Daniel H. Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, posits that the age of left brain dominance in the workplace and the American economic engine is fading. That is, the “linear, computer-like” emphasis of the Information Age of the 20th century is being displaced by a more right brain emphasis that will require more “high concept” and “high touch” skills. The age-old dichotomy between left brain and right brain, in Pink’s view, will move towards the artistic class-those who can “empathize with others”; “understand the subtleties of human interaction”; invent and create; and find joy and meaning in the pursuit of life’s goals. To some, this may seem like a silly fad. To others, this is a visionary approach that will assure American competitiveness in an increasingly global economy.
Pink thinks the latter will apply. If Pink is correct, what does this mean for those in education who must prepare students for the world that lies ahead? The impact of such a transformative change will require new emphasis on academic areas that have been, to some degree, sidelined since the days of the Cold War and the space race when public funds were diverted to the pursuit of scientific achievement and military might. Those sidelined academic areas include the performing arts.
In 2004, Fairfax County, in a unique move, embarked on a new initiative, “Bringing Drama to the Core.” The idea emerged from Judy Bowns, Theatre Arts and Dance Resource Teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools. She challenged Theatre Arts teachers to “employ their natural use of theatre strategies to deliver core curriculum information by writing lesson plans that meet standards in both theatre and the core subject.” Bowns also stated, “Using theatre strategies to deliver core curriculum gives the students a new way to learn and ‘own’ the information that had previously eluded them.” This program continues today throughout the Fairfax County public school system.
The mission statement of the program states that the teachers of “core” subject areas should use creative techniques from the Theatre Arts to provide alternative approaches to SOL instruction while meeting Program of Study objectives. “Bringing Drama to the Core” embraces the idea that the use of kinetic, physical, vocal, and ensemble techniques that teachers use in a Theatre Arts classroom can be employed in the core classroom with effective results. This idea of using “play” to achieve an academic goal outside the realm of the performing arts is a unique cross-curricular approach. It is an approach that has the potential to revolutionize the K-12 public education system in America.
If the world is moving towards a right brain approach in the workplace, as Pink has stated, then Fairfax County’s “Bringing Drama to the Core” initiative is a step in the right direction. It may also place Fairfax County at the forefront of this effort on a national scale. The County is currently working the “Bringing Drama to the Core” initiative into the classroom in creative ways. One example is a physics class in which students are asked to illustrate the concepts of nuclear fission and fusion with their bodies. The goal is to employ the use of role-play to demonstrate technical and scientific principles.
Government classes provide another opportunity to employ Theatre Arts techniques in the core curriculum. In the “Mr. or Ms. Foreign Policy” lesson, students are provided with U.S. foreign policy information. Students are then asked to create and wear “Foreign Policy Costume[s]” that capture the essence of U.S. foreign policy. A panel of teachers and classmates evaluates each costume on the basis of originality and effectiveness in communicating the concept(s). These two examples demonstrate unique ways in which a student can use the Theatre Arts to achieve a higher level of understanding in core subject areas.
Attendees of the 2007 National Conference on the Creative Economy embraced these creative approaches to public education. Sixty-four percent of conference attendees made two recommendations: “Improve K-12 education” and “[encourage] the free flow of ideas.” According to conference participants, this can be achieved by harnessing the creativity of each individual; encouraging risk-taking; promoting tolerance in the workplace and in the community; and encouraging the management and sustenance of an educated workforce.
The recommendations of the National Conference on the Creative Economy provide the framework for initiatives like “Bringing Drama to the Core.” In a county where 57% of its residents work in “creative occupations,” the development of new approaches to teaching core academic subjects seems more critical than ever.