Condy Rouses Education Debate—And What of the Arts?

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice addresses the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla., on August 29, 2012. (AP Photo)
In her speech last night at the Republican National Convention (RNC), Dr. Condoleezza Rice called failing schools "the civil rights issue of our day."

"We need to give parents greater choice; particularly poor parents, whose kids—most often minorities—are trapped in failing neighborhood schools," she said from her podium in Tampa, Fla. "This is the civil rights struggle of our day."

She continued: "If we do anything less, we will condemn generations to joblessness, hopelessness and dependence on the government dole. To do anything less is to endanger our global economic competitiveness. To do anything less is to tear apart the fabric of who we are and cement a turn toward grievance and entitlement."


Rice's apparent commitment to improving public education, and her belief that by paying attention to our children and their ability to think on their own they will go on to contribute to society instead of relying on help, resonate. For two reasons: One, because the connection between a good education and an ability to be successful as an adult is obvious; and two, because in creating betterArts I've found myself paying a whole lot more attention to educational funding (and, by extension, arts education funding).

Despite the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, public education and the arts continue to suffer in American schools, especially in poor and minority communities. One-quarter of all school principals report decreased instructional time for the arts, with only 8 percent reporting an increase, according to the Council for Basic Education. The percentage of students involved in music is now at its lowest point in 20 years, declining from 18.5 percent of the total student population to just 10 percent.

So here's some information specifically on the power of arts education. Maybe this is something our leaders on every level should consider when redrafting budgets:
  • Studies have shown students who study the arts are more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, be elected to class office, and score higher on the SAT. 
  • Students who study art are less likely to be involved with drugs; and students who were in band or orchestra reported the lowest lifetime and current use of all substances
  • In 2010, there were 20 million visits from every corner of Toronto to city-supported arts events. Every dollar Toronto invests in arts organizations attracts $17 more from private and public sources. Arts and culture funding has a great return on investment
  • In the United States, every few cents the government puts toward arts education gets an estimated 7-cent return.
  • Students who are educated in the arts are three times as likely to graduate high school
This is one area of federal funding where we actually see returns on the investment—which additionally means lower costs in welfare, food stamps, and more. Lots and lots of returns. Food for thought as the deficit continues to soar and we debate where to cut the fat.

“When Winston Churchill was Prime Minister and he was told that there were going to be major cuts in arts and culture because of the mounting costs of World War II, he responded with a simple reply, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’”

For more information, check out these sites:
National Endowment for the Arts
Creative Coalition

Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.