Yes, This Will Be On the Test

Writing, Reading, Laughing

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Change the Hole not the Peg - Valuing Student Artists

Today, I'm sharing a success story - my son. What his journey represents is important for all the young artists out there.

Alice in Wonderland

The lad never fit the mold of traditional education. His right brain dominance and creativity surfaced very early on. Unfortunately it didn't mesh with the left brain rigors and demands of public education.

Sadly, that disconnect tends to label artistic students as inferior to our high academic achievers.

I say malarky.

Here's a quote from my son at six years old when a classmate drew a butterfly without wings...
"That's a butter-not-fly."

Is that the insight of an inferior learner?

His wit and humor took off from there to new levels of sophistication beyond his years. He was born with perfect pitch, developed an uncanny ability to pick up instruments, and was a natural performer. No spaces on the report card for those talents.

He could never memorize his multiplication tables. That and other perceived deficiencies pegged him as an "at risk" student. 

He wrote his own plays before his classmates had mastered paragraphs.

Problematic grades in required classes that had no meaning, connection, or impact on his creative goals landed him in night school to earn his high school diploma.

He started his own improv group with friends and won awards in theatre competitions for the high school that was continually labeling him inadequate. 

What's wrong with this picture?

 Why aren't there a variety of measurements for success in our public schools? Why aren't our young artists valued on equal terms as our young scholars? Why is there such a narrow pathway for success especially in high school?

photo credit

Is there a foundational education that students need? Absolutely. But I ask you - what's more important - knowledge of the quadratic equation or balancing a checkbook? 

The commonly accepted high school expectations do not serve our student artists. Often they result in an academic pommeling out of sync with creative goals that burn students out and turn them off to continued education.

For example, why doesn't a blossoming actor study the history of theatre for their social studies requirement? Hmm, civilizations such as the Greeks, Romans, and the world's political movements are reflected throughout theatre and art history. Why isn't a budding painter encouraged to read biographies of Picasso and Michelangelo to enhance their literacy? The key to student engagement is to validate and encourage their goals, talents, and dreams.

Yes, budget shortfalls enter into this discussion, but a motivated learner can follow an independent study path that doesn't require additional classes. The same teacher that would be grading a research paper on World War Two could grade a thesis about the effects of the Expressionist movement on society.

So what was the game changer for my son? How did "he who eschewed college," end up in college?

Enter Pacific Conservatory for Performing Arts - PCPA. This program is a brilliant model that combines a scholarly and practical training approach to theater. The body is fine tuned as an instrument and every academically rigorous class is relevant to the developing life of an artist.

Key word here - relevant. 

Fiddler on the Roof - PCPA

Fiddler on the Roof - PCPA

Suddenly the reluctant scholar is writing ten page college level papers on classic Greek tragedies. Not exactly light summer beach reading for a kid who just squeaked through high school. He's memorizing pages of dialog, complex dance routines, and intricate musical harmonies. 


When you match education with passion the result is success. 

The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising, FIDM is another college experience that nurtures the talents of artists following a path that leads to fashion and costuming arts. 

We need to make these focused opportunities available earlier in our schools, especially at the high school level so our young artists are valued and inspired to follow their talents, not discouraged.  

My son just signed his first professional acting contract. He's living the dream, but how many disillusioned talents have we lost along the way?


  1. I struggle in school too. My creative side was NEVER nurtured. So glad you supported your son. Good job.

  2. lol. Struggled not struggle. (Apparently I'm still struggling. hehehe.)

  3. Congrats to your son! That must feel wonderful - I'm happy for him, and obviously he had the perfect mom who believed him and 'saw' his talents/strengths even though they didn't align w/traditional markers.

  4. Congrats to you and your son! I'm sure having a mother that did't believe in the "system" helped him pursue his educational goals. I'm sure many students have been lost due to the fact that their passions weren't relevant to what they were being taught. They either drop out or get their GED and give up as you said because the educational process has let them down. But how do you change a system that's been in place so long and is cutting back in the arts yearly? Does it start with the education of the teachers when they're in college? Where to begin?


  5. Congratulations to your son! I am so glad he has you for a mom- someone who helped to acknowledge his strengths and guide him in the right direction. It is sad that education is so rigid. I agree that there are common things to be learned (I vote checkbook over quadratic equation, the latter of which I have never needed). I loved your line: When you match education with passion the result is success. So true!

