Last night, I had the profound pleasure of attending the New Mexico Philharmonic. The performance was phenomenal, and while I enjoyed the works of Rachmaninoff and Ravel immensely, I couldn't help feeling a bit melancholy when I left. But why?
I realized that in the midst of the New Mexico legislative session, with its ongoing education "reform" battles, along with the downright disturbing trends across the nation, that performance felt like watching a species spiraling into extinction. Since NCLB hit the schools over a decade ago, reading and math have become almost the entire focus of education. Now the new reform agenda puts even more pressure on teachers and schools to get results on standardized testing. The real result? A narrow curriculum that is driving music and the arts to near-extinction in our schools.
In order to make more time for "core" subjects, which are the focus of testing, music and the arts are often the first to go. Budget is too tight? Cut art and music! A student is struggling with reading or math? Take him out music and art to have him do extra reading and math! Music and art are just fun extra, expendable subjects, right? WRONG!
Art and music education can support brain development, according to research. There are studies that show children who receive music education, for example, actually reach higher levels of achievement in math than students who don't have that same exposure. Perhaps if students got MORE art and music, we may also see that their abilities increase in other academic areas.
Currently, our elementary school students get art and music on an every-other-year rotation, and usually once per week for under an hour. Unless parents have financial means, or are fortunate enough to find a free program in the community, this may be the extent of a young child's education in the arts.
Another issue with narrowing the focus of education is that not every student is meant to be an engineer. Not every student is a physicist in the making, nor a future lawyer. Given the chance, the support and the education, many of our students can become brilliant cellists, sculptors, method actors and more. Without that education and support? They may very well become dropout statistics. There are multiple intelligences, and should we choose not to address some of them, we then alienate many students.
We need to support WHOLE brain development. We need to nurture the WHOLE child. We need to value ALL talents and intelligences. We need to preserve what are truly essential components of cultures and subcultures, and the various ways we communicate from generation to generation, and culture to culture.