The Arts – A Lifetime of Learning
Education Commission of the States • 700 Broadway, Suite 1200 • Denver, CO 80203-3460 • 303.299.3600 • Fax: 303.296.8332 • www.ecs.org
Address by MIKE HUCKABEE, Governor, State of Arkansas
Delivered to the Education Commission of the States, The 2004 National Forum on Education Policy,
ECS Commissioner’s Business Session and Gavel Exchange
Orlando, Florida, July 15, 2004
[At The 2004 National Forum on Education Policy, Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee became chairman
of the Education Commission of the States (ECS). In a speech delivered to a group of policymakers and
education leaders from across the country, Huckabee outlined a new initiative – “The Arts: A Lifetime of Learning -- which will be the centerpiece of his two years as ECS chairman.]
All of you are aware that the theme for my initiative as ECS Chairman will be “The Arts – A Lifetime of Learning.” This is a passion for me, not just a program, and you will see that over the next two years. I
want to explain, on a very personal level, why this issue is so important to me.
The Old State House Museum in Little Rock is one you may have seen when Bill Clinton first announced
his intent to run for President and when he accepted the presidency the night of his election in 1992. This
museum has quite a bit of visibility in our state and across the world as well. Inside there are many
artifacts of Arkansas history and wonderful exhibits, both changing and stationary.
If you wandered up to the second floor of the museum you would see something that might first strike you
as a bit unusual. You would see an old guitar in one of the glass cases. If you know anything about
guitars, you may think it not all that impressive, as it is not a very nice or expensive guitar. You might
learn that the guitar is, in fact, a very inexpensive one. It was purchased in 1966 at a cost of $99, which
included the electric guitar, the plastic case and the amplifier– the whole works – from the J.C. Penney catalog. You may wonder why that guitar is there. It’s there because it happens to be the first guitar of a
child who wanted to play so badly that his parents made an extraordinary sacrifice by scraping together
$99 and purchasing it for this child’s eleventh Christmas.
Like so many children who grew up in the era of the post-Beatles phenomenon, this kid learned to play
the guitar and played it so much that sometimes his fingers would almost bleed. Also like so many others,
he never made it to the big time, never became a musician of renown. So why is his guitar in a museum?
It is on display because it belonged to me. In fact, the guitar is part of an exhibit of the First Families of
Arkansas. Various governors donated artifacts from their childhoods and their lives, and this happened to
be the first guitar I ever owned. I have owned quite a few since, most of which – thank goodness – are of
a little better quality, but that guitar is priceless to me because it was my introduction to music. My
parents thought it was noise, but by gosh the music sounded good to me.
If you’re wondering whether I have improved any since 1966, you will have a chance to find out later
during this conference when you hear the band I formed called Capitol Offense. I hope you will bring your
dancing shoes because we are not a concert band, but rather a band that wants you to have a good time.
Our band opened this year for Willie Nelson in a sold-out arena concert of 8,000 people. We opened last
year for the Charlie Daniels Band and have also worked with Dionne Warwick. A week from now we will
be playing a concert with Grand Funk Railroad and later this year with 38 Special. We played one of the
President’s inaugural parties, and as of tomorrow night, we will have played all three Peabody Hotels –
Orlando, Memphis and Little Rock. We have played for the Southern Governors Association and for the
Council of State Governments, and in a host of other places where I find a way to get us invited because
nobody else will have us.
My point in all of this is that participating in the arts is something I am still able to do. We may not be that
sophisticated since we are a classic rock-and-roll band, but we have a whole lot of fun and don’t take ourselves too seriously. I will tell you something else as well: if I had been a great athlete in high school,
played tackle football or the like, I would not be playing tackle football at my age now. However, I can still
make music today. And 10, 20 or 30 years from now I will still be able to make music. Just like Willie
Nelson. When we played with him, I sat there in amazement and watched this 70-year old man playing
with the dexterity of a 25-year old, making music and causing kids – young enough to be his
grandchildren – to rush up to the front of the stage to greet him. I could not believe that this 70-year old
man is still making incredible music and enthralling crowds. It was so wonderful to
see. “Whether one looks at
studies of students‟ Over the next two years of my chairmanship at the Education Commission of the ACT and SAT scores, States (ECS), we are going to focus on learning, enjoying and participating in the or their math scores or arts. Let me explain in a simple way the three main components of my initiative. their capacity for learning foreign First of all, I want to be able to present what I call a case for the arts. A great deal of
research supports the direct connection between arts education and academic language, a
improvement. Whether one looks at studies of students’ ACT and SAT scores, or tremendous body of their math scores or their capacity for learning foreign language, a tremendous body evidence indicates a of evidence indicates a correlation between arts and academics as kids develop both correlation between the left and right sides of their brains. Through the arts, children are able to increase arts and academics...” their capacity for spatial reasoning and their ability to think creatively.
