A modest proposal for modern arts education


POSTED: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The following is a proposal for preventing arts education in America from being a burden to schools or country, and for making it beneficial to humanity (with a nod to Jonathan Swift).


» Suggestion No. 1: Close all the schools

The Internet is on the verge of containing virtually all knowledge, as once did the ancient Library of Alexandria. So if everything can be found online, let's just close the nation's schools.

Sell the 97,000 public school buildings to mall developers. Turn the 480,000 school buses into FEMA trailers. Hire our 6 million teachers as soldiers or prison guards. Use the federal education budget for a war (well, a short one) and more prisons (necessary if kids just hang out all day).

... Or not. Then again, maybe organized education is more than just a caretaker of children, school buses and books. Maybe teachers help kids think, reason, differentiate opinion from fact. OK, keep the schools. For now.

» Suggestion No. 2: Cancel all the arts classes

But why keep those “;extra”; subjects? Art, band, choir, dance, drama, video? They're just “;fillers”; in between “;real”; classes like math and reading, or for slow students, right? So repaint the music room, sell the costumes and set up a study hall.

... Done! Now what?

Yes, shockingly, many U.S. schools have already eliminated arts programs, “;re-purposed”; arts faculty and dropped arts class graduation requirements. The short-term result is that it saves money. The long-term result is lower public school enrollment. Reduced funding. Bad publicity keeps new families from moving in. Real estate values drop. More programs are cut.

Teachers get laid off. The downward spiral continues.

» Suggestion No. 3: Expand arts curricula

So, increase the arts classes. Really. It might sound just as crazy as closing schools, canceling classes or telling the poor to eat their children, but in the broader picture, it is the best choice to save our money and future.

Human cultures demonstrated art ability before writing, in cave dwellers' hand paintings, Mayan architecture, Egyptian heiroglyphs and Hawaiian petroglyphs. To deny children the modern corollaries of these arts such as computer graphics, holography and video would be to deny them their humanity. In fact, students taking arts and academic courses perform better on standardized tests, graduate higher in their class, go to college and better accept other cultures (”;Critical Evidence,”; Arts Education Partnership, 2006). Valued on a practical level, the arts are used medically to reach elderly, brain-damaged, mentally ill and handicapped people, advancing our understanding of brain plasticity and quality-of-life issues. Neural pathways increase, creating better access to stored knowledge. If we expand arts education and ensure it for all socioeconomic groups, we raise the quality and status of our country in the world.

What distinguishes us from other animals is not simply our use of language. Rather, what makes us uniquely human is our ability to express complexity both in writing and in the arts.

When we silence the song, stop the dance and still the hands of our youth, we fail America's children; we fail our country; we fail humanity.

And when an entire generation of failed American children grows up, what kind of America will remain?