Losing Our Precision: Arts In Education Cuts


“You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up for something, sometime in your life” – Winston Churchill

The world is a dangerous place to live – not because of the people who are evil but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.

– Albert Einstein

The Day The Music Died

What Happens When The Band Stops Playing?

Normally I talk about Theater Arts, as it is the discipline I am most involved in.  Theater is one of the first things to go in schools when budget cuts happen. Then the other arts slowly follow suit. Art is probably the last to go usually. Why? Because it can be displayed every day. It lines the hallways and shows off the student’s work, alongside their poems and essays and graphs and charts. It looks good, it is visually accessible. Theater, Music, Dance…not so much.

Sure, photos and montages of work can be exhibited. Static imagery of arts that are performed. It’s not the same as experiencing the students live, seeing and hearing their work, their efforts, their process put into a final product.

What about Sports? Well, it also is shown off in the school, but behind glass cases usually, with trophy’s, medals, the actual ball (signed), photos, more photos, and yet more photos. Maybe a retired player’s shirt. It’s static, but it’s given it’s place of honor. Theater, Music, Dance…not so much. Yes, they might win an award or two, but the arts overall are not (or shouldn’t be, in my opinion) competitive.

Why are the Arts Given So Little Respect?

In schools, one of the basic things I’ve heard is this: many parents, educators and policy makers do not feel that the arts can be assessed (which normally means Testing, in our test driving society. No, sorry…I will not get off that soapbox!). The idea that the arts lend nothing to education runs through most of the sectors that are involved in schools, and if you don’t think many school administration, fellow teachers and Those Higher Up feel the same way, you are sadly mistaken. It’s easily dismissed, and that’s a crime.

In recent conversations with others through social media, I have heard stories that echo what I heard from others and what I experienced. I am leaving all their names anonymous as I do not wish to cause them any repercussions. While some of you many feel that this is chickening out, here is the truth: if you open your mouth, right or wrong,  (especially right), you’re job is in danger in the school. If you have tenure, believe me, it won’t be pretty when you have a vengeful admin. Don’t rock the boat. Keep everything inside the walls of the school. Administrative and peer bullying is alive through many schools. That, in itself, is another blog.

From a Visual Arts Teacher:

“As an art teacher it amazes me how the Visual Arts are not taken seriously. If the students were tested about the knowledge they learned only then, it seems, the art would have merit. As a Visual Arts teacher for the past 16 years and counting I can say with confidence that my students grow leaps and bounds in my class in the understanding of how art reflects our emotional, social, psychological, philosophical, physical, political, and intellectual experiences and encompasses all the core subjects.”

From a Theater Arts Teacher:

I teach drama, to seven rotations of classes at my (now former) elementary school. I practically had to pay the other teachers and my principal to allow me the privilege of taking 45 minutes each Friday to deprive the  kids of their “instructional minutes.” I’m hoping and expecting that there is less ignorance with regards to the importance of the fine arts in schools out there in New York. How bittersweet it was to send in my letter of resignation from public school employment after a short but successful nine year career.

I realize that New York has just suffered a great blow in arts funding- I was taken aback when I read about this. I had assumed that the strong theater presence certainly must drive the performing arts into the hearts of New York citizens… does it not? I do also realize that legislators tend to not be true representatives of the public voice when they personally don’t agree with that voice. I’m so sorry for … the NY schools at this time. Perhaps, just as the massive cuts to the NEA were reversed a couple of months back, NY will follow this course. Although, NEA cuts and threats seem to be behaving much like a ping pong ball standing in for a tennis ball at Wimbledon… such is the vitality of the fine arts- the disgracefully unrecognized catalyst of cultural enrichment and innovative entrepreneurs- in times of financial instability.

Unfortunately, it’ll be an uphill battle for arts education for the foreseeable future. This country has become chaotically, illogically and ignorantly managed, (and) woefully divided.

A last voice, speaking on Music Arts Education:

What budget pundits and public policymakers want to ignore is the simple and compelling human need for the arts and the human endeavor of making art and that art adds immeasurably to individual and communal life on this planet. As with any human endeavor, we need to have hands on, first-person experiences as well as the best of our best to demonstrate what is possible and to inspire us to new heights.

Yes, we need to find common ground and a great chorus of many voices for promoting the arts as relevant to public life and therefore public education.

After our annual, free Arts in Education concerts, I received a letter from a 5th/6th grade split classroom teacher in a school where 73% of students qualify for the free / reduced lunch program. The school district like many is slowly hacking away at the roots of its once stellar K-12 music program. I think the closing statement of her letter will resonate and give us courage as we collectively reorient ourselves to new realities, new economies.

“If the cuts in the music program were to happen, I would continue to expose my students to music. Perhaps with your performances, students will be more likely to enjoy music, to want to make music, and will pester their parents to stand up for music in our schools. I want you to know that the Symphony’s school concert is wanted, loved, and needed by my students.”

It is really time for all of us to stand together and hold to our principles. I know we will not get anywhere if we remain reactive instead of proactive. We get hot under the collars when a Wisconsin debacle happens, but we soon go back to the shrug of the shoulders, our own daily lives, and then…something else happens.

Activism, which is what I feel is called for, is 24/7, every single day of the year. Right now, with so many teachers on vacations, what else is brewing behind the closed doors while school doors are closed (well, not summer school, but…)?

What Are You Going To Do?

Artists Supporting the Arts in Public Schools

Here’s ONE step. A small one, but a step. Do something.

