Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The State of the Arts

Did you watch the State of the Union address? Regardless if the person who holds the office got my vote or not (I'll keep that to myself), I watch with an open-mind to the policies laid out before our Congress and our nation. I believe a certain respect for the office of the presidency has diminished. I can at least give one hour-plus of my life in January to hear what our Commander in Chief has to say if I wish to be an engaged citizen. Read the speech here.

"If you want to make a difference in the life of our nation; if you want to make a difference in the life of a child -- become a teacher. Your country needs you," was President Barack Obama's call to the youth of our nation considering their career paths.

Long after leaving school, my thirst for knowledge hasn't diminished. With age, it seems to grow even stronger, and validates my long held belief education is lost and wasted on an ungrateful youth. What 18 year old can truly appreciate endless hours of studying?

Our teachers beyond the schoolroom may not be the traditional ones. They are the historical groups with non-paid volunteers, the authors of books toiling away for years on research, librarians, poets, singers, the bloggers typing away after a long day of homemaking duties or at work sharing their knowledge with the world. These are some of my teachers. Who are yours?

We can all serve as teachers, even in the non-traditional way. As Michael Stipe declares in R.E.M.'s Discoverer, "I have never felt so called."

I cheered silently from my home when President Obama stated rightfully,

"We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair."

I also thought of this New York Times piece, small in length but large in deflation of spirit, regarding a group of Republican lawmakers calling for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

"Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a lobbying group, said...that the arts provide 5.7 million jobs in the United States that generate about $30 billion in taxes, nearly $13 billion of which goes to the federal government. "If they're serious about jobs and they'e serious about income, they would invest more in the arts," Mr. Lynch said." Of course, according to our major news media, the only way to stimulate the economy is to go to the mall.

Arts never seem to be high on the national radar, but they are vital to our own continuing education as lifelong seekers of wisdom. With shrinking government budgets from townships all the way to the federal level, the private citizen will be called on to support the arts, even in some small way. Here's some of how I am supporting the arts.

Patronizing local plays. My sweetheart and I attended A.R. Gurney's humorous The Cocktail Hour put on by the Bergen County Players, which have been staging theatrical productions have been running since 1932. The matinee was a bargain at $16. We left wondering about our own families' hidden secrets.

Supporting public radio and television stations. One of my favorite radio programs is WFUV's The Big Broadcast, a 4-hour show of 1920s and 30s music Sunday evening that runs way past my bedtime. I enjoy the archives (two shows are listed) all week long, and they are largely available thanks to member-support. This year, I plan on become a long overdue member, and embarrassed to admit it took me this long.

Giving business to local book shops, and "voting" for the books themselves (no curling up this blustery winter with a gadget for me). I thrift and go to the library for most books since I'm budget minded and believe in communal sharing. But when I buy new (which I plan to do with As Always, Julia), I support my local, main street bookseller, Shaw's Book Shop in Westwood, New Jersey, where the owner knows me by name.

A lot of lip service is paid about small business among politicians of both parties in seemingly every State of the Union speech, and always draws loud applause, but chain stores and mall parking lots seem to be packed, while many small shops, main streets, and family farms struggle. All the applause in the world will do them no good unless we spend our dollar there.

Supporting upcoming, unsigned artists. I stumbled on Tuba Skinny busking at flea market in Woodstock, New York, and have fallen in love with their style of American 1920s and 30s music, an era I'm quite enamored with as of late. Their third cd, Garbage Man just arrived in the mail. See if Garbage Man won't have your toes tapping in no time.

You won't find them on MTV, which is too busy showing borderline child pornography programming with Skins in a destructive world of 17 going on 34, self-indulgent teenagers with million dollar sweet 16 parties, or that show which all descent New Jerseyans rue they ever heard of. Nor will they be on mainstream radio - much of what's on there wouldn't fit my standard for "artist." Although as my boyfriend likes to remind me, I'm no longer the "targeted demographic".

Donating to my Friends of the Library program. Libraries, such havens for knowledge seekers of all ages, have come under attack in the Great Recession.

For free (I've never had HBO through my cable package), my mind devoured the John Adams HBO miniseries (a definite recommend), in which he bemoaned his presidency would only be remembered for the Alien and Sedition Acts. Flash forward to 2011, and he's lucky to be remembered at all. I'm sure Snookie would have a higher name recognition.

Of course I'll be attending events with the Bergen County Historical Society. I'll bring you along too. Because I'd rather spend a Sunday with American royalty, not on my couch watching a bunch of miserable housewives, as numb to the world as their faces are after a session of Botox.


