The horrific nationalization of the educational system. Interview with Michael Bell

The horrific nationalization of the educational system. Interview with Michael Bell

This Wednesday, the educational system in US in the weekly section of artist Michael Bell in Yareah magazine’s MBELLART Weekly. By Isabel del Rio

I.R.- Hi Michael. In your last interview you criticized “the horrific state of the educational system” in the U.S. Today, I would like to know a little more about this assertion. Since it’s a vast subject, at least your three worst grievances.

M.B.- This is an extremely controversial arena Isabel. But to rebel or revolt against the status quo is in the very nature of the artist. As an artist I understand the value and the impact a quality arts education can have on children’s lives in public education and my comment was directed at the major problem I see with the federal government controlling public education under the guise of President Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RTTT) program, which in my opinion marginalizes the arts and any other areas not deemed a “major tested content area, such as Math or Reading. Plus it’s brought major politics into the equation. Since individual States have to apply for Race to the Top funds, they also have to adopt the feds Common Core Standards, and many other “strings attached.” The funds won at the State level are distributed based on socio-economic status and the incentives are so great at the State level to win these funds that political pressure is put on State School Superintendents to apply and win these funds. Individual counties and districts also have to purchase the RTTT software for the national collection of student data and analysis (which is also sketchy in my opinion, at best) and I know some counties and districts have even “lost money” through participating in RTTT! Teachers are then being held further accountable for how students perform on tests, and the REALLY dysfunctional piece to this puzzle is that RTTT is that it is a performance-based-pay model…MINUS THE PAY! So where’s the incentive for teachers? There really isn’t one, other than the inherent one that I believe all teachers go into teaching for in the first place – to help educate our nation’s youth as best they can, plain and simple. As a highly regarded three-time national award winning “Teacher of the Year” who has devoted his life to public education; is among 3% of the nation’s educators who has achieved “national board certified” status; has given numerous presentations at the State and National level, including one for National Blue Ribbon Schools at the U.S. Department of Education I am regarded throughout the U.S. as an expert in both art and education and I am very concerned with the direction our country is headed, which is why I deemed the current state of the educational system as “horrific.” You can read numerous other articles on this. Here’s a few links of interest:

Michael Bell working in studio with Katie Emmitt, the first of Bell’s five consecutive National Art Education Association’s (NAEA) Rising Star Award Winners in Art, which is the most prestigious award given by the NAEA to one student artist in the entire nation.

Michael Bell working in studio with Katie Emmitt, the first of Bell’s five consecutive National Art Education Association’s (NAEA) Rising Star Award Winners in Art, which is the most prestigious award given by the NAEA to one student artist in the entire nation.

M.B.- “Quality teachers make quality programs, not the other way around. And the most important intangible to teaching students is the magical ability the truly great teachers build strong relationships with the students they teach, and there’s no way to truly measure that data. That’s the first thing kids learn about a teacher — whether they truly care or not. And without the relationship piece, you can’t possibly improve student learning and this is something our current U.S. Administration has forgotten about in the current era of assessments and data as drivers for instruction.” – Michael Bell

As for three worst grievances, I decided to reach out to colleagues I have mutual respect and admiration for throughout the U.S. who have had a major impact on education at the national level. I’m also listing these colleagues’ accomplishments, so you understand the impressive qualifications these leaders have in their field. Below are a few video clips highlighting what they are also about:

1. “Facts can explain and define our world, but it takes a personal and emotional connection to understand our place in it. There’s something a lot greater than energy; there’s something a lot greater than entropy. What’s that greatest thing? Love. That’s what makes the why exist.”
Jeffrey Wright, Louisville Male Traditional High School, Louisville, KY
Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics and Science Teaching

2. “Standardized, regurgitated knowledge is not measuring what our students know – portfolio and hands-on learning showcases that our children are learning AND retaining the knowledge that will help them to succeed in the world tomorrow. If 80% of our current job force is seeking creative and divergent thinking learners, then why in the world is our public education system not on board with that?”

Debi West, Ed.S, NBCT
North Gwinnett High School, Suwanee, Georgia – Art Department Chair
2014 National Art Education Association (NAEA) Southeastern Vice President Elect
Georgia Art Education Association Past President
2012 National NAHS Sponsor of the Year
2009 Georgia Art Educator of the Year
2005 National Elementary Art Educator of the Year
2005 Gwinnett County Teacher of the Year
2000 Southeastern Elementary Art Educator of the Year
1999 Georgia Elementary Art Educator of the Year

3. “High stakes testing has led to too many changes or additions in terms of curriculum and teacher responsibility. In many cases, it is impossible to teach all of the standards for understanding. We do not have enough time for the kids to apply what they have learned because there is too much for them to learn. Class sizes also need to be limited to maximize efficiency. Teaching 30+ struggling students in an elementary school means the teacher cannot guarantee success for all of their students.”

