Wednesday, June 20 , 2018, 7:57 pm | Fair 64º


Letter to the Editor: Welcome to Dr. Cary Matsuoka

Recently, the board of Santa Barbara's Unified School District chose as its new superintendent Dr. Cary Matsuoka.

Many in Santa Barbara who have an interest in local education have been anxious to understand where Dr. Matsuoka would place his emphasis, what his priorities are. This is perhaps especially true of those who value arts and artists and who would like to see more emphasis on the arts in local education than has been the case recently.

Brooke Holland’s Noozhawk interview with Dr. Matsuoka has given us some insight into his thinking:

“Matsuoka said in addition to assisting core concepts such as math, he supports the arts and creative design.

“‘The arts are a core value of Santa Barbara,’ he said. ‘Funding and leading it is always a challenge for a school district, but I look forward to nurturing the arts.’”

His statement provides both both hope and caution for Santa Barbara's arts community. The “challenge” Dr. Matsuoka mentions presumably refers to availability of funds for arts education, since in a difficult economy they are often among the first to be sacrificed.

Immediately following Noozhawk’s publication of Dr. Matsuoka's view of his job, a flurry of local posters began a heated debate as to what he will, or should, do – especially as regards arts education.

It has been my lifetime experience - as well as my understanding of the history I've read - that political conservatives are those most wary, suspicious and distrustful of arts and artists.

The reason, as I see it, is not hard to grasp. Artists, in general and of all media, often do not feel bound by convention or by conventional thinking. They tend to be independent in thought and action, even purposely flying in the face of the way one is “supposed to” think and act.

To those who cling to traditional ways of thinking and behaving – what “everybody” knows should be the “norm” - this freedom of thought and behavior is anathema; it is not only scandalous, they feel, but threatens anarchy, the overturning of everything one holds – or should hold - dear.

Where education is concerned, most political conservatives want to see a concentration, in many cases an exclusive concentration, on subject matter most useful to industry: math, language (exclusively English), reading. That is the goal President George W. Bush enforced in his “No Child Left Behind” legislation: “teaching to the test” enforced by harsh punitive measures for schools that didn't measure up. President Obama's “Common Core” relieved some of the worst aspects of the latter while retaining much of the test score emphasis.

More liberal thinkers believe that school children should be taught, not only industry-useful subjects, but those that encourage “how to think,” how to discover distinctive aspects of oneself; to discover and appreciate one's own creative gifts and the creative gifts of others; how to appreciate the beauty, or ugliness, the mystery or harshness of life as original thinkers present it to them or as they discover for themselves when trying to bring alive their own impressions in words, images, sound and movement.

And liberal thinkers believe this approach should not be left to the random opportunities provided by non-public, privately-financed organizations which is often the preference of those conservatives who wish to give the arts a sort of left-handed, condescending nod.

That the arts contribute to the kind of learning and character development I've just described is not speculative or the result of wishful thinking.

Here are a few of many objective evaluations of arts education to a community:

“The arts enhance our ability to illustrate viewpoints, to engage issues, to inspire action and to see things through the eyes of others—all necessary components of a thriving democracy. Americans who participate in the arts are more likely to engage in other aspects of community life, such as voting and volunteering. The arts also enhance civic dialogue, capturing the American experience and giving voice to our joys and aspirations and the conscience of our communities.” (Yale Journal of Law and the Humanities)

“A growing body of research points to the arts as an engine for civic renewal. Citizen engagement in the arts creates a strong shared identity and instills pride in a community's cultural heritage.”ISocial Impact of the Arts Project/The Reinvestment Fund; The Urban Institute)

“American companies face an international marketplace in which value is increasingly determined by a product’s artistic qualities, uniqueness, performance and design. Creative workers help businesses to innovate product lines and effectively market their services.”(National Governors Association)

I hope that Superintendent Matsuoka listens attentively to Santa Barbara's artists, arts organizations, groups such as the Santa Barbara Education Foundation as well as SBUSD's Director of Visual and Performing Arts Donna Ronzone, as he plans Santa Barbara's K12 future.

William Smithers
Santa Barbara

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