It’s Thursday morning and the press is chock-a-block with the sort of factoids that should make any American wince. For example:

  • One in five Americans believes our President is a Muslim. Equally scary, 25 percent of Americans believe that Muslims are not patriotic Americans.  Three cheers for the combo platter of ignorance and intolerance!  (Somebody please listen to what Colin Powell says at 4:40 of this video.)
  • But it doesn’t seem that de-emphasizing art education is boosting other literacies. According to The Wall Street Journal, “fewer than 25% of 2010 graduates who took the ACT college-entrance exam possessed the academic skills necessary to pass entry-level courses.”


13 Responses to “Factoids of the day: Wheels are falling off the wagon edition”

  1. This is a recent post from my blog: August 16th – Time and Space Some thoughts on creativity and arts in our culture.

    I began my day as I usually do, reading The New York Times, checking e-mail, taking a look at my Twitter account. The Times had a feature story by Matt Richtel smack dab on the front page about five neuroscientists who spent a week this past May camping and rafting on the San Juan River in a remote part of southern Utah. The goal of the trip: “to understand how heavy use of digital devices and other technology changes how we think and behave, and how a retreat into nature might reverse those effects.”

    Later in the day I came across a blog, “Mind Hacks”, written by Vaughan Bell. Mr. Bell criticizes the “science” in the trip described in the Times. “Scientifically, the trip is next to useless, as even if the team was doing research in the wild it tells us nothing specific about technology.” True, the scientists are the subjects of their own study and there are too many variables to sort out whether simply being outdoors alters our relationship with technology.

    It does seem clear, however, that the trip provided these scientists, their guide and the reporter and photographer accompanying them, time and space away from the everyday. Time to relax. Time to think. Time to share ideas. Todd Braver, a psychology professor at Washington University participating in the trip noted, “There’s a real mental freedom in knowing no one or nothing can interrupt you”…He echoes the others in noting that the trip is in many ways more effective than work retreats set in hotels, often involving hundreds of people who shuffle through quick meetings, wielding BlackBerrys, “It’s why I got into science, to talk about ideas.”

    Shortly after reading the Times piece, I discovered through Twitter a talk by John Cleese on creativity. In it, Mr. Cleese reminds us that being in a cluttered environment of lists, phone calls, multitasking, is not what creativity needs. He recommends creating an oasis for creativity to flourish. That means boundaries of space where there are no interruptions and a defined period of time dedicated solely to the creative task.

    Finally, I came across a Wall Street Journal blog by John Edwards III, “Creativity Is On the Decline – And Why It Matters”. There has been a flood of articles on this subject recently, appropriately so in my opinion, as we battle antiquated curriculum and greater insistence on testing in our schools. Mr. Edwards concludes his blog with these questions: “Readers, how important do you think creativity is to your children’s development and to your own workplace and career? Is creativity encouraged in your workplace or your family’s school? Are there things you’ve done or plan to do to encourage greater creative thinking on both fronts? Any fun creativity-boosters you recommend for kids or adults?”

    Having begun my day with my typical media bath, I nonetheless found some time and space away from family distractions, bill paying, job hunting, and all the other tasks that interfere with my own creativity to think on my own a bit.

    It would be simple and easy if our schools could help reverse the decline in creativity. Alas, not enough schools, not enough brave teachers, are able to pose problems to their students that require reflective solutions. We aren’t asking enough, or even any, questions in school that prompt creative endeavor. Creativity is problem solving, finding unrecognized connections. Time and space to solve a problem need not be mandated as Mr. Cleese suggests, but clearly ample time and space are helpful. Even based on the “unscientific” evidence provided by five vacationing scientists. As wonderful as it might be, however, there is no way to send every classroom on a trip down the San Juan River. Where in school, in the school day, do students have time and space to reflect, to dream, to relax enough to think creatively? Can we ask the questions and make the space for solutions? Why do we limit the possibilities for creativity to school and work? What about at home? Turn off a few devices and dream. Play in the backyard. As for me, I wrote this in the morning before anyone else in the family was awake. Now for a shower, and perchance, some more time to dream.

  2. cory huff says:

    When I was in high school, we had drama, painting, acapella choir, and one of the only actual radio stations. I was blessed to attend an arts-rich school. I thought all schools were that way. Then, after I graduated, I started hearing about things like that NYC statistic. Sad stuff.

    Having the Arts around saved my life, quite literally. It’s too bad that the ‘something had to be cut’ attitude means that it’s the Arts.

  3. Pete says:

    Thank you for the link to Colin Powell’s comments regarding the perceived need to be a Christian to lead this country, or the fact that being a Muslim precludes someone from leading it. I have always asked that same question (“So what if he is a Muslim?”) and frankly was disappointed that I didn’t hear Barack Obama or others state that during the campaign. Maybe he did, but it was not said often or loudly enough. Thanks for pointing it out today.

  4. Rosanne says:

    Doesn’t this just depress the hell out of you? Of what value is the tsunami of information that comes at us each day if people ignore the important things? I would be willing to bet that more Americans under 40 can name the cast of Jersey Shore than the members of the Supreme Court. Survey anyone?

