this piece I am very sad that I missed this concert. Bravo!

    1. I forwarded your response to Robyn as I thought he would want to see it. It is my understanding that the students had a big hand in With or Without You after Robyn introduced it to them. The video here doesn't really capture the quality of it. It felt holy.

      You may want to go to the June 7th concert.

      Thanks for your comments:)