Mr. McKinley Broome, 4th Grade, Woodholme Elementary, Baltimore, Maryland
2010 Milken Educator of the Year
Former Baltimore County Rookie Teacher of the Year

Lastly, from Dr. Jackie Quay, Director of Arts Education, Greenacres Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH who stated to me her concerns on not being able to effectively integrate the arts without the arts present! She also quoted the concern of Arts Advocate Scott Shuler who stated: “that which gets tested, gets funded.”

I.R.- Since you have been an arts educator, how could we improve the education of a future artist?

M.B.- In Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind” he addresses the fact that “the last 150 years have been a 3 act drama that has taken us from the Agricultural Age (farmers) to the Industrial Age (factory workers) to the Information Age (of knowledge workers & programmers) into the Conceptual Age.” This is the age where I believe Creativity is King. The truth is, there’s never been a more exciting time to be an artist! In this new era of the Conceptual Age we’re entering into Meaning is the new Money. No matter what path our students pursue their experience with the Arts has always enhanced their ability to become more creative problem solvers, understand others and appreciate the world around them better than anyone that hasn’t been fortunate enough to have gone through school without the benefit of a strong visual arts program.

I.R.- Would you like to run an alternative art school?

M.B.- I think I’d actually love to do that one day. I know what it is to build a program from the ground up, I know what it looks like, I have the national success stories year after year and I have the data to back up what I preach. As an alternative art school the mission for my teachers would be simple: “We will know how to read a story. We will know how to script confidence onto the student’s blank pages. We will help them find “hope” as their incomplete stories start to unfold throughout each year. We will show them that the sum of all their yesterdays don’t have to add up to what they’re afraid tomorrow might bring. We will consciously make the effort to “read their stories” almost immediately as they walk through our doors will help us bridge a pathway to understanding and will help us to be able to fill their lives with purpose.” And, as a leader in arts education who in the past two years alone has accounted for students earning over 4 million in scholarship offers I firmly believe I know what it takes to help students be successful in school.

“I believe the purpose of education is the cultivation of the human spirit on a journey of self-discovery.” –Michael Bell

I.R.- What do you think of this quote by Albert Einstein “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”

M.B.- I completely agree. It’s funny. You know, when I was a selected presenter at the U.S. Department of Education on behalf of National Blue Ribbon Schools and had an inspiring conversation with the National Teacher of the Year that year he told me he was afforded 20 minutes to deliver a motivational speech and share his stories with a room filled with the nation’s best National Blue Ribbon Teachers and Principals. He told me he also got to meet President Obama.

Do you know how much time the National Teacher of the Year was given with President Obama? 3 minutes.

That was it. Barely enough time for a handshake and photo-op. I think that speaks volumes for the real value the current Administration places on education in the U.S. But that’s just my humble opinion. I say let’s hear what kids have to say about it. After all, it’s supposed to be about them, isn’t it? Here’s one student’s eye opening testimony:

Enjoy your week, Michael

View Comments (2)
  • another fabulous and insightful interview with michael – my [late] sister was a teacher [drama] her entire life [together with being an independent theatre director] and taught at some of the country’s most challenging schools in new york and washington dc – she taught in inner city schools as well as private schools – hers was a constant battle to bring about real meaning to education – real benefit to her students – so this interview is especially meaningful to me – great work, michael – and great work by yareah in its ongoing quest to bring such topics to the forefront today –

  • CitizensArrest

    Sorry, but you’ve jumped the shark by calling this “nationalization”. It’s not. It’s a hostile corporate takeover where the corporations and oligarchs in question are using what was once nominally a gov’t of by and for the people as their personal sock puppet. Gov’t has been totally infiltrated by special interests here. If you follow the money, it becomes obvious that this is the case. one example of many.


is renowned American painter and muralist, famous for his larger-than-life sized narrative series paintings and for his infamous portrait clientele, which includes the late Mob Boss John Gotti, best friend Dominic Capone III (Al Capone’s great nephew) and numerous actors from The Sopranos, Goodfellas, A Bronx Tale and more. Yes, his works are the mirror of a tragic world, but they deepen our human psychology with strong brush strokes and vivid colors, from personal memories and silent echoes, with courage and creativity. Bell was naturally gifted in art and won 1st Place in his first juried art exhibition at age 5. As an emerging artist he spent a lot of his time in and around New York City, studying art with his maternal grandmother, Violet Vallery, a self-taught artist from Lyndhurst, New Jersey. Then, after the still-born death of his sister Amanda and the sudden passing of his Grandfather, a former professional boxer, Bell began to explore life's personal and psychological issues through his paintings. In addition, Bell has written his first screenplay based on the real-life events surrounding his famous "TICKET TO RIDE™" painting series and has won three national awards in 2013. Bell exhibits his large, narrative series paintings in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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