Anyone with ties to the public school system, whether through children, friends, or teaching associates, is aware that the past few years have been full of budget cuts and program rearrangements. The turn in the economy has taken its toll on the schools as it has on everything else. The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) reports that nearly 70 percent of schools cut positions in the 2009-2010 school year, and 90 percent “anticipate having to do so” for 2010-2011.
In and of themselves, those statistics, though troubling, are not particularly surprising. Organizations of all levels go through bad times, and any one worth its salt is going to find a way to responsibly adapt.
The problem within the problem of needing to make cuts is the way that those cuts are being made: disproportionately. Most of the time, the first programs to go (or the ones to be hit the hardest) are the arts, particularly music.
My freshman year, my high school’s music department, already down to two staff, was cut by 50 percent when one was laid off. With a group of other students, we fought the decision because of the way we felt it would put an enormous dent in our high school experience.
Other programs were cut “equally”—meaning also by one staff member. Usually out of 14 or 15.
Since I was able to take plenty of math courses, I can tell you that 1 out of 15 is not 50 percent.
Let me set you straight before you cease to read out of disgust at my admitted bias: math is important, science is important, English and history and foreign languages are important. I am thankful that I was given the opportunity to learn these things in a good school system. I am not thankful that the arts, when put on the budget table with these others, are the first to make the journey from the feast to the chopping block.
Part of the blame for this lies with the way that the United States has structured its education system around standardized testing. The better your school does on paper, the more funding (or at least the less hassle) you get. Though the numbers and systems vary from state to state, on the whole teachers now focus on preparing their students for these tests above all else.
Because of this priority, when the time comes to cut programs the untested subjects are given the first slice. As the San Diego Tribune said, “Music performance doesn’t figure into school ratings, and in the politics of education, what gets tested gets taught.”
Taking away the opportunity for music is perhaps one of the most hurtful things you can do to an education. Not only do studies show that exposure to and participation in music increases academic performance in other areas, but it also allows students a vital creative outlet. Face it: life is stressful. We need to slow down sometimes. Music is one of the most organic ways that we can do that; after all, when was the last time you went a day without listening to a single song?
We must also consider those students for whom music is going to be a career. If we take away the chance for them to learn music now, we are essentially destroying that chance. The brain is at its peak for learning during the years of school band and choir, and most instruments are harder to learn later in life. Also, though changing majors and swiftly picking up the basics of botany is fairly simple in college, switching into a music major is nigh impossible. College auditions are rigorous, and college music programs even more so. If we are not preparing these students now, then when are we planning to?
There is no answer. This is the time.