The Arts Vs. Technical Crafts
it wise public policy to spend a lot of money at the K-12 level on the fine
arts, performing arts and music? Aren't they just frills to puff up parents'
egos? Do they really translate into productive outcomes for our society? Or
should we scrap the arts and teach practical job skills?
We're reaping what we sowed when we
allowed educational policymakers to switch from traditional schooling to
standards-based education. When the "outcomes," or "standards," were first proposed
in the 1980s, critics predicted that the focus and resources of K-12 education
would shift from education to training. They predicted the abandonment of a
broad-based, liberal-arts orientation in favor of a highly-regulated,
over-tested, heavily-documented government school system focused on workforce
development - which appears pretty close to the mark, in some quarters.
Job forecasters are calling for
more, not less, career and technical education in public schools at the same
time that budget squeezes are threatening fine arts programs. Most people can
agree that there are more jobs available in voc/tech areas than fine-arts
areas. But if the idea of K-12 education is to prepare the whole person for a
civilized life, not just a career, it's difficult to justify replacing the
creative arts with shop, drafting and auto mechanics on a universal basis.
Some schools have waiting lists of
students who want to get into voc/tech classes, but there's a shortage of
qualified teachers. In rural areas, it's tough to get either kind of teacher,
fine arts or voc/tech. Another key point is that voc/tech classes are usually
far more expensive than a traditional, liberal-arts class, even a fine-arts
class, because of the expensive equipment being used. Voc/tech classes also
take up far more space in the school building than the average class.
But if state policymakers decide
they're more needed than fine arts, and make voc/tech classes mandatory rather
than elective in order to turn out more graduates with job skills, the pool of
students who might choose a fine arts class will likely shrink, threatening the
jobs of fine-arts teachers. School administrators say something's got to give
because we can't have both without big cost increases. Once again, the bottom
line is: where's the money going to come from?
The narrowing of the curriculum was
noted by the Center on Education Policy in a report, http://www.cep-dc.org/nclb/NCLBPolicyBriefs2005/CEPPB3web.pdf.
Social studies and science courses have been reduced because of No Child Left
Behind, but so have the arts, according to the report. One-fifth of the
nation's public schools have reduced time for art and music "somewhat, or to a
great extent" to focus more on math and reading. This narrowing is especially
true in schools that serve high numbers of low-income children.
According to the Massachusetts
Cultural Council, some students graduate from public
high school without ever taking a course in music, visual arts, dance or
theater. Meanwhile, arts study has been linked to better reading, speaking,
math, thinking and social skills, as well as motivation and a positive school
environment. Learn more on www.massculturalcouncil.org/issues
Homework: To learn more about voc/tech, see the
Association of Career and Technical Education: