Friday, January 20, 2012

Arts Advocacy; a Backward Approach?

When I went back to school in order to finish my Bachelor’s Degree, I enrolled myself in a general music/piano pedagogy course as a way to learn more about being an effective private music instructor. One of the things that we discussed was music, and more generally; arts advocacy. At that time I was (like so many other music teachers) reading literature on the subject of why it is best to keep arts in the public schools. The arguments are old ones: music helps with math, music helps young people socialize, music makes the brain more efficient… etc. I don’t mean to say that these are not valid points, I genuinely believe them to be true. The problem with these arguments is that it seems to affirm the notion that the arts are of secondary importance – it is as if to say that if music didn’t make children better in math, that it wouldn’t be worth having in the classroom.

No other subjects face this criticism. I firmly believe that all children should have a high mathematical ability, but how many of us actually use algebra on a daily basis (to say nothing of calculus)? The truth is; only the top tier of engineering or other sciences really require those skills on a regular basis. Still, we as a society have deemed them important, and I say good for us for doing so.

The fact that we can’t see being educated as a reward unto itself shows just how far we have to go as a culture. Yes, it is true that a more educated population will turn out more innovation. Likewise a more educated population will most likely make better decisions politically and socially. And it is fair to assume that a more educated population will almost certainly be able to approach problem-solving more methodically and rationally.  But my question is; if these things stopped happening, does that make the point of education void?

Because that is where we are going. Sure, it is easy to see the total disinterest in the arts and cry out that we are the ones being injured. But the truth is; we have devalued education (in general) to the point that we are becoming ineffectual, and then pointing at the educational system and saying; “see, it doesn’t work… I guess we should stop wasting money on things that don’t work.” Meanwhile, charter schools cropping up all over the country are pulling resources from traditional public schools, which mean that our whole scholastic system is becoming fractured beyond repair.

In the end, we have to stop advocating arts based on how they help students on other subjects and start to acknowledging them part of a complete education. Music (and dance, theater, painting… etc) should stand side-by-side with mathematics, not subordinate to it. Only then are we in a position to genuinely advocate for the arts and preservation of our culture. 

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