Monday, November 9, 2009

Yahoo MotherBoard: Arts in Education

Here is the scenario that Yahoo MotherBoards has asked us to contemplate this month:

Picture this. You're enrolling your child into a new school that is well-known for its academic excellence and exceptional staff. You walk into the front office with excitement and grab a packet, anxious to fill it out. As you flip through the stack of forms you come across a letter from the principal that reads:

Dear Parents,

Due to the hit our school has taken with the recent State budget cuts, we are no longer offering art, music, or sports programs. We're sad to see these programs go, but we hope that by eliminating such programs we can continue offering the children of our community with the best academic experience possible…


Principal X

Regular readers know that I am passionate about the arts and music being an integral part of education.

Having attended an arts high school, I experienced firsthand how the arts enriched our academic classes. A study of world history coupled with the knowledge of what plays and works of art were created during that time develops a greater understanding of both. It's one thing to know the dates that certain events happened, it's another to understand what people were thinking and feeling that led to such events, or were the consequences.

My own daughter, Sylvia, has a deeper appreciation of math because of her knowledge of music. By studying both, she can see how rhythms are really mathematical formulas. Thinking of herself as a Sharpay of music helped her approach her Math tests with more confidence and achieve higher scores.

I find the Principal's statement above a contradiction. I simply don't think it's possible to improve academics by eliminating the arts.

The studies, the experts, and most of our personal experiences have found this to be true. So most parents that find themselves reading a letter like that example start enrolling their children in extra-curricular programs. Their Saturdays are spent at soccer games and art or dance classes.

Unfortunately, this option is not available for all students. And, if we study our history, we know that separate but equal rarely works.

A teacher can't use an example from one student's music studies to show the correlation to their fractions lesson because not everyone has taken that music class. Students are compartmentalizing their school studies from their outside activities instead of learning how to integrate their knowledge.

Still, we do what we can. I've paid $200 for Sylvia to take part in her school's musical. I've signed the girls up for Saturday dance classes, and most recently, paid for drum lessons for Riley.

In the past 2 years, since moving to this District, it's gotten better. I'm involved in Riley's PTA because of their commitment to keeping the arts in the school. Sylvia loves being a part of her school's choir.

The most important programs, however, have taken place not at the schools but at the Boys and Girls Club. Riley is part of their Girl Scout troupe that meets on Tuesdays (best troupe ever; no uniforms, no cookie sales). On Wednesdays, Sylvia is in a program where she's writing her own song. On Thursdays, they have dance and on Fridays, acting. And all of this takes place before I pick the girls up after work.

While it's not ideal, they are reaping great benefits from this. Sylvia has tackled this school year with enthusiasm, commitment, and dedication. She stays on top of her school work so that she can focus on her dance combinations and monologues. Riley, we've discovered, has a natural aptitude for acting and has gotten more comfortable taking her place on center stage.

These experiences aren't about the future. It's not about what they will be when they grow up. It's about what they achieve and learn in the moment.

There is no greater deadline than an opening night. A performer that hasn't memorized their lines suffers the consequences all by themselves. The skill of listening is imperative to make an entrance cue. A chorus line is only straight if everyone is aware of everyone else on stage. And the reward of a standing ovation is immediate and requires no explanation. And there's no greater sense of community than found in your fellow performers.

Children are natural performers. They light up when their imaginations are engaged. Their love of play is innate. So why wouldn't we try to use that to our collective advantage and light up the world?

Imagination creates our future. If someone didn't think it might be possible, how else could I be on this thing called the Internet? If dreams are oppressed, how do we expand our knowledge?

It's not going to be everyone's dream to take Broadway by storm, but a moment of feeling free to create can lead to creations that change our world.

Those creations can lead to new jobs. Jobs = better economy = increased spending on education. Better education creates innovation which creates more jobs to keep the economy growing.

We've taken education out of the equation.

Until we put it back, until we start thinking of education as something that develops a whole person instead of a compartmentalized good test-taker, we will continue to have this discussion. And our children will be the next generation's parents, asking why.