Now some would say, “Well, I’m not too sure those studies are conclusive.” Let’s assume for the moment
that they are not. Even so, participation in and appreciation of the arts can last a lifetime. Music, for
example, is a life skill – an interest and an aptitude that one can maintain throughout a lifetime, unlike
some interests that a kid will pick up and maybe never use again. It’s not just about learning music or
enjoying music, but participating in music – it can captivate a student.
A child can experience music at five or six or seven years old and spend the rest of his or her life
developing a love and appreciation for it. That child will never outgrow it, and will never come to the place
where he says, “it no longer can or should be a part of my life.”
The benefits are too numerous to mention here, but one significant consequence “A person in a of participating in the arts is that children learn teamwork. Imagine a child in the musical group or a band who realizes his instrument may not be the loudest – it may not even be the choir or in a play one playing the primary melody – but when the conductor calls for that one understands that for moment when that child can shine, it’s meaningful.
every minute of
This kid learns something about life, doesn’t he? A person in a musical group or performance there are
a choir or in a play understands that for every minute of performance there are hours and hours and hours and hours and hours of practice. And that is how one gets good at hours of practice. And anything. Whether it’s being in the band or being the CEO of a major company, that is how one gets the life lessons learned by participating in the arts are clearly invaluable. good at anything.”
In fact, one survey of CEOs across America determined that the common
denominator of successful CEOs of companies was not that they were the valedictorians of their class or
even in the top 10% academically. The common denominator was their participation in team activities as
they were growing up. Such activities taught them both to lead and to follow and to be part of a group.
To put it simply, we need to focus on the arts in education because the arts teach kids how to learn.
Through the arts, children are presented with huge amounts of new information that they process and use
to participate in activities they enjoy. Through the arts, children develop creative skills which carry them
toward new ideas, new experiences and new challenges, not to mention a great deal of satisfaction. This
is the intrinsic value of the arts, and it cannot be overestimated in any way.
If the first aspect of my ECS initiative is to make a case for the arts, the second component is to establish a place for the arts. That place ought to be our schools, where children already are gathered and are learning. Ensuring that arts education is part of every school not only will enhance student achievement, it will give children access to activities and interests that will benefit and enrich their lives.
I get really angry when I hear people speak of the arts as if it is only an extracurricular, extraneous and expendable endeavor in our schools. Let me tell you, I think it is an essential part of an overall well-rounded education. If we are not providing an arts education, including music, the visual arts, theatre, dance and more, then we are not doing enough. It is critical to touch the talent of every kid, no matter what that talent is, and in far too many of our schools, we have been willing to touch the talent as long as it was about running fast, jumping high, or throwing a ball better than another kid.
“Ensuring that arts I enjoy sports too and these skills are wonderful, but I also know that many of
education is part of those kids who play sports and who are proud of their letter jackets when they are
seniors in high school will find these jackets hanging in their closets by the time every school not only
they are 25. For most students, sports alone will not propel them to the next level will enhance student of success in life. They won’t be able to play or participate for life, but rather will achievement, it will only be able to be spectators. The arts, however, can build skills and appreciation give children access to that can be used and enjoyed for a lifetime. activities and interests
that will benefit and I think we need a place for arts and athletics, and frankly in that order, in our
schools. We need a place for every student in every school in America to find his enrich their lives.”
or her talent in the arts.
The third component of my chairman’s initiative is to put a face on the arts. Let me
personalize it by giving you some examples of some famous Arkansans who have parlayed their participation in the arts from poverty to prosperity. One of the great entertainers of all time, Johnny Cash, grew up as one of the poorest kids in Arkansas in a little bitty community called Kingsland.
Johnny Cash lived there until he was three when his family moved to northeast Arkansas and tried to farm as best they could. There, not far from Memphis, he heard sounds that ranged from gospel and blues to country. Out of all those experiences and sounds, he put together his own unique styling, found his way to Sam Phillips’ Sun recording studios in Memphis and joined up with a band called the Tennessee Three.
