Changing the Narrative in Arts Education

Remarks read at the 2016 New York State School Superintendents’ Conference:

On behalf of the Rockville Centre Schools community, the singers and I come before you as advocates for music education.  And we ask you to consider a bold change in the narrative regarding arts education.  Over the two decades of my teaching career, I have been part of many advocacy campaigns that seek to save music and arts programs from budgetary cuts and ever-increasing curricular cuts as standardized testing takes its toll.  I’d like to ask you to consider breaking this cycle in a radical way.  Consider what it would look like if instead of providing the bare minimum, you actually increased arts education for all of your students.

We constantly hear about making our students college and career ready and equipped with 21st century skills.  However, my parents, like my students’ parents, wanted more for me.  And I want more for my own two school-aged children.  I want my children to become happy and healthy adults.  And schools — all of you — have the ability to help this become a reality by recognizing that arts education fuels the health and happiness of its students.  A mandate on your part would have a profound impact on local and global scales.

Research clearly shows a strong correlation between arts education and improvements in health and well-being.  It also shows that arts education supports learning in other content areas.  But even more importantly, arts education provides many of your students their single greatest connection to your schools.  Whether their future career is in the arts or not, the arts are often what students are passionate about, which is not surprising since making music and creating art are part of the very core of what it is to be human.

Music and the arts surround us every day, but–ironically–they are not always a vital piece of every child’s education.  By providing curricular opportunities in arts education for ALL students K-12, we encourage this connection to happen organically, which in turn strengthens our schools, cultivates established and late-blooming passions, and ultimately supports all students to experience what it is to be a fully expressive human being.

Cultivating the spirit of every student means that you recognize that not every student is passionate about the two subjects our narrowing curriculum emphasizes in instructional time and budgetary resources spent.  Maybe we don’t need more standardized testing in math and ELA in order to create college and career ready 21st century skilled students, but rather more arts education in our schools in order to create happy and healthy adults who can become contributing members of society.  Quality arts education is unique in its outcomes, but shouldn’t be unique to a handful of school districts.

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