  5. Sue Melone says:

    Education news continued from yesterday’s report: 30% of first year college students fail to return for their second year. Without these “wheels” how can this country thrive? I am reminded of Hemingway’s quote from The Sun Also Rises: “How did you go bankrupt? Gradually, then suddenly.” We will all share this far-reaching outcome.

  6. Joe Sherrier says:

    Apparently, 75% of Americans would NOT wince at your factoid. Fear is an effective teaching tool, unfortunately.

  7. Juliosus says:

    These issues are all connected. Creativity is more than just about art, it’s about fostering critical (or perhaps, nonlinear?) thinking. Critical thinking permeates not only how we take in information, but also how we seek it. A narrow-minded education system creates a narrow-minded citizenry that is more susceptible to taking what they’re given without question.

    Sacrificing the potential to create knowledge in order to address our ability to absorb information. *Sigh* Some days I swear we could just change our country’s motto to “…where the cure is perpetually worse than the problem.”

  8. Terri says:

    Ask how many people do not believe in evolution! The answer may surprise you how far up the food chain there are people who do not believe in evolution.

    I proud of my daughter who is going for a BFA (Bach in Fine Arts) at a state university rather than an art college (accpeted to both) because she also felt a classical education in liberal arts was just as important.

    Which totally surprised me because she went to a large city public school that taught to the test and no one even picked up a crayon to draw.

  9. Richard Raine' says:

    Dan, I have always enjoyed “watching your brain work.” You seem to demonstrate a wonderful creativity undergirded by curiosity, exploration and openness. Those qualities give your body of work freshness, authenticity and appeal.

    And yet… you close this piece with a condescending “sigh” which rips at the heart of everything I just said. Why didn’t you add a “those people” or maybe even a “small people” comment as well?

    You have betrayed the thing I never expected from you: a closed mind.

    Regarding Muslins as un-patriotic. Most Westerners understand Muslim to mean “follower of Islam” and rightly so. A few questions: Who led the 9/11 attack on NYC/USA (hint: not Lithuanian Jews)? What is the stated purpose of the Muslim Brotherhood (hint: install a Sharia “government” in every country in the world including the US)? What is the role of women under Sharia law (hint: look at what they have to endure if a father/brother/husband doesn’t like something they have done)?

    What’s my point here? All Muslims are bad (unpatriotic)? No. Some are. Some want to overthrow our government (unpatriotic?). Some treat women as so much chattel (un-American?). Some want to kill Americans or Jews just because they are Americans or Jews (un-patriotic/un-American?). “Some” might be enough to call the issue into question (maybe 20-25% or so).

    Regarding the President being Muslim. Probably not. At least in the sense of adherence to Islam and Sharia law. We should, however, take into consideration that his father was Muslim, as was his step-father. His mother converted to Islam. He was raised in Kenya and Indonesia where he went to Muslim schools. No, these are not wholly deterministic life events. They are data points that seem relevant to the discussion.

    But is he a Christian, as The White House asserts? The Bible says “you will know them by their fruit” – that is, their actions and what they produce. Some would point to the cancellation of the National Day of Prayer ceremony as a concern. Others would suggest that 20 years under the teachings of Jeremiah Wright (a vociferous anti-Semite and hardly in alignment with the teaching of Jesus Christ) as a grave concern. In either case there is enough evidence to call the issue into question.

    You worked for Vice-Presient Gore and should understand better than most the symbolic nature of the Office of the President. What is one to think when the President bows to a Saudi king? Presidents don’t bow to other rulers/leaders. They represent (are symbolic of) the nation itself. Therefore the United States bowed to the Saudi king. And King Abdullah is… a Muslim.

    I won’t even take the position that my argument is better than yours. It is merely more intellectually honest. There is no argument on your side. Only a seemingly blind acceptance that your point of view is either morally or intellectually superior to anyone who disagrees. “Those people” must be dismissed. I am disappointed, Sir.


  10. laanba says:

    Well I’m a music teacher so I am sure you can guess where I fall on the arts education spectrum. I am very lucky to teach in a school district that is very supportive of the arts and where the fine arts budget is under control of the fine arts administrator, not the campus principals. I also know that I am on a very special island and that the picture is very different on the mainland.

    As to the Obama statistic, there was an interesting article from the Houston Chronicle science blogger on why people hang on to their incorrect facts.

  11. Interesting Richard that while this post is about three separate facts, you hone in and go on the attack over only one.

    I’d suggest a more intellectually honest—to use your phrase—approach is to look at the three different factoids presented and simply ask “What might it mean that this is where we currently find ourselves?” “How does this mesh with my beliefs?” “What are the implications of these factoids for public policy and beyond?”

  12. Darin Schmidt says:

    I post this with some trepidation, as it is not my intention to allow this blog to degenerate into echo-chamber arguments.

    The fundamental problem with Richard’s post is a combination of religious stereotyping and a very narrow interpretation of the constitution vis-a-vis religious freedom.

    Since the USA cannot make any laws respecting a religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, the religious affiliation of the president is irrelevant. Citizens who disagree violate the spirit of the constitution.

  13. Didn’t the creator of the ACT denounce his approval of the test five years after he created it? He said it wasn’t a great method of telling whether or not a kid could do well in higher education.

    I believe Sir Ken Robinson had some additional information about that in his book.

    But I do agree with the point, children won’t find their full potential if they don’t have the opportunity to explore areas other than what is provided through “basic” education.

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