It's just plain wrong ...
In My Opinion BY DAVE RENTSCHLER, Special to the Sunday News
It's just plain wrong ... that school districts are cutting their music, drama and art budgets and denying an upcoming generation of students the opportunity for developing their artistic talents and means for expression.
It's just plain wrong ... that a community sits by and permits the arts subject areas in our local school districts to be trimmed without becoming angry and speaking out about the extra time taken from the arts for core subjects when there is little positive research indicating that time spent in added minutes will benefit student achievement.
It's just plain wrong ... that the professional musicians, artists, dancers and actors are not more actively engaged in promoting their craft and speaking out against such cuts.
It's just plain wrong ... that testing drives instruction. Good teaching improves student achievement, not more testing.
It's just plain wrong ... that the No Child Left Behind Act will portray nearly every school district in the country as a failure when 100 percent of their students are not proficient in reading, writing or mathematics by 2014 after additional time has been utilized.
Why do we continue to brush culture aside? Why can't we work at a harmonious level to provide programs in music, art, dance and theater for all of our students? Lancaster County has for many years been a leader in recognizing the benefits of the arts for the community.
Now, sadly, many of our school boards feel it is necessary to cut the arts programs to provide more time for core subjects to meet a ludicrous 100 percent testing goal. As educators, we knew it was not going to be possible to reach 100 percent proficiency for every student but we accepted NCLB as a goal, and admired its components of accountability and certification.
Elliot Eisner, a highly respected Stanford professor, identified 10 lessons that are clarified through the study of the arts. Following are some of them: The arts celebrate multiple perspectives; they teach students to make good judgments about qualitative relationships and that problems and questions can have multiple solutions and answers; and that all art forms employ some means through which images and sounds become real and enable us to experience what no other sources can provide to our range of emotions.
In a 2012 National Endowment for the Arts Research Report of four longitudinal studies, the findings suggested that not only gifted and high socioeconomic students did well when engaged in the arts, but low SES also had high outcomes. NEA Chairman Rocco Lansman said, "Arts education doesn't take place in isolation ... it takes place as part of an overall school and education reform strategy." Among the key findings of the research were that students engaged in a strong arts curriculum had better overall academic outcomes, higher career goals and were more civically engaged.
As a private instrumental music teacher for many years, I know and have seen the benefits of music instruction for my students. They can express themselves not only through the medium of their instruments, but also in a positive and confident way with their peers in the school setting. Their creativity, improvisation and self-discipline through practice and rehearsals teach them time management. Personal self-esteem and efficacy are enhanced by auditioning for, and being selected as, members of various county-state bands and orchestras. And most importantly, they have learned skills and an appreciation of an art form to enhance their joy of living for a lifetime.
In closing, I recognize the role economics and politics play in cutting the arts. I also recognize that after the first round of cuts will come a second, a third … until the arts become extinct to this generation of students.
What needs to be done now? All of the stakeholders representing public and private schools, colleges, professional performing organizations and patron support groups as well as church choir directors need to create a vision for the arts in our community through formal discourse with a purpose of developing a mission and action plan that will unify and represent the arts in Lancaster County. If this challenge is not accepted, the future of the arts will not represent its past.
Dave Rentschler, of Lancaster, was an instrumental music teacher, director of music and elementary principal with the School District of Lancaster for 37 years. Formerly a student teaching supervisor at Millersville University, he is an adjunct associate professor in the Center for Education at Widener University.
Why do we continue to brush culture aside? Why can't we work at a harmonious level to provide programs in music, art, dance and theater for all of our students?