    Let's hear it for creativity. :)

  6. An appropriate blog for Mother's Day. Wishing Cameron much success where he belongs. As a fellow teacher I agree with you. We need to encourage and nurture all the gifts our students have.


  7. Bravo to your son!

    I'm with you - I have a little one in my extended family who already does math three grades higher than their grade. They can't read yet, though, so the teachers have labeled them "at risk."

    As you said: malarky.

    I think it's equal parts the school and the parents that make the difference. Your son has succeeded despite the narrow path because he had you at home. For those without a parent like you, yep, we need teachers and schools to step up however they can.

  8. Let's hear it for talented sons and the awesome mothers who support them! Huge congratulations to Cameron!!

  9. Totally, totally agree! We need to nurture ALL of our kids and help them find their talents, their passions and their niches no matter what their calling is. I've got so much respect for those kids who we force to survive a system that is so contradictory to their brains/hearts/souls and they not only survive, but soon discover a way to thrive! Good for your son!

  10. I cannot even tell you how much I love this, how happy it makes me. Maybe mothers day is on the brain, but I have to give you huge credit here. Kids like this who make it make it in large part thanks to their incredible mothers. So huge kudos to you and your talented, amazing son!

    Sarah Allen
    (From Sarah With Joy)

  11. Congrats to your son for finding his way (and a contract!) I can absolutely relate to this--I ended up in a continuation high school because I was behind an entire year's worth of credits. I often just didn't show up to school days--stayed home and drew and wrote instead. And guess what--those are exactly the parts that stuck with me!

  12. Such a good post! Best of luck to your son, and I think it's awesome he's found the right path for him. I completely agree that there needs to be more schools and programs that can foster and nurture those who learn differently. Heaven knows I see these students in my classrooms and there's very little I'm allowed to do at that point (in college), and it's just difficult, and often sad. There's so much that could be done better with education.

  13. All the best to your son! Great post!

  14. I couldn't agree more! And yay for *your son* :D I hope I get to see him perform someday!

  15. Unfortunately one-size-fits-all is the norm for education, but one size never fits all.

    Your son is lucky he had you to support him.

  16. Jumping up and down in ecstatic agreement. Considering home school for my kids this fall for some of these same reasons. Love the butter-not-fly!

  17. I read this the other day, and didn't get a chance to comment.
    This is a great post! And so true!

    I think that TOO much emphasis is placed on academic excellence... not that there's anything wrong with it... but the cold, hard reality is that not every learner is academically inclined.

    Yay for your son! And well done to you Leslie... you must be soooo proud of him!

    I admire and applaud all artistically-inclined learners who "take on and survive" the academic system... and then still go on to achieve great things in their artistic fields!
    If the tables were turned, I wonder what the "academic" students would do...? Would they cope?

    Writer In Transit

  18. I wish I had attended a bigger high school where more of these classes were offered. That's the problem with small school. They can only focus on the basics.

    Your son is lucky to have you!

  19. Aint that the truth! I know exactly what you mean cuz I was that kid too. And my daughter is as well. Poor baby is clever and funny but struggling to write sentences in first grade. What you say here Leslie is so important for all parents to remember--to see the strengths in their kids and nourish them. Unfortunately public schools do not.
    I am happy to report in FLA we have a magnet program geared toward arts and academics so kids can go to high schools that accentuate those areas.
    Big congrats to your awesomely artistic son!! Thank God for kids like him who help us to see the butter-not-flies as well as the regular old butterflies. :)

  20. Congrats for your son! That is very exciting. And it's great that he has perservered through all the trials he has gone through. I love that he has found his talents and used that throughout his life. Very impressive. The best teachers can find these students and adapt the curriculum to fit. Like you said - the other students are writing essays - he''s wriitng plays! That should count!

  21. What a wonderful story. You know what I felt throughout that though, that I think contributed to his perseverance and success? A supportive, caring mom!

  22. That is amazing! I think genius is way more than book smart and it sOunds like you're son is right there:-)

  23. That is amazing! I think genius is way more than book smart and it sOunds like you're son is right there:-)

  24. Where I am, so many electives have been cut that I worry students won't find and explore their passions.

    Congrats to your son.