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Re-thinking creativity's role in education

Racine Boat Manufacturing Company Plant, Muskegon, MI
Flickr user Wystan/creative commons

It’s probably pretty stressful being a high school principal, for all kinds of reasons.

But Eric Alburtus, principal of Portage Central High School, spends a big chunk of his time worrying about the arts. He’s specifically worried about the kind of human beings our schools are producing, when kids must fulfill heavy requirements in math and science, yet they barely have a chance to study music, choir, theater, or the visual arts.

(For a more complete look at the state’s requirements, click here.)

Alburtus says arts classes give kids a chance to discover new worlds and different ways of thinking and creating.

In fact, Alburtus’ teenage son worked backstage doing lighting and design for the high school’s musicals, and that’s what got him interested in engineering — which he’s going to study in college this fall. 

Alburtus also says the arts give kids a chance to do something that brings them joy, and sometimes it’s the thing that keeps certain kids engaged and coming to school.

During his tenure, Alburtus has seen a drop in the number of arts classes and arts teachers while noticing an emphasis coming from the state on test-taking, and on subjects like math and science.

When school districts struggle with finances, one of the things that often gets cut is the arts.  But how is this decision playing out for individual kids and for the state as a whole?

One analyst in Kalamazoo says creativity is key when it comes to the future of one of our biggest industries: manufacturing. George Erickcek is a senior regional analyst with the Upjohn Institute for Employment Research. He says too many people in Michigan look at our manufacturing economy and don’t see a place for creativity.

Instead, he says we need to think about manufacturing and creativity as two things that go hand in hand. He says creatively designing products that meet the market’s needs can have a huge impact on the next round of manufacturing in Michigan.

Erickcek says Grand Rapids is a great example of a place that has both a growing manufacturing base and a cool and creative downtown and neighborhoods.

Stressed-out principal Eric Alburtus says our creative, innovative mentality is something for which America is known.

“Where the United States has been incredibly, exceptionally successful has been in terms of our creativity, and the opportunity to come up with novel ideas to the problems we face," he says.

Alburtus wants a conversation to happen at a state level about how to better balance the subjects that kids are required to study, and about the unintended consequences of cutting the arts.

Reported by Kyle Norris

Contact: knorris@umich.edu

Kyle Norris is from Michigan and spent ten years as a host and reporter with Michigan Radio, the state’s largest NPR-affiliate. He lives in Seattle and works as a substitute host and producer at KNKX.
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