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19 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Debra Elramey
    Jul 05, 2011 @ 00:47:38

    “I must create a system,
    Or be enslaved by another man’s;
    I will not reason and compare:
    My business is to create.”
    ~ William Blake

    “Education, with its supportive system of compulsory and competitive schooling, all its carrots and sticks, its grades, diplomas, and credentials, now seems to me perhaps the most authoritarian and dangerous of all the social inventions of mankind. It is the deepest foundation of the modern and worldwide slave state, in which most people feel themselves to be nothing but producers, consumers, spectators, and “fans,” driven more and more, in all parts of their lives, by greed, envy, and fear. My concern is not to improve education, but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and let people shape themselves.” ~ John Holt

    The school system is not about creativity. A must see.

    Reply

  2. MuMuGB
    Jul 05, 2011 @ 17:21:41

    I hope that things will get better for you. I am still struggling to understand why the bankers were bailed out at the expense of everybody else. Good luck !

    Reply

  3. Cathy Beebe
    Jul 05, 2011 @ 20:11:58

    Instead of letting a program go, because of cut backs. I would prefer to see a teacher let go that doesn’t show passion for what she/he is doing. Students don’t benefit from them. Take that money to continue with the program.

    Reply

    • bornstoryteller
      Jul 05, 2011 @ 20:21:21

      Cathy: one of the problems with that is the issue of tenure. That is another ball of wax that is very inflammable. I’m going to address my feelings on that one eventually. Thank you.

      Reply

  4. Rich
    Jul 05, 2011 @ 20:17:23

    I enjoyed reading your article “Losing our Precision: Arts in Education
    Cuts”. Your comments are right on target.

    Another deeply disturbing aspect of arts education funding cuts is that soon
    arts training will only be available to those that can purchase it
    themselves. The inherent, and I think overlooked, decision being made by
    school boards and administrators is that arts training is not appropriate
    for those who can’t afford it; just the opposite of the truth.

    Reply

    • bornstoryteller
      Jul 05, 2011 @ 20:22:34

      Thanks Rich. Welcome, and I agree: the ones with money are blind to all else. It should be PUBLIC education, and when the public is a mixture of incomes and the like, it should serve all. Pity.

      Reply

  5. Hocam
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 04:42:42

    It is the same the world over. Here in Ireland, in the primary schools, it is only in recent years that Drama was recognised as a curriculum subject in its own right, given discrete time on the timetable. It has been great to see the personal development of the students, seeing some working through issues in a safe way.Now, there is talk that it will be again removed from the timetable with it’s time allocated to literacy and numeracy.This would not be necessary if they stopped making the cuts to learning support and the issue of class size was tackled. Why is it that the most vulnerable in our society are the first to be targeted and our schools cater mostly for the cognitive intellegences at the expense of emotional intellegences.

    Reply

    • bornstoryteller
      Jul 06, 2011 @ 06:47:33

      Mary, it is a crying shame what they are doing. I am glad to hear from quarters outside of the US. This is tough, and it shouldn’t be. It’s very short sighted. Thanks for sharing.

      Reply

  6. penniej2
    Jul 06, 2011 @ 15:18:56

    This is an important piece. How can a few ignorant (because they have to be) bureaucrats cut funding of the arts in public schools? What are the students gaining in return? More math and science? This actually goes against human nature. From the most primitive times, humans have enjoyed the visual and audio arts – performance, music, and storytelling, and their subsequent evolution.These address us on many levels – emotional, psychological ,informative, political, etc. Are we to deprive our children and the generations that follow of these most basic of human needs – to express ourselves? Not teaching the arts is tantamount to removing freedom of speech because if not for the arts, we would not learn to appreciate or opine or think for ourselves.

    Reply

  7. charlie nitric
    Jul 07, 2011 @ 16:22:08

    Hey Stuart –

    It is ironic that our Hollywood and celebrity driven society is ill-focused on the arts being valuable in public education. The arts have endless growth opportunities for kids to self-express, develop, and grow as human beings. Let’s give more money so the cheerleaders can have a 4th uniform to wear on rainy days, lol. Good post.

    Reply

    • bornstoryteller
      Jul 07, 2011 @ 20:06:32

      Thanks Brian…yeah…and meanwhile, if the movie “stars” really cared about the arts, maybe some of that immoral amount of money some make could be put to better use (arts advocacy).

      Reply

  8. Keri Peardon
    Sep 25, 2012 @ 16:35:28

    I still credit my theater classes in high school for making me bolder, more willing to put myself in front of other people, making be a better public speaker, and generally giving me confidence.

    Guess that’s not something they can test for–even though it’s a skill every bit as important (or more so) than things like algebra. I haven’t needed algebra since I left high school, but I use those theater skills every time I relax back in a chair at a job interview and speak to someone else without fear or nervousness.

    Reply

  9. Stuart Nager
    Sep 25, 2012 @ 16:38:34

    Reblogged this on bornstoryteller and commented:

    A timely post with the elections coming up. Who will be the greatest supporter or killer of the arts?

    Reply

  10. Lisa Wields Words
    Sep 26, 2012 @ 07:23:26

    I am now giving you a STANDING OVATION!!!!! I am saddened as I watch my daughter lose her joy of learning. Why? Because the fun of learning, that comes through integrating arts with other things, so that you hardly even realize you are learning. Music strengthening math skills? No way! Theatre improving speaking/writing/reading skills? Uh uh. Art improving understanding of geometry or culture? Never! I’m so frustrated.

    Reply

  11. http://yahoo.com
    Feb 10, 2013 @ 18:05:54

    “Losing Our Precision: Arts In Education Cuts bornstoryteller” was in fact engaging and helpful!

    In the present day society honestly, that is
    tricky to manage. Thanks, Doreen

    Reply

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