ATLANTIC CITY — Steven Van Zandt believes arts education is the key to the future.
That is why the musician and actor is dedicated to helping New Jersey educators and students through music. Van Zandt is a member of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band and has held roles on "The Sapranos" and "Lilyhammer."
“If we’re going to evolve into a happy, functioning society, we have to teach our kids how to think, not what to think,” Van Zandt told hundreds of board members and administrators Tuesday during this year’s New Jersey School Boards Association Workshop.
Van Zandt was the keynote speaker at this year’s workshop at the Atlantic City Convention Center. His appearance Tuesday was, in part, to promote his website, TeachRock.org, where he has put together a collection of free teacher resources and lesson plans as part of his Rock and Roll Forever Foundation.
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In addition, Van Zandt’s foundation also hosted a film festival, Sonic Highways Hometown Documentaries, which featured student documentary films highlighting their town’s musical history.
Van Zandt, who held a free concert for workshop attendees Tuesday evening at Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Atlantic City, spoke that afternoon about how the arts can help promote education.
“The bad news is: This may be the most challenging time in the history of education. No hyperbole intended,” he said.
Advances in technology, evolving career paths and the changing ways in which people communicate have created what Van Zandt called “the biggest generation gap since the one I led in the ’60s.”
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“The old ‘learn this now because someday you’ll use it, trust me,’ isn’t going to fly with these kids,” he said.
The good news, Van Zandt said, is that this generation loves music.
“And that’s going to save the day because the arts triggers parts of the brain that are more useful than we thought,” he said. “It is the arts that will improve our accomplishments in science and mathematics and the rest.”
During his brief speech, Van Zandt decried standardized testing.
“Testing is not learning,” he said to loud applause. “I understand everyone’s finances these days depend on testing, so we have to find a way to teach our kids in spite of that.”
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He also applauded New Jersey for evolving typical STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) curriculum to include the arts, hence the revised acronym STEAM.
This year’s NJSBA workshop
includes presentations on various topics throughout the week, but this year’s event had a focus on school security. In response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February, the association presented an update of “What Makes Schools Safe,” the final report of the NJSBA School Security Task Force.
Immediate Past President Don Webster said that after review, the committee found the 2014 report was still viable, but presented 15 updated recommendations.
New recommendations focused on creating a reunification plan and communication with parents, cybersecurity threats, school security officers and training staff on security procedures.
“We as a committee believe there is a role for law enforcement in our schools, under the proper circumstances,” Webster said.
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He said they also considered the use of schools as polling places during elections, and recommended towns reimburse districts for added security measures needed to do so.
Webster said when seeking guidance on school safety and security procedures, districts should review the services available through the state Office of School Preparedness and Emergency Planning and other government agencies.
“There’s a wealth of resources out there,” he said.
The conference, which is co-sponsored by the New Jersey Association of School Administrators and the New Jersey Association of School Business Officials, continues Wednesday with a conversation with Education Commissioner Lamont Repollet, Superintendent and Business Administrator of the Year announcements, and a New Jersey State Legislative Update with Sen. President Steve Sweeney and others.