  1. I didn't watch the State of the Union because Simone was in the middle of a massive teething fit. :-( However, I've been really perplexed when reading his remarks about teachers. Why on earth would people WANT to become teachers right now, when the national climate is so focused on blaming them for problems (read: bad standardized test scores) that simply aren't their fault? Teachers can't change the socioeconomic status of their students, nor can they make up for bad parenting. Yet Obama (among many others) keeps pushing "accountability for teachers" directly linking their job security, wages, etc. to their students' performance. It's ridiculous. But, I do totally agree that arts, sciences, etc. should be given much more focus in school. I was lucky to go to a high school with a liberal arts focus, but it was still absurd how much sports dominated the budget.

  2. Cate, all very good points. I think being a teacher, like a farmer, is a calling, but is the nation supportive of them (or is it lip service like with those small businesses for the easy applause line)? As I am closely connected to someone who works with delinquent youths, the socioeconomic and parenting factors are beyond their control as you rightly point out.

    His points were taken about science and math, but there is knowledge void in general. I witness an America right now that does not value education (in school and beyond) the way it prizes possessions, vanity, and in the school years realm, athletics. I hear more parental bragging about game scores than what was learned in school, and of course every holiday of historic importance is just another day to shop.

  3. To add one last thought,

    David McCullough, author of the John Adams book, recalled Ralph Waldo Emerson visiting John Adams in 1825 (he would depart this life July 4, 1826), when Adams stated,

    "I would to God there were more ambition in the country. By that I'm mean ambition of the laudable kind – to excel."

    "Wouldn't it be wonderful," McCullough wished, "if we could reinstate through what we do as parents, grandparents, as teachers, as legislators, that old noble ambition to excel."

  4. As a 'highly-qualified'(meaning I jumped through all the hoops)teacher with credentials in several states, I found Obama's call for teachers to be downright ridiculous.
    The reason: there are hiring freezes in public schools nationwide. No one can afford to hire teachers, only substitutes...with little or no experience or qualification.
    The one exception that I've found is that inner-city charter schools ARE hiring. Yet many charters expect their teachers to dedicate all of their time and energy caring for, parenting, providing much needed discipline and structure for the kids at school...all at the sacrifice of their own lives and children. Many charters expect teachers to be at the school every day from 7am-5pm, be on call after school(students calling with homework questions and tutoring until 8pm), and also dedicate weekends and evenings for extra-curricular activities. These are the charters who are successful in helping their students raise test scores. The schools are changing the lives of these kids in a very positive way. But the teachers are burning out. Who can sustain that kind of schedule? And have a family of their own?
    Anyways, I'll kindly step off my soap box now! Sorry Catherine. That moment in the speech was just really cringe-worthy for me.
    And I am totally enjoying your new blog! ; )

  5. Thank you very much for your comment. I think it's so important to hear from teachers and those with teachers in the family for their side of the story. Very provocative points, such as the teacher burnout at charter schools, which I hadn't thought of.

    Never apologize for being on that soap box. We should all be as engaged as you and Cate are as to what are leaders are saying, and I'm happy to have people leaving well thought out, meaningful comments (unlike the comments sections in mainstream sites, so much of which are just mean-spirited and resort to name-calling).

    Thanks for reading!

  6. A lot of my friends are educators, and they felt inspired and honored that portions of the State of the Union address were used to address them and their work. I do see all the problems in it- as Cate and MaddyG pointed out- and my educator friends, while happy to be recognized, are still very aware that one speech does not magically erase the struggles they are having. As someone who is currently in the process of applying to graduate school to get my post B.A. (and post M.A., as well, haha) teaching certification and master's degree in education, I still found it uplifting, even though I'm aware of the harsh realities of public education in America, and the challenges of the career path I'm embarking on.

  7. Hi Cortney. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and best of luck. I guess we're all viewing it from different perspectives. Many years out of school, I still remember the teachers that helped shape who I am. I hope our leaders back up their words with actions.

  8. " a group of Republican lawmakers calling for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting."

    The danger of Terrorism from the air/ground/sea pales compared to the harm some elected national officials can do to our country. What a perilous journey our country is on! I think profiling should include an elected man/woman in a suit with an American flag on his lapel and works in Washington. They may be engaged in acts meant to dumb America.

  9. Those leaders can be fortunate the public shows little interest to what they are up to. Isn't a population made "dumb" or simply "numb" easier to control?