Samantha said...

With advocates like you, they won't be able to keep the arts out of school. I love your passion and involvement in your girls schools. I hope when my son is in school that I can be a good of an advocate as you are being! Keep up the good work.

MindyMom said...

Very well said, April and I couldn't agree more. You are a wonderful advocate for your daughters as well as all kids.

Florinda said...

Cutting back on the arts as part of the school curriculum isn't a new problem, but it's a short-sighted response to the emphasis on standardized testing and funding cuts.

"(U)ntil we start thinking of education as something that develops a whole person instead of a compartmentalized good test-taker, we will continue to have this discussion." As usual, when you get up on your education soapbox, you've said it perfectly. For example, there have been quite a few studies about the brain's linking of music and math - one enhances the other.

Great job, April!

Cat said...

I would walk out the door and sign my boy up at the nearest quality private school that had those programs. My son is going to get the best education possible, even if I have to work my fingers to the bone to make sure it happens. That's one area where, to me, scrimping is unacceptable. I don't see why states (particularly mine) don't see it the same way.

Around here they would cut arts, music, and history before they'd cut sports though. Football brings in money.

But when funding is limited, I don't know how to set priorities- if it's music OR math, and a system just straight up can't afford both and tax increases get voted down (as, around here, they always do), what do you cut? And how much of the responsibility of rounding out a traditional education in math, science, English, and history with arts, music, and sports falls to parents? If a system only has so much funding and people won't raise taxes to provide more, the burden falls to individual parents to pay, like you with your daughter's activities.

If society doesn't value something, the burden falls to individuals. As you said, "(U)ntil we start thinking of education as something that develops a whole person instead of a compartmentalized good test-taker, we will continue to have this discussion." The question is is education entirely up to the school system, or are they responsible for creating math-minded test takers while parents step in and round out the rest?

I hope this makes sense, it's such a huge and complex subject my thoughts always come out a little jumbled. Bottom line, it's a hard, hard thing to prioritize part of a good education over another when ideally, you want it all.

dadshouse said...

My mom was an art teacher, member of a Cal state arts commission. I think she was on a Kennedy Center commission too. She runs a summer art program still. She taught me all during my youth the importance of a well-rounded education, with art and music an integral part of the curriculum. I'm a huge fan of more arts in schools. It befuddles me when school districts cut funding. And then around here in Silicon Valley, the parents pony up money to make sure there are computers everywhere. Yikes!

Elizabeth said...

This is such an important post. I'd add, too, that physical education and art and music are often taken away from kids as "punishment" -- I've always found this ridiculous and truly believe that they are equal to math, reading, writing, science and social studies.

I'm new to your blog (and thanks for commenting on my LAMoms blog post) and look forward to reading it!

jenn said...

I completely agree with you on this. I think art is so important in education. Shiloh's only three and she's already taking dance classes (and loving it). Thankfully her preschool is very creative, but I worry that when she starts public school it won't be that way. Middle TN isn't the best right now when it comes to education.

Jen said...

Write. On.

Truly - you are so on the mark. (And yes, I spelled it that way on purpose.)

Let's see how I taught lit. today? I did a "coloring project" for Hamlet, then we discussed themes via scene study. My Brit. Lit. class (who's also doing Hamlet bizarrely right now) was working on paraphrasing exercises getting ready for mini performances next week because, like, you can't READ Shakespeare, you have to SEE or PERFORM Shakespeare, and my writing group worked on creating worlds.

Arts, arts, arts. Always.

Shiona said...

I wish I could have learned a musical instrument of some sort. I will make sure to let Jayson play whatever he wants (even if it is loud) we'll just go to the park. I'd hate for him to grow up wishing he had done something like me.

Perhaps this also explains why I'm not all that great at math or have low confidence levels. It's never too late right??

Mrs4444 said...

Balance is always good. It's great that you're involved, because apathetic parents do not make things happen for kids.