The Homicide of the Arts

When I was a kid, I attended a small school that literally sat in the middle of cow pasture. It was a nice school, even having solar power which was very innovative for the time. We had music, band, drama and jewelry making — some the basic outlets thought sufficient for young people’s budding artistic sides.

June of this year, my young adult medical thriller, Deadly Design, was released by G.P. Putnam & Sons. I’ve always loved writing, and I remember receiving some encouragement from one of my teachers, but creative writing wasn’t taught or really encouraged. That’s why I thought I’d offer myself as a speaker in some of the schools in my area.

Deadly Design is a novel dealing with real science, both science that’s actually possible now and technologies that are in the works and will be possible in the very near future. Talking about the wonders of DNA and technology, coupled with the ability to talk about creative writing seems like a combination that could really inspire students.

Now I know that right now, especially in my home state, schools are strapped for money, and as a true believer in giving back, I offered to speak to students free of any fee. While some teachers are open to having authors come and speak with students, one district reacted in a way that was somewhat surprising to me. Basically I was told that any form of assembly in the school would take away from the time students have to prepare for standardized testing.

Hmm.

I will say that this did not come from a high up school official, but from a staff member who believed attempting to speak at the school would be pointless due to the time factor and the schools policy against assembles — large or small. Students need to have every possible moment dedicated to achieving high scores on their standardized tests.

Time to vent.

Okay, I’m not Stephen King or Neil Gaiman. I’m a local author, lucky enough to land a book deal with one of the big publishers. But as a kid from Kansas, I can tell you that having a local author come to one of my classes and tell me that someone who grew up looking out the window at cows could actually achieve such a thing, would have been amazing. Maybe even life changing.

Right now there may be a student who could be the next the King or Gaiman or Hemingway. Maybe all that student needs is a spark of inspiration. Maybe there’s a student who could be the next Stephen Hawking, just waiting to be dazzled by the mysteries and wonders of science, but alas, those students need to study for their tests.

To some extent, education has always been about conformity, but never to the extent that is it today. Just yesterday one of my students told me that she was denied access to certain courses in high school because she was told she should go in to a career working with her hands and not her mind.

Over 50 million children attend public schools in the United States. We hear about art and music programs being cut. Already, creative writing classes are basically nonexistent. We live in a society where children are exposed to a whole host of issues that would cause anxiety in the strongest of individuals, and yet instead of helping them deal with those issues through creative outlets, we add stress to their lives by forcing them to conform, to think inside the box.

In other posts, I’ve talked about my concern about the current suicide rates among children and teens. Suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst teens. We know that artistic outlets have helped children around the world in dealing with issues of anxiety, depression, even post traumatic stress disorder, and yet when kids are trying to figure out who they are, what their place in this complex world is, we put astronomic pressure on them to be “standard”. To pass tests that have bearing on the school’s budget, but not on the students’ lives. All while stripping them of the various ways that exploring the arts can offer in leading them to self-discovery.

I’m just one author, one voice in the cosmos, but there are seven billion voices in our cosmos, 300 million of them just in the U.S. I want to hear what those voices have to say. What they have to sing. I want to see what those individuals can create through dance and sculpt and painting. I want to feel the emotions those voices can inspire.

Standardizing testing may well be the homicide of our artistic future.