The Arts in Public School


I went to two concerts last week. Two of my grandchildren were participating, one in choir, one in band. They’re only sixth graders, so they didn’t spend a lot of time onstage, but I hope by the time they hit high school they’ll have a lot more skill and still enjoy performing.

Music is the kind of thing that many people don’t feel is really useful. I think that depends on what your criteria are. Do children make money from performing? Not usually. Does that mean only children should perform who can do so professionally? I don’t think so.

I’ve been singing in choirs off and on most of my life. It’s not the kind of music I usually listen to, but I enjoy it, and I’ve gotten to sing some pretty nice material. While I have a reasonably good voice, I’m not a real musician, and can’t compete with anyone who is. But singing in a choir isn’t about competing, it’s about cooperating. If I were of professional talent I could do it much better, but I can still enjoy it. The same can be true for my grandchildren.

I don’t know that any of them have the talent or drive to be professional in music, sports, or drama. If they do, I hope they can succeed at whatever they choose, but if not, they can still enjoy their efforts in any of those directions.

Sports can teach young people discipline and the right way to work in order to succeed, as well as being enjoyable in itself. So can drama and music. Music, in particular, helps young brains make more connections between neurons, which can be positive, no matter how the neurons are employed. Better functioning brains can aid in success, whether it’s in music or some other discipline.

I worry, though, about cuts in funding to schools. As I understand it, school funding usually comes through property taxes in the neighborhoods the schools serve. The disadvantage of this approach is that poor neighborhoods don’t get schools as well funded as wealthy ones. Nationally, the attitude toward school funding is announced by the decision to cut funding for meals for hungry children. Considering that hungry children can’t very well be expected to concentrate on what they’re supposed to learn, this means that a large percentage of the population is being prepared to fail, not succeed. Shame on parents too irresponsible to feed their children before school, but when hungry children are being refused food, who is being punished?  I don’t think the authors of such legislation are serving their constituencies very well, arousing questions about their real motivation.

The issue is the same for programs like music, drama, and sports. The returns on those investments may not be immediate, but in my opinion, are worthwhile. Of course, if one’s interest is to turn the nation’s schools, elementary and secondary as well as collegiate, into profit-making institutions, one is announcing that one’s concern is for those making the profits, not for those they’re supposedly serving.

My grandchildren apparently live in a pretty good neighborhood, because they have music programs (I don’t yet know about any others) that serve the middle school as well as high school children. My grandchildren are only beginning their exposure to the arts. By the time they graduate high school I hope they’ll have had a lot more exposure, whether they choose to pursue it further or not. I’d like to see children in all parts of the country getting the same chances. I think their lives would be enriched. If public school funding has to be cut (and I’m not convinced it does), I think this is the wrong place.