As a parent and an educator, I have heard lamentations coming from school boards, districts, and state education departments about budget problems many times over the years. Sadly, this always seems to come at the horrific price of cutting programs – usually art, music, and gym are the first things to go followed by athletic programs and sometimes even sports teams. I am sure that many parents would agree that this is simply unacceptable regardless of the financial issues that initiate these proposed eliminations.
After reading a recent NPR article regarding Milwaukee Public Schools, I felt that there may be light on the horizon. In that city it had long been the practice to cut these “special” subject areas in order to save money. So called “special” teachers worked part-time in a number of different schools (one day a week in each). Here in New York that sounds very familiar; however, there are cases where students never even see an art or music teacher at all in some schools nationwide.
Milwaukee’s renaissance is a welcome sign to parents everywhere, and the administrators there see the implementation of new art, music, and gym classes as a way of “attracting more families and boosting academic achievement.” Schools superintendent Gregory Thornton notes that these subjects are “a vital part of the balance of a young person’s educational agenda.”
For far too long educators and politicians have been worried about test scores – usually in relation to English and Math – and anything that falls out of the periphery of contributing to higher scores seems to be on the chopping block. Even seeing a story like this, there will no doubt be those who say this is a waste of resources. There are many who wouldn’t mind if our children never played volleyball, listened to Mozart, or learned anything about Picasso. What a sad state of education it would be if our children never experienced any of those things.
As a former school administrator, I witnessed the benefits of art, music, and physical education contributing to the greater academic and social well-being of students and the school. Students who never excel in other subject areas can be superstars in these “special” subjects, offering them affirmation and opportunities for advancement. I have always felt education should be a matter a teaching and inspiring the “whole” child, and schools without art, music, and gym are definitely institutions with glaring holes in their structure. Imagine those schools as if they were the Titanic, and those lost programs would be their iceberg.
I have seen many cases where a student who excels in art/music/gym class improves his/her work in other classes. Because of the recognition of the child’s talent and boost to self-esteem, there is a growing sense of accomplishment that can be extended to other areas. This is why as an administrator I have always supported “special” programs as nothing but what they should be – an integral part of a well-rounded educational program.
One time long ago when pitching full-time gym, art, and music programs in my school, I spoke bluntly to a school board wanting to eliminate those programs. I said, “Imagine your world without being able to touch, to see, or to hear.” That got their attention. I continued, “Taking away gym is like losing the sense of touch; taking away art is like being unable to see, and taking away music is like being deaf. Ostensibly, you’re advocating a loss of three of the five senses for our children when you are proposing a budget to remove these programs from our school.” Happily, the board proceeded in restoring funding for those programs after that meeting.
Needless to say, we know schools districts will at times face financial challenges; that is a given in the modern world; however, cutting programs that parents, students, and their teachers see as essential is not a wise way to go about saving money. A more sound way to cut corners is to scale back or eliminate the wasted time and talent that goes into assessments. The exorbitant amount of money invested in testing each year – and the associated hours lost training teachers for scoring and then having them score the exams – amounts to highway robbery of parents’ tax dollars by school districts and state education departments.
I propose that every K-12 school in the United States be mandated to provide physical education, art, and music classes as part of their daily schedule. Ideally, the teachers in these classes may be evaluated as “special” educators (due to their excellent work) but come to be seen as part of the regular fabric that makes up the scholastic tapestry.
Of course, I am concerned with academic subjects, but all the solved math problems in the world, all the proper grammar taught, and the fervent appreciation for literature engendered are nice but not enough. As a parent, I want my children to have a complete scholastic experience, and that means being exposed to healthy activity in gym class, learning about great artists such as Monet and Picasso and trying to emulate their work, and listening to a wide variety of music, learning about musicians and their various styles, and being taught how to play an instrument or two.
Milwaukee Public Schools have taken an initiative that makes sound sense academically as well as fiscally speaking. More parents will be drawn to schools that offer a full academic program that includes art, music, and gym. Now that Milwaukee has lit the torch, we can only hope that districts nationwide will see the light and follow in the same direction.
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