Monday, September 17, 2007

Just A Reminder That the Fine Arts Are Part of a Basic Edcuation

While browsing the op-ed page in yesterday's paper, one column stood out: Teacher Sue Blanchette offered some ideas to improve public education. Most of them were fine by me: Lengthen either the school year or the school day, don't rely so much on test scores, and so on. But one thing she said really jumped out at me, and not in a good way:
If the purpose of school is education let's consider the amount of time students spend on non-academic pursuits like athletics, journalism, band or choir, cheerleading and drill team, or theater. Of course there is value in each of these activities, but if the time students spend preparing for them were directed into academics, there would undoubtedly be improvement in academic results. Heresy? Perhaps, but this is where the community and society have to change. As long as Friday Night Lights or the high school musical have priority, not much will improve.
Hold on a second, Ma'am. It appears that your main "targets" are the fine arts, and they are definitely more than "non-academic pursuits." On the contrary, they help develop a well-rounded individual.

Here is what a few notable leaders in Texas have said about fine arts education:
Governor Rick Perry
We have encouraged the study of music and the arts in addition to the fundamentals of math, science, reading, and writing, which all have led collectively to tremendous gains in education in Texas over the last decade.

Representative Rob Eissler, House Public Education Committee Chair
For our society to move forward, for our culture to survive, fine arts education must remain strong. We already know that kids who study music do better in physics and math. Teaching the fine arts is a rounding of the whole development of the student.

Senator Florence Shapiro, Senate Education Committee Chair
My vision is that fine arts education would continue to thrive in our Texas public schools. No longer can we look at the fine arts in a box separate from other content areas in the curriculum. Fine arts should be integrated across content areas and vice versa. Just as math teachers can easily bring elements of music into their lessons, so should music teachers take the opportunity to teach students how the elements they are learning relate to mathematics.

Shirley Neeley, Ed.D., Commissioner of Education
The arts are an integral component of our educational system in developing the attitudes, characteristics, and intellectual capacities required for students to participate successfully in today’s society and economy. The arts teach self-discipline, reinforce self-esteem, foster thinking skills and creativity, and promote teamwork and cooperation. Most notably, though, the arts are important in and of themselves in that they are a vital and vibrant part of our personal, social and cultural environment.

[Source: Texas Music Educators Association]
Certainly, there are ways to tweak the system to have more instructional time in core subjects if people so desire, but let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater by attempting to do this at the expense of other equally vital subjects such as the arts. If all the extra time advocated by Blanchette went only into core classes, students might make higher grades, but there's no saying that their enthusiasm for school would be any higher (for many people, it might decrease), and they certainly would be a lot less human without access to the arts. I would challenge those who consider the arts to be "non-academic pursuits" to, in the words of another arts advocate, "find as many positive traits of attitude, teamwork, camaraderie and cultural enrichment being developed in a science, math or English class. Some things cannot be learned sitting at a desk with a textbook!" (The advocate being quoted, incidentally, is myself, in a paper written in college that ended up being published in a professional journal.)

At the end of the day, we educators need to stick together; we're under opposition from so many external fronts that we don't need to be fighting back and forth amongst ourselves. But those such as Ms. Blanchette should understand that we'll never achieve a unity of thought if core-subject teachers continue to attack the arts as unnecessary. Let's work together to improve education in a way that doesn't involve such things.

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