The rest, as they say, is history, and Johnny Cash made plenty of it in the music industry. He became a crossover artist of great success who was respected in virtually every genre of music. This is just one example of a kid who truly found himself through the arts and will leave a legacy on society because of his music and his personal artistry.
Another example is Mary Steenburgen whose father was a railroad worker in northern Little Rock, Arkansas. She came from a working-class family and now, as you know, is an Oscar-winning actress.
Billy Bob Thornton, who grew up in Malvern, Arkansas is a brilliant writer, actor and director. But he did not grow up in the way that he lives now. He grew up the son of a local high school coach and a psychic. Although he battled undesirable circumstances like the loss of his father as a teen, he was able to parlay his dreams, burning within him to become a successful writer, producer, actor and Oscar-winner.
I present these examples not because somebody might be the next Johnny Cash or Billy Bob Thornton or Mary Steenburgen, but to point out that there is a kid who will play in the high school band and will learn how to play the trumpet. Prior to learning the trumpet, this kid will have no place. He won’t be a great basketball player or be picked for the team at recess, but one day, somebody will put a trumpet in his hands and he will find his gift from God. When he plays, he not only will find the blessing within himself, but people who have never given him attention before will give him their applause.
For every one of you in this room today who has ever heard applause for something that you did and did
well, I don’t have to tell you that self-esteem is not the result of somebody saying, “Here, here is your self-
esteem, feel better about yourself.” It is the result of being allowed to be good at what you are gifted to
do – then self-esteem takes care of itself.
Don’t we owe that opportunity to every kid in America? Don’t we owe to every “Self-esteem is not the child, whether his talent is basketball or the tuba, the ability to experience it? The result of somebody face of the arts should be the face that we hope to see on every kid as he lights up saying, „Here, here is walking out on a stage. The face may be playing only a tiny part in a play, but that your self-esteem, feel child knows that the hours of practice meant something. The lines memorized, or better about yourself.‟ the instrument learned, or the song written all mean something, and that child can
It is the result of being feel good about his efforts and achievement.
allowed to be good at
Placed around this room is artwork that has been brought to us by the Créalde what you are gifted to School of Art. In looking at this work, I have a great sense of joy knowing that a do – then self-esteem child, somewhere, took a blank board and created something that represented his takes care of itself.” thoughts, his spirit and his heart.
Inside of every human being there are secrets to unlock, there are treasurers to
unlatch. We owe it to all children to make sure that whatever their talent is – theater, music, dance or
painting – doors are open for them. We must make sure that they don’t go through life without ever
discovering their talents.
If education means anything, it means that we build bridges and that we, as education leaders, open
doors. All education ultimately does this. The best piece of advice I ever had, when I was getting ready
to go to college, was from a gentleman in my hometown who said, “Now Mike, I hope you don’t think that
when you get to college, they are going to teach you everything you need to know because they can’t. In fact, if you approach it that way, you are going to be miserably unhappy for the rest of
your life with what college does for you.” He wanted to tell me these things because he “Inside of every knew I would be the first generation in my family to ever go to college. He told me, human being there are “Just remember this, college won’t teach you what you need to learn for life. All college secrets to unlock, there and education can do is to help you to learn how to learn. You will spend the rest of
your life as a student and you will never quit learning. If you learn that in college, it will are treasurers to
be a great experience for you.” unlatch. We owe it to all children to make Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, through the Education Commission of the States, we could sure that whatever awaken a national sense of priority for the arts, a national sense of appreciation and their talent is – participation in all 50 states? Wouldn’t it also be wonderful to turn up the volume on theater, music, dance the arts and make sure that we use the megaphone of this organization to say to every
or painting – doors are governor, to every state school chief, to every superintendent, to every school board
member, to every parent in every district in this country that we will insist that every open for them.” child have the opportunity to learn, enjoy and participate in the arts? I hope you will
join me over the next two years in these efforts so that two years from now we will look
back and say that we have not just changed the attitudes about curriculum, but we have changed the
future of America by building bridges and opening doors. Every kid in America is going to have access to
I look forward to working with you and thank you very much.
? 2004 by the Education Commission of the States (ECS). All rights reserved. ECS is a nonprofit, nationwide organization that helps state leaders shape education policy. To request permission to excerpt part of this publication, either in print or electronically, please fax a request to the attention of the ECS Communications Department, 303.296.8332 or e-mail email@example.com.
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