For those that didn’t hear, Marvin Hamlisch passed away recently. I’m a James Bond film fan, and “Nobody Does it Better” is certainly one of the better theme songs to appear in any of the films.
As I was reading his obituary online, I was struck by a bit that noted he had spent some of his time lately campaigning for music and arts education in the public schools. Specifically, this quote from a 2007 Chicago Tribune interview with him while in the city campaigning one this issue.
It’s the average public school kids that I’m most worried about … The really talented kids who get to go to the special music schools will be fine. They’re on their way. It’s the other kids we’ve got to worry about. I’ve done research on this, and every single study shows what a difference arts classes makes to kids’ lives.
I contrast this to Leon Lederman. Lederman is a Nobel Laureate in Physics and the emeritus poobah at Fermilab. Lederman too was concerned about education (science), but took the opposite tact. Lederman was convinced that the only way to save science education was to hand pick the best students and get them away from public (or private) schools, and get them into a special school with special teachers. Lederman’s vision led to the Illinois Math and Science Academy (IMSA) which is easily one of the really top notch schools in terms of talent anywhere. The school has turned out some top notch students for sure.
But are these students the only ones worthy of learning science? Is it you got to an IMSA-like facility or you simply cannot perform at the highest levels of science?
I refuse to believe that. I remain torn: IMSA draws tremendous talent, but I also know they cycle through teachers with some regularity. On the plus side, maybe they are getting rid of bad teachers quickly, but my informal research has shown that quite a few of these departures are voluntary. I’m not sure if this is good, bad or indifferent. I do know that the per-pupil expenditure is fairly high. That is to be expected for a high performance school. They can point to test scores and college placement that is 100%, but at the same time, wouldn’t those kids have likely succeeded at that anyway?
The answer to that is “depends”. If these kids come from largely rural or urban schools, they may not have, and a change of environment (the community as much as the school) might be good for them.
On the other hand, I wish a lot of this energy would go in to helping science education for the average students get a foot up. I have recently seen the core curriculum which “a panel of experts” has determined to be necessary learning for high school students. It was a completely load of bullshit (I don’t like the vile language but after reading it, that was the first word that lept to mind.
We do need the Leon Ledermans of the world watching out for the elite minds … no question! Without someone there to nurture them, there is a lot of talent going to waste.
But there are a heck of a lot of top notch talented people a tier or two below this who could use a hand as well, since they are going to fill many of the same niches. We could use some Marvin Hamlischs too.