I want to talk with you today about a subject that is on the minds of just about everyone across the world. The subject is, what is the future of education? This is such a complex issue because there are so many factors involved. For example, should you send your child to public or private school? What about homeschooling, and what is the value of a charter school? Then, there is college. Should students get a traditional college degree or is there on-the-job training that would be best?

I have to be honest and tell you that there are times when I think education is in a mess because of too many changes. Then I realize that our world is in a time of real transformation, so some of the changes in education are valid. While I’m not going to attempt to answer all of these questions about education, let me give you a few thoughts and, in particular, how the arts fit into this.

Let’s talk first about college. The traditional experience is changing because there is a trend toward job-specific training programs which don’t confer degrees. This is very popular because it takes less than four years to learn the trade and costs much less money. Students don’t come out of this experience in so much debt.

This kind of training is in high demand in industry and manufacturing. In fact, the old vocational-technical centers for high school students have now been replaced with career technical centers, where students study robotics, computer technology and all of the sophisticated high-tech training that industry now demands.

At the high school and collegiate level, this type of education is a sort of job training boot camp. Students are trained in certain skills but nothing beyond that. This is great for students who have a strong interest in technical skilled fields and who don’t wish to spend many years in formal academic education. Good jobs are waiting for students who go this route.

This type of training is not for everyone, however. The downside of this type of education is that it can limit a student in terms of job changes because the training is so specific. Personally, I want to tell you that I believe in career tech training for two reasons; first, it provides so many students with jobs who don’t want traditional college. Secondly, there are aspects of this model that apply to professional arts education. The intensity of training and skill mastery is precisely what we do in the arts. In thinking outside the box, I could envision a version of a career tech center for the arts.

While career tech programs are growing in number, there is sill great value in a four-year college degree. Getting a college degree goes beyond job training. The philosophy behind college is to educate students to become good citizens by providing a core curriculum that passes on our culture to the next generation. Liberal arts education teaches students to appreciate learning, to think critically, to communicate, to be creative and to understand their role in society.

College graduates learn to appreciate the world around them, even those elements outside of their field. The entire college experience serves to enrich the lives of young people. And the truest college experience is to participate in person on a physical campus with the idea of engaging with other people. While online courses are very popular, face-to-face connections are still the most effective and, in the arts, the only way. The college experience is certainly not for everyone. While it allows for more career options, it takes much longer and is quite costly.

If we look at education as a whole, what I believe our society is looking for is a place where students have a more personalized learning experience and more empowerment in their education. This is a very good philosophy to have, and this is where the arts come in.

By design, arts training models the type of education everyone is looking for. From a personalized learning experience, to intense focus and training, to a love of learning, to the development of critical thinking skills, communication and creativity — all of this is an inherent part of the structure of arts education. Students are empowered to become anything they desire. And they get to work together to learn teamwork.

While education is evolving, as an educator I can tell you that certain elements must remain no matter the changes. It is imperative that the fundamentals of any field be taught and internalized before advancing. Mastery of foundational elements is essential to success. That means memorization of information and repetition of skills. This is true of any field and taught specifically in the arts. When we lose sight of building strong foundations, we have failed our next generation as educators. Building foundations begins at a young age and then continues through whatever type of education the student selects.

One of the reasons I love the arts so much is that you simply cannot skip over a strong foundation and be a good artist. It is a step-by-step disciplined approach where students feel more empowered and self-confident with the mastery of each new skill. As we look into the future of education, if we can transfer the training style of arts study to other fields, I believe we can achieve the goal of personalized education and empowerment that everyone is seeking.

Dr. Rosilee Russell is the founder/executive director of Community School of the Arts. Contact her at Rosilee.Russell@CSAFortSmith.org, call (479) 434-2880 or visit CSAFortSmith.org.